Part Two of Venice's Carnevale kick off weekend is a grand boat parade starting at Dogana Point, just across from St. Mark's square, snaking all the way up through the Grand Canal, ending on Cannaregio Canal. The first weekend of Carnevale is always a celebration for and by the locals, called the Festa Veneziana, before the hordes of tourists flock the city for the over-the-top masquerade balls and lavish events that will begin next week.
If you are a Venice lover who keeps up with Venice events, you probably have already seen numerous photos and read blogs about yesterday's event, the Corteo Acqua (boat parade). I've blogged about this event in previous years as well. This year, the entire event was very different for me. I wasn't on the sideline snapping photos as the parade passed along the Grand Canal. I wasn't on onlooker. No. I was IN a boat, in that parade. My perspective was dramatically different this time around, for good reason.
Two years ago, as a spectator to this very same event, standing canal side in Cannaregio, I spotted the Pink Lionesses of Venice for the very first time. There they were, in a glorious dragon boat, dressed all in pink with feathered masks on their faces, rowing amidst all the other boats. I wished I could be rowing in that dragon boat with them. I didn't know anything about them, but they stood out, they were a bit different than all the other costumed rowers, and they were rowing a dragon boat instead of standing up rowing in typical Voga Veneto style. Long story short, I am now a member of the Pink Lionesses. Yesterday was my first time rowing in the Carnevale Corteo Acqua.
Preparations for the parade began a couple of weeks ago, as we Lionesses planned how we'd decorate the boat to reflect this year's Carnevale theme "La Festa piu geloso del mondo" or The world's most delicious festival. One of our members came up with an ingenious way to make large fruits, which she executed over the next few days. She made the fruit, and a couple of the rest of us were called on to some how attach the decorations to the boat, including yours truly.
This past friday afternoon, I spent a few hours arranging, and sewing, yes, sewing these paper mache fruits to a plastic grid cut in the shape of the prow of the boat. After all the fruit were sewed on, we then attached the grid to the boat. It all miraculously worked out; the boat was ready for the big event, and so were we.
She looks pretty good, doesn't she?
What most people don't realize when they line up to watch the Corteo is that we all start quite a bit earlier. Our boat was very carefully (hoping not to destroy the fruit) lifted by crane into the water. Then a few of us paddled over to the next canal where everyone else loaded up. Yesterday acqua alta (high water) struck just around the same time we needed to embark, which made loading up a bit more treacherous. Notice the water level in the next photo- it's even with the sidewalk.
Masks on, we were ready!
The Corteo started at Dogana Point, where all the participants were to gather. While we waited for everyone to assemble, we were treated to a concerto high above the Grand Canal. You can see the crane holding a grand piano and musician in the center of this photo below.
Part of the parade assembly process included checking-in with parade officials, who also threw bottles of water and sandwiches (tramezzini) into each boat for the rowers. And then we waited. And waited some more.
There were more than a hundred boats yesterday, filled with local rowers in costume. As we rowed you could just feel the happiness and joy among all the rowers. Cheers were being called from boat to boat between rowers as they recognized friends. The crowds lining the Grand Canal waved and yelled to all of us. What a great feeling it was to be in the water, part of it all.
Spirits were soaring, despite the turn in the weather. It started out cold. The cold continued, only to worsen with the start of rain and hail. That didn't slow anyone down.
Passersby on vaporettos waved and snapped photos. The Accademia and Rialto bridges were lined with people all cheering us all on. I'd been in their spot in previous years. I have to tell you, it's better in the boat.
When we made the turn onto Cannaregio canal, there was an entirely different feel in the air. The excitement level had cranked up several notches. There were lots more people. Lots more cheering. It was an emotional scene for all of us in the boats, all of us proud and happy to be there.
Parade officials located at the Tre Arche bridge were announcing various boats as we made our way up the canal. Boats docked everywhere a spot was available, and the canal-side party began in earnest, right after the pantegane (big rat) released a rat belly full of balloons into the sky.
Restaurants, cafes, bars and pastry shops all over town donated food, beverages and sweets, distributed at booths lining both sides of Cannaregio Canal. Venetian dishes including sarde and saor, bigoli in salsa, pasta e fagioli, and the traditional Carnevale desserts frittelle and galani were available for all. Fortunately for all of us the weather had calmed down considerably by this time.
The one downfall to being in a boat is not being able to have my camera. I was able to snap a few photos with my camera here and there. Not quite the same. That's ok. I was happy to sacrifice some photos for the sheer joy of being able to row and be a part of this special celebration.
To give you a better view of the entire event, here's the official Carnevale You Tube video of yesterday's Corteo Acqua. See if you can spot me, I'm wearing pink!