Reflections on Real Carnival in Italy

Winter travel. What possible reason could there be to convince a person to take on the nasty and variable weather of winter?

Carnival. Carnevale. Carnaval.

Hear me out. We stand in awe of ancient architecture in ruins, the Nuraghe of ancient Sardinia, the Colosseum of Rome, the library at Ephesus. But culturally, we see nothing. It doesn’t seem to bother us. We move on.

But what about celebrations of people, of culture? I know one. Carnival.

In its purest state, there is no celebration more removed from the present—or more attached to it—than carnival. It is “time out of time,” a time when values are upended. Dirt poor folks become kings and queens of any respectable carnival. Ancient rites are reenacted. Real carnival oozes forbidden sexuality, a recall of the pagan life still wired into our imaginations. Out with the old by recalling it so it can die.

Increasingly, real carnival becomes hard to find as corporate influences take over our lives with their happy meal mentality and primary color you’ll-always-be-a-dumb-kid plastics. This means you have to go far afield to see real carnival. At least way down the boot to rugged Basilicata.

I was reminded of all this upon reading about the Carnival In Tricarico

First, people who are not taking part in the procession walk around the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate three times and receive the blessing at the end of Mass. Then the masked figures and their animals do the same.

After the blessing, the masked figures and animals walk through the medieval streets of the town, having a lot of fun and miming the coupling of cow and bull as they go.

See what I mean? You don’t do these kinds of things in American church-sponsored festivals, do you?

What’s interesting is that the circling of the church three times for a blessing is exactly what the horses and of the L’Ardia di San Costantino do before they streak down the hill on a dirt path while the three faux “Constantine and his flagbearers” try to hold off all comers.

In any case, I want to see Carnival in Tricarico some day. It’s one of the early carnivals, celebrated in January. It will play to your animal instincts. You can test this by seeing the film below. It’s grainy, jumpy, way too long and technically awful, which only adds to its pagan allure:


Sometimes, technology isn’t everything.

Reflections on Real Carnival in Italy originally appeared on , updated: Dec 09, 2020 © .

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