Italians really do not worry about punctuality too much – not even when it comes to the end of Mardi Gras/Carnival, which traditionally celebrates the last few days or maybe weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and Lent. The keyword is leading up. Here the Carnival parade can last deep into Lent. One of the famous Carnival celebrations in Italy and also shown on TV is Carnevale di Viareggio in the small seaside town of Viareggio about a 90-minute train ride West of Florence.
The parade takes place on several Sundays in a row in the streets bordering the beach. It is a family affair, which means even though alcohol is served and visitors are dressed up and dancing in the streets, the celebrations do not seem to get out of hand (at least at the one I attended). The parade starts at 3 in the afternoon and is a slow procession of huge paper-mache floats, dancers, and smaller costumed groups. The tallest floats dwarf the five-story buildings next to the parade route. The parade is slow enough that one can walk faster than the floats and the parade route is a large oval, so there is no worry to miss something and always a chance to see a favorite float or group again.
The first Carnival celebration in Viareggio took place in 1873, and paper-mache floats were added in 1925. Just as with the American Rose Parade, artists work on the floats for a whole year. In contrast to the Rose Parade, there are no flowers on the floats, a lot more biting political commentary in the theme of the floats, and more dancers (who are not strapped down to the floats as in the Rose Parade). Unfortunately, my Italian was not strong enough to decipher the political commentary. One float made fun of Facebook and Zuckerberg and seemed to criticize the hold Facebook has over our lives; signs on the float read “Io sono dio” (“I am god”). Another float was clearly criticizing Angela Merkel’s tough stance on the Euro and her/Germany’s influence in the EU. And another float showed Hillary riding a donkey with Bill sitting behind her; the word “Bill” had been edited to now read “Hillary.”
Many of the statements, unfortunately, were lost on me; for example, I could not figure out what the point of the float was that was filled with dancers in a Uncle-Sam costumes.
The official site of the event mentions that over 200,000 people attend the parade, but the event does not feel too crowded or out of hand. Most visitors were dressed up or wore at least a small mask. Plenty of vendors sold cheap masks for a few Euros as well as wigs for those who did not plan ahead. Of course, they also sold bags and bags of confetti as well as spray cans of silly string. The streets were covered with confetti so that they seemed covered in snow. I had so much confetti in my hair that I could not get it all out and still found confetti on my pillow the next morning. There are also food and beer vendors and a few cafes and restaurants, so it is easy to spend several hours at the event.
Visitors to the parade need tickets as the whole area is fenced off, but that also makes it easier for police to check bags of visitors coming in and I think keep the event more controlable. The Carnevale is still on for a few more weeks: Feb 21, 2016; Feb 28, 2016; and Mar 5, 2016 in case you want to go. Check the official website to learn more about the event and where to buy tickets.