Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Venice Carnevale: Farewell to the Flesh by Edward Sklepowich
An Arab sheikh passed by with the women of his harem dressed in blue veils that revealed considerably more than they concealed. One of them blew Urbino a kiss. Two children, dressed as an angel and a devil, were guided through the crowd by their father wearing a broad, smiling mask. Behind them, three figures strolled along with red and purple feathered jackets, sequin-covered leggings, huge gauze fans, and black oval masks. They were followed by five purple-turbaned figures with gold-painted faces who were draped in shiny black material and sported sail-like purple wings. They walked haughtily, as if they were royalty, and stopped every few minutes to assume frozen poses. A group of nuns passed by with bawdy laughter and suggestive gestures.
Amid all this clamour five figures in long funereal capes, black capelets with hoods, severe white masks, and black tricorn hats walked in a silent cluster. Dressed in the bautta disguise worn by noblemen in the 18th century and seen in many Venetian paintings, they seemed to censure the madness around them, to be reminding the other revellers that although Carnevale might, by its very name, encourage a wanton farewell to the flesh, that the flesh wasn’t forever.
observations: Carnivals take place all over the world in the run up to Lent, the long dreary period of preparation for Easter. They end on Shrove Tuesday, today, the day before Ash Wednesday (which is on a different date each year, depending on the date of Easter).
Three years ago we did a carnevale entry from another Venice-set book by the same author: you can find it here.
Two years ago we had our own personal Clothes in Books-commissioned photographer take fabulous pictures especially for the blog, to match up with Byron’s Beppo. You can see the spectacular results here and here. And there’s a little look at ‘miserable, meatless’ Lent in Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies.
Farewell to the Flesh (the phrase is a literal translation of the word carnevale) is a complex murder mystery, with a lot of literary references (Proust and Dante) and a lot of emphasis of masks, and hiding, and secrets. There is also a masked ball – always a CiB favourite – and quite a bit about the Commedia dell’arte, with Pierrot and Columbine. The atmosphere is very well done.
Of course in England we make pancakes to mark the end of the good times, and in this entry we looked at the Anglicizing of the Pierrot culture. (Not to say we’re boring or anything.) No wonder British (and American) writers want to write about Venice so much. Even the specific minor trope of statue restoration in this book – well, two other books instantly come to mind: Miss Garnett’s Angel by Sally Vickers, and Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth.
This is a good entry for the tags – favoured blog themes include fancy dress, Pierrots, Venice.
The photographs are (of course) by Clothes in Books’ favourite photographer – in Venice and out of it - Denise Perry – see her website here.
Sklepowich says that photographers taking pictures at carnevale in Venice always wear specially long or high boots to keep their feet dry…