"Fat Tuesday", or "Martedi Grasso" in Italian, was the last day to consume all the foods that were off-limits during the forty days of Lent. Without refrigerators to preserve these foods during that time, parties were held in homes and among neighbors and special recipes and traditions arose in different regions of the Catholic world (pancakes, frappe, castagnole...the list goes on).
Masquerade balls and costume parades, like the spectacular tradition that is still going strong in Venice and several other cities and towns in Italy, reflect a continuation of Roman pagan festivals around the vernal equinox in which the established order was turned on its head. Agricultural societies (which were virtually every society up to the Industrial Revolution) recognized a natural symbolism in this revelry that was not lost on Christians (more on this until the next post!). On a practical level, the impending season of sobriety, Lent, gave rise to a last rush of revelry that over time grew to be a tradition. Catholic Customs and Traditions by Greg Dues is a resourceful guide to this and other traditions associated with the Liturgical calendar.
As explained on the Ringmistress' other blog, romeandremus.blogspot.it, the Roman city coffer's were empty this year for Carnevale funding after extravagant productions in years past and the current economic situation in Italy and the many other countries around the world. However, at the last minute a less expensive public initiative was organized: "Fori in Maschera". The Via dei Fori Imperiali, which runs through (and over) the Roman Forum, was closed to traffic so that it could be filled with costumed pedestrians and street performers. Alas, due to non-festive obligations such as work and homework, the Kirkos Caravan only arrived at the tail end of these festivities and caught just a few photos of the masquerading stragglers.
The previous evening we did celebrate the season in a traditional way, however, by going to the theater to see an unique production of "Pinocchio", that classic Italian tale about a puppet, human nature, and redemption. Author and University of Virginia professor Vigen Guroian has spoken and written about the symbolism of Pinocchio at the Kirk Center- beautiful commentary that I will have to share with you in a separate post.
The carnevale season is a time not just to dress up in costumes and masks but also to see live performances of professional masked and costumed performers--puppet shows, Commedia dell' Arte, and wandering minstrels all magically appear throughout the city at this time of year. The Pinocchio show we took in was at the Teatro Ghione near the Vatican. A famous Italian actor, Pino Ammendola, played the part of a father recounting the story of Pinocchio to his son as a bedtime story with the surprise ending that the father himself had been the wooden puppet redeemed by the Blue Fairy and transformed into a human being (thereby making it possible for him to later become the father whose son was hearing the story for the first time). Magical Maya will debut as the Blue Fairy in her Italian school's production of Pinocchio later this year, so the outing was undertaken not only for entertainment, but also for a bit of Kirkos Caravan research!
Finally, in a last-ditch effort to squeeze out every last drop of the Carnevale Romano season before Lent, we went to a parish party at Regina Pacis church in our neighborhood. After surviving that sugar-fueled chaos, the Kirkos Caravan welcomes the sober season of Lent with welcome arms. May the journey toward renewal, Easter, and Spring begin!