Floats and Faces

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Sep 06, 2013

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Saturday, March 3, 2012

      The town of Viareggio looks a good bit like the Virginia Beach of Italy.  There was a wide sandy beach with a boardwalk that ran along a sea wall.  Restaurants, hotels and private beaches dotted the several mile long waterfront.  The beach serves many of the villas that are located nearby, where apparently the Florence locals come to escape town life and spend their summer vacations, and weekends.  We strolled along the waterfront and saw surfers in the very chilly water, as well as families making sand castles.  The stores were just like other seaside shopping establishments – nautical themes with high prices attached.  Since it was too chilly for a beach weekend, we had come to see the Carnevale parade.  

     Even though Mardi Gras had come and gone, the parade celebrating Carnevale at Viareggio continued for one more weekend.  The parade is sort of a mix between our Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and what the Rose Parade would be if it were sponsored by CNN rather than HGTV.  Instead of the costumed crowd holding the strings to a balloon floating overhead, the group in matching costumes rode upon the floats, or danced along side or in front of them.

    The floats, mostly pulled by tractors, made a couple of circles along the parade route down the streets of Viareggio.  It was quite a spectacle as some of the floats were almost as high as the Macy balloons – about 4 stories tall.  Their wheels filled the lanes in the avenue, and whether at ground level, or on the balcony of the hotels lining the streets, you had to mind where you stood and step out of the way, or be brushed back by the float.  The 100 or so people on each float danced, bounced and jumped to music pumped through speakers on the their float making each one in motion, in addition to the "mechanical" parts of the floats that were manipulated by people pulling levers, or ropes from block and tackle pulleys.  The focus of these floats was not high tech, it was high political satire.  Add squirting silly string and confetti flying down from the bouncing crowd on the float, or up from the kids on the street and you get a glimpse into the multi-sensation experience.  Oh, and add that its night time, so the floats are flood lit, and the crowd celebrating in the streets are lit from some inner light, often enhanced with a little birra or vino of some kind.

    If the costumes of Venice were Hollywood level period clothing, many of the costumes seen on the streets of Viareggio were vintage Halloween.  Mom and Dad pulled out the costume of being fuzzy bears from 1980, and passed them down to Junior and his new wife.  They would just add a teddy bear version for the third generation in the stroller.

    Europeans have been weaned on getting the story from art.  Each painting, fresco, or church carving intended to tell the masses whatever the message of the moment may be.  We’ve seen the church schism denoted in a painting that included the pope falling into hell.  (Can’t remember the location.)  We’ve seen Saint Andrew, Saint Mark, and Saint Rocco immortalized in paintings that supposedly the illiterate population could understand and interpret.  That foundation is required for understanding many of the floats of the parade.  In order to be able to interpret the message you had to know the faces of who’s who in Europe.

    We recognized some of the most skewered – Berlusconi (former Italian PM ousted for a number of misdeeds), Monti (current Italian PM imposing lots of additional taxes and fees to try to keep Italy from default), Angela Merkel (German PM), Sarkozy (French PM), and even President Obama made a float.  Many of the other faces we did not recognize, and then of course we were a little distracted because many of the leaders were depicted atop naked bodies in “interesting situations”.   We could understand the mice chewing away at a Swiss cheese of Italy, even if we didn’t get that each mouse was labeled with another one of the taxes imposed by Monti. 

       The irreverence for both political leaders and religious leaders was a little shocking even to those of us that believe and live in a culture of free expression.  There was a float that seemed to include the world leaders, could have been G8, where each leader was dressed in cardinal’s robes.  Each had their hands reaching up to ensure they kept their “hats” on, I think their called mitres.  You could infer many things about attempting to keep their hats on, ill winds blowing, losing their status as heads of state, or ????  In the middle of the group Berlusconi would rise on a pedestal with a halo above him as if he had done nothing wrong, even though he no longer was one of the group.  On the float and in front of the float were about 100 people dressed as priests and nuns.  Each priest and nun wore either red stockings, or a garter, and their hassocks or dresses were slit up to thigh level.  The Sarkozy float included Angela Merkel in S&M chains and nothing else, sitting astride a cannon.  Time to go back to school for that art appreciation course.  It might help me interpret the message over boobs, butts, and blaring music.

    The next day we went to the walled city of Lucca, birth place to the composer Puccini.  It was a lovely town to stroll through.  The town was still a little sleepy waiting for the throngs of Tuscan trotting tourists that must be arriving shortly.  Our tour guide explained that the city had only been taken over by force once by Napoleon.  He installed his sister there to rule.  She promptly tore down the houses in front of her seat of government creating a large square that holds an annual music festival.  The festival had become a hard rock hallmark, apparently until the last couple of years when the performers rocked not only the audience but all the buildings within the town walls.  The authorities have opted for something a little less moving in the next couple of years.  The town was spared from shelling during WWII as the Germans left the area before the advancing allies since the thrust to take over Italy had begun from the south, and the Tuscan town was far enough north to allow the Germans to flee.  Our guide had a charming story, but on closer review was a little scandalous.  When the allies arrived they included the Buffalo soldiers, then the Pakistanis, then other forces.  The Italian maidens were glad to see their liberators.  The town priest warned the women to stay away from the men with the admonishment “Do not look into their eyes, or you will become pregnant.”  Our tour guide said his grandmother’s friend, who was grateful to the liberators apparently was surprised when she found herself pregnant.  Her response “I never looked at his eyes.  I kept my eyes closed the whole time.”  On reflection it was the children of mixed heritage that was the scandal, as he carefully noted all the different forces that had made up the liberators. 

    Randy and I climbed to the top of the famous tower which hosts an oak tree at the top.  No explanation on why it’s there, but it served for the great panoramic scenes from the new camera Randy got me.  That’s number 3 for me, if you’re keeping track, or 4 if you count the little one he got as a pocket model for himself, but that he never uses.  Not much scandal other than the number of $20’s we invest on cameras, just a lovely weekend enjoying the food, wine, culture and scenery.

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