We’ve just enjoyed our first Carnevale season in Ascoli. Carnevale is the same holiday that is known as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only here it is celebrated for nearly a week, beginning with a children’s carnival on the preceding Thursday. We were told by locals that the festival has deep roots here, dating perhaps to Roman times. It was traditionally a time when common people could vent their frustration at the powerful.
Ascoli is not really set up for parades, so during Carnevale, the town’s two main squares are venues for all the action. The Piazza del Popolo is decorated with hanging chandeliers, installed on wires by small “cherry-picker” type vehicles. (The town puts up different, and equally elaborate, decorations for Christmas. They must have vast sheds where these items are kept during the off-season.) It’s traditional during Carnevale to throw paper streamers and confetti — there was so much strewn on the marble pavement that it almost looked like snow.
Carnevale is a time for dressing up, for adults as well as children. Grown men walk around unselfconsciously in full-length rabbit or tiger suits. Some of the costumes are really elaborate — one young woman wore an historically accurate 18th C outfit, complete with ruffles and hat.
Many of the costumes were merely whimsical. There were toddlers dressed as Musketeers, complete with tiny beards. Fred Flintstone made an appearance in his Stone Age vehicle, as did Dorothy Gale and her friends from Oz.
In additional to individual costumes, there were moving floats and little booths set up for skits — an open-air theatrical tradition that must date back to the Middle Ages. In keeping with the festival’s roots, many of these had a political flavor, although they mostly dealt with local issues, like the complicated new recycling system or the location of the new hospital. There was an “American dance troupe,” wearing Stetson hats and cowboy boots, dancing to the music of the Irish Rovers. (What could be more American?)
My favorite exhibit, though, was the “synchronized swimming team,” men unjustly denied their chance at Olympic glory by gender discrimination.
A favorite butt of jokes during this Carnevale was the new recycling system, which requires that folks but out various types of differentiated rifiuiti on each night. You can imagine that this level of regulation is a hard sell.
There were also special pastries sold only during Carnevale. Some of them have strange names, like chestnut ravioli, which are ravioli-shaped pastries filled with chestnut paste. These days, you can get these pastry “ravioli” with chocolate or cream filling, too. They were excellent, but like most of the pastries here, a small amount goes a long way.
There was live music most evenings in the Piazza during Carnevale week. And, while lots of beer and wine was being sold, nobody was obviously drunk. In Italy, people manage to have a good time without getting blitzed, making them fun for “children of all ages.”
But of course, everyone must have a mask: