Once in a lifetime, everyone should try the Venetian carnival, in its most authentic and magical form: a masked ball in the splendid setting of a Venetian palace.
After some research, Atelier Tiepolo offered us the opportunity to participate in the “Minuetto al Ridotto”, in the suggestive setting of the Hotel Monaco.
For one evening, we would be immersed in the atmosphere of 18th century Venice.
Carnival is the feast of adults and children, it is the inversion of normality, identity no longer matters, hidden behind a mask, but pure emotion that can manifest itself freely once the initial embarrassment is over.
The Constitution Bridge is our gateway to this fairy world, while the happiness of so many people influence us. The day is not the best; it rains and it’s cold, it’s only afternoon, but it seems already evening.
We immediately walk towards San Marco through Strada Nuova, stopping to admire some masks here and there. There are all sorts of them, from the most traditional to the modern ones and each one has its own particular charm.
Carnival is not just sight, but also taste. Venice is invaded by frittelle, castagnole and other typical sweets of the carnival. We do not resist long and so, after a while, we stop for an frittella with zabaione at the Pitteri Pastry.
For those who do not know, frittelle are typical Venetian carnival desserts. Briefly, they are balls of fried pasta. They can have pine nuts and raisins (alla Veneziana), or be filled with cream or zabaione.
The stuffing with zabaione is my favorite, even if some Venetians say that after a while they are “tired” and prefer cream. If you are traditional people, then go for the classic Venetian frittella. In any case, you will not regret it.
After the “Pit-stop frittella”, we continued along the road.
Once in Rialto, we started to breathe the festive air. Masks everywhere, music, many young people, some clearly drunk. Those looking for a modern and dynamic party can stop here. It was not our case, given the premises.
Meanwhile, the evening began to fall and the bright colors of the masks stood out even more in the reflections of the dim evening light. With the night, the masks transfigure their joy into secrecy.
The atmosphere warmed us up, the music does its duty and we immediately joined the carnival mood.
San Marco is emotion. Even tonight it is, undeniable.
The first thing you notice walking through the white access porticoes is the row of lights along the three sides of the procuratie -the palaces surrounding San Marco-, which envelop you making you feel immediately part of the square.
From the center of the square was coming the festive music of the carnival, while a small dancing crowd was gathering around the central stage, prepared for the celebrations of the following day.
We did not stop much, just the time to enjoy and absorb the magic of the square and take some pictures with the most beautiful masks gathered there. Given the late hour, we were forced to move quickly to the Hotel Danieli.
We were almost frightened to cross the threshold of the renowned Hotel Danieli, the most famous hotel in Venice, known for its terrace directly on the San Marco basin. Atelier Tiepolo was waiting for us to deliver our costumes: a simple mask, a cape and a hat. Not much, but enough to feel us too, fully, part of the Carnival.
“Wow!” The entry of Danieli. On the right, the concierge recalled Olivander’s workshop in Harry Potter. Each key inserted into a wooden drawer, crowned with a burgundy red pompom.
The most beautiful view opened, however, directly in front of us. Danieli’s salon is like those of fairytales. Exciting, tall, with the wooden staircase and the wide golden decorations. An atmosphere of other times, made even more magical by the beautifully masked people sitting at the tables in the hall.
Next stop: Hotel Monaco.
Finally we arrived at the Hotel Monaco, in the splendid setting of Ridotto, home of the ball. The real party that we had come in Venice for had yet to start, but we already felt we had experienced something magical and sufficient to justify that night in Venice.
Palazzo del Nobile Dandolo was the first place, in Venice and in the World, hosting a Casino (the Ridotto) from 1638 to 1774.
The place where the Venetians met to gamble, have fun and spend time in company was only open during Carnival, which lasted for about six months a year in the eighteenth century. The same Casanova, assiduous player, frequented it, considering it a perfect place for his conquests. [Source A.Tiepolo]
Upon entering, we begin to look around, bewildered and amazed, trying to absorb as much as possible of that splendid palace. In front of us, the white marble stairs led to the large wooden door that gave direct access to the ballroom. Fortunately, at that moment we meet Alessandra, the organizer and our referent, who clarifies all our doubts. [Thanks Alessandra!]
It was time to cross the threshold of the hall, from which already came the noise of dishes and music.
Normally, I would have been embarrassed to enter a room full of people I do not know. Not this time, the mask provided me with protection I had never conceived before.
The salon was triumphant. Tall, with rich decorations and gilded stuccos. The painted ceilings seem to further expand the boundaries of an already very large room itself.
At the sides of the hall, the richly prepared tables already housed the guests and framed the center of the room, deliberately left free for the dance. In total 14 tables for 8 people each.
We settled near the orchestra, consisting of 6 musicians in costume. I spent a few minutes observing the environment, looking around the tables, trying to feel myself like the guests.
I wonder how it is to share dinner with other people who not only do not know each other, but are even masked and, in most cases, do not even show their faces. It must take a good amount of wine to win the initial embarrassment!
The menu included traditional Venetian classics, including octopus salad, risotto and fish fillet. We did not try them, but what we can say is that the desserts seemed amazing.
The evening proceeds quickly, while the lineup is clear.
At each course, an artistic moment follows.
Initially, two dancers warmed up the atmosphere with their vintage dance. They danced skillfully between the tables, owning the central space of the salon, filling it with the rhythm of music. They were two, but they seemed many more.
After, an opera singer appeared surprising everyone pleasantly. She performed several times, always granting a different emotion.
The most beautiful part of the evening was the final part. When, in a crescendo of conviviality, professional dancers teach group dances to customers. It was really nice to see them dancing together, once they became familiar with the dance steps.
The atmosphere changed, suddenly it is an explosion of vitality and joy. Time stops, it really seemed to be in another era, magic is served.
Alessandra tells us that dance for centuries has been “group” dance, collective and not individual, at least until the Waltz. A way like another to overcome the rigid label of the aristocracy of the past.
Around midnight the evening ended. Even today, Venice has given us something magical and unique. Fatigue turns into satisfaction while we walk back to Piazzale Roma. To our surprise, we discovered that Venice was still alive.
The streets resonate with dances and songs, laughter and curses, because after all, carnival is for everyone!
[Thanks to Atelier Tiepolo and Club Culturale Italiano for the wonderful organisation.]
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