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The International Carnival Bible

Excerpts From Our Back Issues

The summer/fall book features the huge Carnivals in Brooklyn, Toronto and London plus Cropover in Barbados, Antigua, Jamaicas Reggae Sunsplash, the growing Miami October Carnival and many other feature articles. While the worlds fastest growing Carnival form is Caribbean, it is also one of the youngest. This artice follows West coast editor's CM Collins journey through three of Europe's largest, oldest and most famous February Carnival traditions. Picture
Articles:    East Coast Carnival '96 by Glenda Cadogan (As seen in the Summer/Autumn '96 Issue), Toronto by Ken Shah (As seen in the Summer/Autumn '96 Issue) , San Francisco by C.M. Collins (As seen in the Summer/Autumn '96 Issue), &

Past to Present
by C.M. Collins

(As seen in the Summer/Autumn '96 Issue)

     Its a fair thing to be proud of your triples. Lately a caravan of Carnaval culture travelers have been returning from Brazil to San Francisco describing a pre-Lenten big three experience of Rio de Janeiro, Bahia-Salvador and Recife-Olinda. Caribbean wise its possible to add a second island like Martinique to motherland Trinidad s Port-of-Spain and San Fernando but these are not true triples. Since pre-Lenten Carnivals all generally go into high gear on Friday and end on their highest note on the fifth and final day of  Mardi Gras Tuesday your scorecard still shows just one culture climax per excursion.

