It rained off and on all the next day, so once again I decided not to wear a costume as we ventured out to the P. S. Marco. The elaborately costumed characters were even more fantastic than the day before. They roamed from one end of the Piazza to the other, pausing to pose for photos as they made their promenade. I took rolls and rolls of film, running from one incredible masquerader to the next like a shark at a feeding frenzy.
Late that night I was awakened by the sound of sirens warning of an impending aqua alta, or high tide. The men of the palazzo and the neighboring houses could be heard leaving their homes and heading off somewhere, their deep, melodic voices echoing along the calle.
My curiosity was great, but when I jumped from my bed to look out the window I was immediately frozen, so I hopped back into my nice warm refuge. Even my normal nosiness couldn’t bribe me to get up, get dressed and go out to investigate what the men were doing and where they were going. However, I did check several times during the night to make sure the high water wasn’t coming into the studio. The next day I learned the men had gone to start the pumps in the basement of the church across the canal, so it wouldn’t flood.
The fourth day, Sunday, we didn’t go near the P. S. Marco. We heard on the news that police had closed all entrances to Venice because of overcrowding. We avoided the traditional tourist places, and instead went to visit friends and enjoyed a wonderful lunch and relaxed afternoon listening to music, far from the maddening crowds.
Monday found us once again in the midst of the other photographers, who were snapping away to our hearts content. Naturally I didn’t have on my costume. Looking at the big, elaborate costumes worn by everyone else, I felt certain they were either fur or down lined. And, undoubtedly, pocket warmers were tucked in under all those robes, hoops and capes.
Finally it was the last day of Carnevale and there I was, back at the P. S. Marco. I felt like I knew some of the characters from having photographed them during the last few days. There was an amazing assortment of finery, laces, velvets, metallics, feathers, glitter, spangles and furs. The masks and headdresses were fantastic. The sun made a short but very weak appearance late in the day, then slid behind the Chiesa Della Saluté and was gone. The cold settled around us like a shroud, and still the costumed characters paraded, preened, paused and posed for photographers. Music from the cafés mixed with the laughter of the children, as they ran happily through the crowds tossing bright colored confetti. The temperature dropped as the evening mist and fog began to form, turning the Piazza into a magical, mystical fantasy.
And then it was over.
On Ash Wednesday I wandered the streets cold and alone. It was gray and foggy as I made my way through the P. S. Marco. Gone were the revelers and fantastic costumes. Gone were the hordes of people. Gone were the fritole and galani. The bandstands were empty, the Piazza nearly deserted. The only sounds were those of the sweepers cleaning up, and the soft cooing of pigeons scavenging through the debris looking for abandoned tidbits of anything edible.
The Florian Caffè was nearby, so I paused for a warming cup of tea. Looking around I was surprised that not even a spangle or a small feather remained from the extravagant masqueraders, who posed there only yesterday.
I stopped at a small mask studio to buy souvenirs. The shopkeeper was a friendly young guy, who told me all about how the masks are made. When we stepped outside to see something in the window, he complained about the cold. He said it felt colder this year than he remembered, and I laughed and told him I had never been colder in my life! Then, as I reached into my pocket for money, I felt something warm. On impulse I pulled out my pocket warmer and placed it into his hand. His eyes lit up with amazement and pleasure. He was so fascinated by it that I wound up giving him both my treasured little warmers. He, in return, gave me a lovely miniature mask.
Leaving Venice is always sad, and I tried not to cry as the Vaporetto chugged toward the autopark because I knew the tears would freeze onto my cheeks. Later, as the plane flew over La Serenissima I blew a kiss, then settled back, cozy and warm, for the short flight to Paris.
A weekend in Paris! What a treat! Ah… to wander the little streets and hang out at terrace cafés. Yes, I thought, this would be a perfect ending to my holiday. It never occurred to me that it was going to be winter there too – and that Paris is farther north than Venice.
It was snowing when I arrived in Paris.