Venice, that most romantic and watery of cities, has been on my mind since my sister, Peggy, who is an artist, headed for Ravenna for a mosaic class last month, and decided to swing by Venice for her first visit there.
Peggy became fascinated by the masks that are sold in so many artisanal stores in Venice, as I was on my first trip to Venice---in fact I stuffed my suitcase with them and brought them home (she did too). The hand-made masks are donned for the annual Carnevale di Venezia--and my sister happened to catch the first day of that as well.
The masks are such a great metaphor for the city: full of mystery and intrigue, ornate and beautiful, lovingly crafted. With a mask at Carnevale you can re-invent yourself, become anyone you like, be enigmatic.
The Venetian Carnevale has a long colorful history, dating from the 1100’s, and has always included masks, though no one is sure why. The craft of making them, from glass, leather, porcelain, or gesso, is quite special, and Venetian mask makers have always enjoyed a special status. Masks have played a role in Venetian history and politics (worn to cast anonymous votes at public meetings, for example), and have even been banned from time to time. They were particularly handy for a romantic tryst, or for committing a crime.
My sister snapped lots of mask shots on her trip, which she has kindly shared with us.
Above: This Italian gentleman, gearing up for the Carnival, is wearing a common type of mask with a beak-ish nose called a Medico Della Peste. Historically this was worn by physicians treating patients with the plaque, and was thought to give the doctors protection.
Embellished masks on display. The cat mask in the uppper left hand corner is called a gnaga, and is traditionally worn by men in drag.
Artists use molds like these to make masks. These molds are for a particular type of mask called a bauta. It features a jutting chin which allows you to drink and eat with the mask, thus hiding your true identity all the day long.
The new generation: modern masks in the hip steampunk style.
Big Bird, with attitude.
All photos by Peggy McBride
In the COMMENTS: Natalia, lobster benedict, what a concept! Christine's polenta sounds pretty great too. Suzanne, I agree and one of these days I'm going to break down and buy one of those Egg Poacher thingies.
Favorite Reads: Speaking of food (comme d'habitude), Kiki has a great cookbook and more for us to read, a most unusual book by a chef who is also a priest, called The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Merci for the recommendation, Kiki. To learn more about the city of Venice, try Thomas Madden's Venice: A New History.
This just in! Francophile alert: Beloved author and blogger Kristin Espinasse's new book is out, First French Essais: Venturing into Writing, Marriage, and France. A must-read!