A Place Where You Want to Get Lost
Getting lost is every child’s nightmare. Yet, as you get older, there are places where you actually enjoy getting lost. Places where you like the ‘not knowing where you are’ feeling that makes you believe that there is a great new adventure waiting just round the corner.
A place like this is the city of Venice during its annual carnival.
The city itself is a kind of magic. It makes you want to walk mindlessly round its numerous little squares (or ‘campi’), marvel at the Byzantine-Western-Arabic elements on the old buildings and read the next ‘Per San Marco’ sign on street corners with a childlike expectation. The city of Venice is a labyrinth that actually makes getting lost a real joy.
This is what Venice feels like in an ordinary day. During the carnival it is even more magical. These are the days when the beautiful labyrinth is filled with all kinds of costumes and masks, imaginable and unimaginable.
The carnival is a special time of the year. In Western Christianity, it is the time before Lent – a time when everything is to be enjoyed, when the world turns into an endless fair of beauty, lavishness and colour. Lent is a period of fasting, of symbolic suffering while waiting for Easter. That is why the days before are considered a last chance to feast in every aspect.
A tradition, initially linked to feasting with courtesans and poets in the Serenissima (one of the many names given to the Republic of Venice), it has now become a reason for people from all over the world to gather in the great square (or ‘piazza’) of San Marco, to wear costumes and masks and to take part in one of the most famous events in the world.
The carnival days are a busy time when everything happens everywhere. In the San Marco square marches the parade of unique costumes, while the people wearing them pose for a photograph or do some act according to the costume. In the little narrow streets you could stumble upon a small show of music, dancing or fire eating. In the small campi bands are singing in different languages on temporary stages. You could stand in front of the stage and listen, or you could mingle with the masked crowd, sipping some mulled wine, or you could go in the silence of one of the many churches where a part of the old Venice is still preserved with its marble glory.
Or, if you get tired from taking pictures of beautifully masked people, you could slip into a small, overcrowded coffee shop where you can have a small cup of the strongest coffee in the world. Of course, you have it standing by the bar, like the Italians do.
Then, pleasantly warm and envigorated by the aromatic brew, you go out again in the street as the chilly wind from the sea now seems to be less biting and bitter. You check the schedule of the carnival and you see that there is a little time left before the contest for the best carnival costume begins in San Marco square.
The square is the heart of the city. Build by a line of statesmen, including Napoleon, the great piazza is unique because it is beautiful and geometric at the same time. It is perfectly symmetric and yet artistic in a unique Italian way. It is a peculiar place that you could fall in love with during the carnival with the thousands of people or in a cold lonely night when there are hardly a few locals hurrying across the square.
Now, during the carnival, it is a pure feast of colour. People with costumes and masks are swarming the space between the Procuratie buildings and the sound of chatter in all languages is curiously mixed with the endless clicking of cameras.
There are costumes you haven’t seen and you haven’t even thought possible. There are colours in combinations that you have only imagined in your strangest dreams. It is a mixture of classic Renaissance Italy and the spirit of a Fellini film.
One of the carnival nights you actually get to listen to music from Fellini’s movies, while sitting by a small coffee table in the San Marco square. It is one of the many events running simultaneously in the days of the carnival.
Then, naturally, as the wind from the lagoon becomes stronger, you get chilly and Fellini is no longer enough to warm your spirit. It is time to stand up and take the few steps to Florian, the oldest coffee bar in San Marco square, a beautiful place that has welcomed intellectuals travelling in Italy for almost three centuries.
The next day, the carnival begins again with its international buzz and colourful costumes. You walk out with your camera ready, fuelled by the morning cup of Italian coffee, and holding a map that won’t stop you from getting lost. Which is perfectly fine because when you get lost in the city of Venice, you will probably discover a new, unexpected place that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. A small street perhaps where the masks are different and the costumes are new, a place where you join the group of amateur photographers around a particularly beautiful costumed couple and try to capture the spirit of a unique city.
Originally written for a contest organized by GoAbroad. Originally published on GoAbroad: A Place Where You Want to Get Lost by Slavena Zaharieva