Picture       "Well hey ho"  I said, as I booked my itinerary to catch three major distinct Carnaval peaks amongst the ancient traditions of Europe. Wife Wendy and I would do the standard five day Carnavale in Venice, Italy, then head due West to the opposite coast to see the final procession of Europe's greatest floats at Viareggio then grab a fast train to Basel, Switzerland for their peak which is actually the launch at 4:00am Monday morning.
      Part of the journey s goal was check out the roots of our own new world Carnivals. Italians were once called Romans and for half a millennium they ruled the cradle of civilization on the Mediterranean Sea. These wise rulers would combine holidays with their subject s traditions. The major Roman holiday marking the end of a yearly cycle and the beginning of a new year was called the Saturnalia. Among its recorded patterns was a strong reversal phenomenon. Here master and slave could reverse rank, releasing pent-up repressions and pursue pleasure with wild abandon.
     Christ's crucifixion which included a procession, red robes, and a crown of thorns following a burlesque trial by the people conducted by the Roman Pontius Pilot may have been a syncretic combination of the Saturnalia s execution of the mock king with the Jewish Purim spring commemoration. As a story, Christ s death and resurrection three days later as savior is a Christian version of the popular cycle-of-life passion plays which were prominent themes of early Greek and Egyptian mythology. Done well, this universal story of life, death, and rebirth can bring an entire audience to resonate together into higher level of consciousness.
     This is not an exact science as technology has not devised a method to measure audience  resonation. Venice Carnavale, as a festival of individual masks from the past does contain significant ancient cult elements.
     Dawn a mask and cross the threshold into another more compelling world beyond dull ordinary everyday reality. It always dawn or dusk in Venice and with or without a mask you enter a surreal, beautiful water world  of ancient bridges over canals and narrow lanes leading to ever unfolding discovery. You are encouraged to purchase a disguise as mask vendors are only outnumbered by restaurants in Venice. However, recreating  a character from the past worthy of being promenaded in Saint Marks square will require a sizable investment in time, money and inspiration. Successfully done, you re on center stage, with a portrayal preserved by dozens of camera-clicking tourists who ooo and awe from one creature of imagination to the next.
     Visitors are always locating themselves by returning to magnificent Piazza San Marco in a futile attempt  to not get lost among the narrow alleyways and large throngs of fellow tourists.  Saturday and Sunday are ball nights where the most expensive part is not just a $250 US admission but a costume which can cost many times that amount.
     Since the 16th century, Venice has successfully been attracting the world s most elite tourists.  Venice may hold some incredible longevity record for the world s highest concentration of small gift shops, Italian sit-down restaurants and exquisite churches Despite the recent fire destroying the much loved Venice Opera House there still remains an abundance of high art showcases for fine art, the opera, ballet and classical music. Yet it is this city s alluring, beauty, relentlessly working its magic on your soul that makes Venice so memorable. Wandering the endless corridors of  light playing with water opens your mind up to an appreciation of the richness of being alive at this moment in time.
     The 1996 Venice Carnival Consortium erected a dramatic stage at one end of  St. Marks square and hired WOMAD (World of Music Arts & Dance), English musician Peter Gabriel s multi-cultural music producing organization to import a wide range of ethnic music artists for concerts at two venues on Saturday and Sunday.
     On a muted Carnival Monday, while hanging out at a well staffed Carnival HQ we found photographer Roberto Delpiano, an Italian married to a Brazilian whose world is about the spirit of Carnival and his next Carnival trip. At one point in our animated conversation concerning the energies of the various Carnavals he says. "The test of a true Carnival is if it would take place without an official organization."
     The two year old consortium, under contract to the City of Venice, had hoped to produce a spectacular light show and do more hours of entertainment but the budget did not expand to fit the vision. In its inaugural year, the producers had brought in Carnival traditions from surrounding countries and gotten a nice overall lift from the bands playing day and night regardless of whether they were on stage or not. This year, WOMAD music acts were not in sync with the rhythms of a charged celebratory Carnival atmosphere. I was wondering if there was more to Venice Carnival than the past recreated through masks as I listened to Roberto and others discuss the details for the Tuesday finale.
     Up until a few years ago, spontaneous bonfires on St. Mark s square would mark the close of extraordinary Carnival time but caution by the authorities ended the tradition.. But the people yearn for collective closure and the St. Mark s square, so quiet the night before, is colorfully packed with anticipation. A speech, a skit and then a most glorious long procession of the perfected Venetian Carnaval costumes across the stage. The music, classical but funky, captured the essence of Venice Carnival and the audience was held in rapt attention throughout  Hot wine and a band with a cool rhythm section from Surinam, Africa followed and all was well and good as we concluded the traditional five day pre-Lenten Carnival of our trip.
     Traveling west to Viareggio Carnavale we stop at the center of the Italian Renaissance. The City of Florence in Northern Italy has the highest concentration of art treasures in the world. Five hundred years ago, a group of enlightened businessmen rediscovered the perennial wisdom recorded and preserved  by Greek philosophers and adopted by their Roman ancestors a millennium earlier. Combining this vision with newfound resources as a trading center and an eye for artistic talent this inspired culture produced a body of art work which knows no equal.. Wife Wendy and I are thrilled to see the beauty of familiar pieces as originals by great artists like Michelangelo and Raphael by day. By night we go searching for more Carnival.
