In Italy, as in many other parts of the world, Carnival is a huge, month-long celebration. As it happens, Venice holds one of the most beautiful Carnival celebrations out there. I had been told that our local AFS region would be going to this grand celebration, so when my host mom broke the news that they were planning a rip-off Carnival in a tiny city nearby, I knew that was not going to work for me. I had only one Carnival in Italy, and I was going to do it right.
This is where friends from all over the world really come in handy. I started making phone calls.. and soon I found myself heading to Venice for Carnival with friends from New Zealand to meet up with an American friend. Of course, this was only after getting the permission to be able to travel from AFS and my host family. I was determined to work that trip out.
My hopes were temporarily crushed when the man at the ticket booth told me that the first train I needed to take had been cancelled. I called up my friend, who told me that the train was definitely coming. My host mom told me the same. I did not want to have to break the news to the ticket man that he was wrong, so I bought my ticket at one of the machines, which also listed the train as on schedule and arriving. As I sat waiting for the train, I found myself thinking how curious it was that there were only a few other people there for the common route to Bologna. After all, people take this train to travel to work. The point in time when the train was supposed to arrive came and passed. This, my friends, is when I learned that the ticket man usually knows what he is talking about.
The next train I missed, since it took too long to exchange my ticket with the ticket man, who was looking at me like I was an idiot the entire time. This would be exactly how I felt at that point. Two hours and a cappuccino later, I finally made it onto a train and settled in for the five hours of countryside views and Italian rap.
Did all that determination and confusion pay off? Yes. It was absolutely worth it. Carnival in Venice was one of the most stupendous things I have ever experienced. Everybody was dressed up, and it was like a higher-quality Halloween with gelato instead of candy. You could sense the excitement through the crowded cobblestone alleyways. There was a grand sense of diverse cultures.
Personally, I was having a great time asking anybody speaking English where they were from. By the end of the day, I had talked with a bunch of Americans, Australians, and English. I also impressed myself when I pulled out my Spanish, which I had not thought about since last year, and was able to communicate with a family from Spain who asked me to take their picture. I was partying with the world, and it was such an incredible thing!
We started the festivities by getting our faces painted at a little street stand. My two friends got pretty designs with sparkles; I got a bright-green lizard. For the day, we were being little children. Everything amused us. We took pictures with all the festive characters throughout the city. We sat and people-watched, guessing what people looked like under their masks. We smiled and laughed and enjoyed every second.
Every second, that is, until the skies decided to let loose and pour rain on us for a while. However, the closest open store happened to be an H&M that had four floors of women's clothing. Maybe the rain was not so bad after all.
Though I didn't use it, I couldn't resist buying a mask. They were all so lovely and just so Venice. The hunt to find the perfect mask took almost all day. The amount of masks was incredible. They were around every corner at a street stand, sitting in every shop window, and I was waiting for the one that would shout my name. Of course, I also had a price limit that would have been very easy to go over. In Venice, the masks are their pride and joy. They have animal masks, delicately carved masks, glittery masks, and anything-else-that-you-can-imagine masks. In the end, I discovered a fantastic, handmade, bright-red, sparkly and feathered piece that was absolutely screaming, "Chloe, Chloe, Chloe!"
Throughout the entire city, the ground was coated in confetti. The culprits, we found, were the little children. Parents bought bags of shredded paper and let their kids go crazy. This was extremely amusing, until we were confetti-attacked while trying to eat our lunches. I do not like shredded lettuce or shredded paper on my sandwiches. Luckily, this toddler was just too cute to get revenge on. The Americans who silly-string attacked us, however, will not be so lucky. I will find them when I get home, and there will be paybacks.
Like this entire exchange year, my weekend in Venice went by way too fast. I was soon back on the train going home, chatting with my friends from New Zealand in English. It seemed like the boy sitting across from us kept laughing at our conversations. We finally asked him, in Italian, if he spoke English. He did. As it turned out, he was also an exchange student for the year from Turkey. After talking a bit, we discovered that we had in fact been at the same birthday party a couple of nights before.
This world keeps becoming smaller.
Chloe Eberly of Warwick High School is currently studying abroad in Tavullia, Italy. Her column, documenting her travels, appears monthly in the Record Express More ITALY, page A14