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Slow Tuscany > Tuscany > Lucca > Carnival
About Carnival...

Damiano Andreini

The 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 farmer’s home.

Carnevale is a truly traditional festival, that reached such heights of participation that the millions of pieces of confetti are nothing in comparison. Let’s 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 (or“Mardì 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 rocks instead.

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 wouldn’t 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.

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