     For the last four years, Maralana Brasileira with its Carnaval inspired dinner show has seated a few hundred revelers on most nights of the week. Our experience is such good fun we wonder if we can claim a fourth Carnaval on our scorecard. Brazilians and their carnival culture  seems  to be an appreciated export all over Europe as we d earlier found shows scheduled in Berlin and Prague.
     It is Friday and unfortunately spending considerable time and frustration investigating alternative travel has not produced a solution to the canceled train we needed to make the Viareggio to Basel sprint. As fate happens, the final Viareggio parade is at night meaning we will not be able to make the 4:00 am Moorgestraich launch in Switzerland. I recall the words of the Basel Tourist office, "Missing the Fasnacht s Moorgestraich is like going to the Super Bowl and not attending the game."
     Viareggio Carnival is a wonderful Italian mix of the past and present revolving around a magnificent seashore float parade repeated on the four Sundays closest to Carnaval. Each year,  700,000 Italians flock to the seashore paying $9 US to enter a seaside promenade area where a dozen spectacular three story paper-mache floats and scores of giant burlesque characters slowly roll in a circle aided by marching bands and taped music. The tradition of poking fun at authority is a dominant theme executed by an elite group of artists who are known as "Maghi" (magicians). For centuries, this Tuscany region has created sculpture for the rest of Italy and this native artistry combined with ship building technology and creative freedom builds what some consider the world s greatest floats.
    At the Friday and Saturday evening street fairs we find a village atmosphere of mostly natives and a strong community spirit. Excellent grilled street food too. Viareggio, no longer attracts the wealthy or the foreign but its citizenry maintains plenty of pride about their parade and visitor industry.
     It s a sleepy Sunday morning at our Hotel San Francisco when who should show his face outside our window but Albert Einstein. This time, the genius of relativity is portrayed by a realistic head without a body and a brain about the size of a blue whale. A visit to our balcony above the seaside promenade reveals that the entire parade of floats will be displayed throughout the day. The themes can be quite provocative and include TV s  erosion of intelligence and culture, the AIDs menace, Italian political scandals as well as inspired make-believe creations.
     Having unexpectedly witnessing the main act of the show we decide to check out early. Our train departs directly North just as the high school bands are arriving for the evening parade.
     "We ve made it" says wife Wendy. It is now the hour of the Basel enchantment ritual to create a time outside of time. The streets are filled with anticipation of the moment or fear of being late if your not in formation with your group or clique. There is an air of mystery and intrigue. The busy cafes all have their curtains drawn. Precisely at the fourth stroke of the church bell or 4:00 am all downtown lights are extinguished and immediately thousands of fife (flute) players and drummers begin playing methodical traditional rhythms as others pull large lanterns displaying the group s theme. As each clique member is self illuminated the crowd can also become mesmerized by the alchemy of light playing with the cadence of sound.
     Natives are particularly proud of the illuminated billboard theme lanterns which are believed to only be found in Basel. Often done anonymously by leading Basel artists, the paintings can be as large as twelve square meters. Popular  96 themes included the French nuclear tests, Shell Oil s environmental irresponsibility, and the Pope s hypocrisy for claiming to fight poverty while promoting unchecked third world overpopulation.
     Basel, the second largest city in Switzerland with a metro center of three million sits at a crossroads position on the Rhine river. Our hotel literature extols the Swiss virtues of  precision and efficiency in a pitch for high-tech jobs. The Swiss are a driven and independent lot who have held the title of highest per capita income in the world for many years. Recently, they narrowly rejected membership in the dominant EU (European Union) which has helped make their prices among the highest in Europe.
     While not officially acknowledged, the reason for the week delay in their Carnival was probably because the church forbade the Carnival leading to an insolent rescheduling within the forty day Lenten period. Yet the church ultimately struck the better deal. By having the Carnival scheduled in Winter much of the mischief which comes so naturally in the warm days of Spring is naturally discouraged by the chill of winter in February. Extra layers of clothing does temper your passions.
     Carl Jung, the great 20th century explorer of our shared unconscious, would take his students to the Basal Carnival. Archetype is one of the many terms he coined and a good  carnival is a cacophony of archetypes or dream symbols which trigger emotional responses.  The archetype artistry of the Basel mask makers is unsurpassed.  Without exception, for "the three greatest days of the year" all 30,000 participants will wear huge, wild, full masks in one of the most ritualized Carnivals or Fasnachts in Europe. The bands or cliques, will parade randomly through the old section of town for hours on end playing similar old martial rhythms.
     The  confetti at major intersections can be a foot deep and everywhere you look are these fantastic masked creatures playing instruments or tossing goodies to the crowds. The cliques usually contain youth and elder sections and other family members pass out flyers of satirical rhymes. Numerous crowd members wear Carnival  96 badges identifying themselves as financial supporters of the central governing body which is said to exert much influence.
     As we near the end, I begin to realize that conformity has become one Basel Carnival s dominant themes. There is even a written "unwritten" code which includes the following rule "Avoid heckling and rocking to and fro to the music." Make no mistake, this carnival is a family celebration first.
     A Swiss Carnavelesco we meet, Bruno Kaufmann tells us how to find both the wild Swiss carnival spirit and the same great customs. "Go to Lucerne. Its smaller and has more drinking. All the enthusiastic mountain visitors make it a friendlier place too."
     We file that insider comment away for future reference as our pilgrimage to the roots of the New World Carnival has ended. It s time to return to the world some people call "real" and get ready for San Francisco s multi-cultural crossroads Canaval at the end of May.
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