most sumptuous Carnevale in Tuscany is that of Viareggio.
It has become famous throughout Europe but Viareggio is not
the only place gaining fame. Point your finger to any place
on the map in the region of Tuscany and there too they are
preparing for Carnevale. Flaming floats, fabulous masks, gaudy
and bizarre costumes are all part of Carnevale. Everywhere
the streets will be covered by tons of colored confetti, streaming
stars, and small children running freely since the streets
will be closed off from traffic. At dinner, actually after
dinner, the tabletops in every house will be adorned with
large dishes full of cenci. Cenci are the delicious cookies
eaten during Carnevale time in Tuscany. The word actually
means rag, and in fact, the cookies which are made with flour,
eggs, sugar, lemon peel, and a dash of vinsanto (sweet wine)
do resemble the form of a torn dish rag topped with powdered
sugar. It is a simple dessert and the ingredients are those
that would have been typically found in a farmers home.
Carnevale is a truly traditional
festival, that reached such heights of participation that
the millions of pieces of confetti are nothing in comparison.
Lets try to go back in time to 1701, three hundred years
ago, to any piazza in any city in Tuscany. We will discover
that the atmosphere of Carnevale had already begun at the
end of December and the raids, the jokes, the theatrical representations
continued intermittently throughout the season until il Martedi
Grasso or Fat Tuesday (orMardì Gras). Fat
Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent was often
described as a time for, lots of boiling and roasting,
lots of stewing and fermenting, lots of cooking in the oven,
frying, devouring until your stomach was stuffed. It is said
that the people ate enough for two months in one single sitting,
or that they consumed enough meat to make a journey all the
way to Constantinople or the West Indies.
During Carnevale everything
was permitted, even sex was a fundamental ingredient. It is
said that it was not uncommon for the women to be shocked
by the exhibitions of wooden phalluses of the dimensions
of a horse that were taken around the streets. Carnevale
was a festival of excess, of release, of the turning over
of all moral and social rules. It was a world truly turned
upside-down. In 1701, we would have also met farmers and merchants
dressed as nobles insulting and commanding the true nobles,
nobles dressed as women, and women dressed as men reprimanding
and actually throwing eggs at their husbands. We would have
also met processions of wagons from which malicious and even
obscene chants could have been heard, rich people posing as
poor beggars and giving money to the rich, laymen saying mass
and so forth.
Even violence was often tolerated.
It is known, for example, that bands of young people with
their pockets full of eggs would gather around the theatres
and wait to throw them at the actors. I imagine that the fights
ended in tears when the eggs ran out and people started using
Carnevale was certainly felt,
much more than today, as a release mechanism for a life that
during the rest of the year was primarily lived in deprivation,
sacrifice, and often in the fear of misery and hunger. Carnevale
crushed all of these fears and actually instilled new hope.
Who knows, maybe this is why it has its culminating moment
at the end of winter.
Getting back to today- if you
are planning to come to Tuscany, you will realize first-hand
that the tradition of Carnevale is still very much alive.
Every city and village has something to be proud of. So I
wouldnt want to advise any one in particular to you
simply for the sake of impartiality. I will just point you
towards a few. The first of which I found websites for: Orentano,
one of the most famous for children, the most famous Viareggio,
and the ancient Foiano della Chiana.