Kicking off Venice Carnival

Opening show for the Venice Carnival 2018. Freeze frame of video shot by Gigi Navarra for AP Television. January 27, 2018

Dear Blog Readers,

Ok, I admit it.  I needed an excuse to get out of Rome and be distracted.  I got a nasty flu after Christmas and at the last minute had to back out of going on the Papal Trip to Chile and Peru. That was a big, important trip and I missed it.  I have been feeling a bit frustrated and sorry for myself.  So, I thought, what better than an intense dose of the Venice Carnival to boost my spirits.

I had vowed never to cover the Carnival again.  It is physically exhausting.  Venice is cold and damp in February and the Calli – the little alleyways– are packed with revelers.  Working for AP Television we have to drag a ton of equipment around with us.  Camera, tripod, computer, cables, mi-fi, LiveU, batteries, cell phones, chargers etc etc etc.  It all weighs a lot and when you have to carry a tripod on your shoulder, drag a trolley with a computer, plus try to keep your purse in a position where it doesn’t tempt pick-pockets, moving around can be difficult.

I was working with AP video-journalist Gigi Navarra and we adopted a strategy of push past, surge forward to the next block of pedestrians, slow down, push past and start all over again.  It is slow going to say the least and the damn tripod kept banging against my leg (I have a nice black and blue bruise to show for it too).

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that our budget is usually not big enough to include the rather hefty water taxi prices.  So, we rely on our feet to get around and our backs for carrying the equipment.  Of course, we get Vaporetto (water bus) passes but dragging the equipment on and off the Vaporetto can be complicated too.

Fire eaters on the Rio Cannaregio canal perform during the opening show of the Venice Carnival 2018. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video journalist Gigi Navarra. January 27, 2018

So, I had vowed not to do it anymore.  But I broke my own vow and it was worth it because Venice is always stunning and when you add on top of that revelers dressed in exotic, outlandish, and elaborate costumes, sensational, razzle-dazzle performances it somehow clears the mind.

Tightrope walker crossing the canal in Cannaregio at the opening of the Venice Carnival. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Video-journalist Gigi Navarra. January 27, 2018

Gigi still remembers covering the Carnival with me in 2015 when we spent four days and I had the brilliant idea of proposing 3 long form features, in addition to daily news stories and live coverage (see blog post “Sumptuous Balls and Flying Angels”).  We spent nights until 3am covering masked balls and then were up at dawn to cover the preparation of the traditional Carnival pastry, Frittole.  We covered the Flight of the Angel and filmed a traditional mask maker.  We visited costume makers and filmed wealthy visitors trying on ornate, ostentatious costumes.  We did not stay still a moment.  When we finally got the train home, we frantically edited video until our train got stuck at midnight.  Gigi collapsed and I continued to edit until three in the morning….  Gigi said “never again”

But then the “again” was this weekend.  This time just a two-day trip for news and live coverage. No features.

A couple in a elaborate costumes promenade through St. Mark’s Square. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 28, 2018

Gigi and I did agree that our first stop would be the Rosa Salva bakery/café where we had filmed the preparation of the fabulous frittole.  We rushed in and got our fix of these delicious treats.  This lightly fried dough dipped in sugar with sweet raisins are…. Since I can’t think of the right word to describe them, I asked Gigi.  He offered “strepitoso” – which according to my on-line translator is “sensational.”  I agree, Rosa Salva’s frittole are strepitose!!

And it is a good thing we got that massive sugar hit too because we had no idea what was in store for us as we made our way to Cannaregio for the opening performance.  We got caught among the throngs of 10,000 plus (according to organizers) people who were trying to line the banks of the Rio Cannaregio for the show.  The press office people told us to get to the Ponte dei Tre Archi…but from the San Marcuola-Casino Vaporetto stop there was a river of human beings flowing into the alleyways and making it impossible to rush forward.  We walked and walked and walked, turned down alleyways, over bridges, pushing past people, trying to get ahead.

In preparation for a long, cold evening standing on a bridge, I had put tights under my jeans, a turtle neck and heavy sweater, boots, hat, gloves.  Gigi was similarly attired.  We began to panic, we could not get through the crowds, the police were starting to block off the routes to the canal.  We were both soaking in sweat as we rushed and pushed and struggled to get to the bridge. We finally made it to the Ponte dei Tre Archi with 10 minutes to spare.

The show was inspired by Italian Film Director Federico Fellini and was complete with inflatable animals, a tightrope walker who made his way across the canal in the dark with floodlights and fire eaters on boats.

The show was dazzling.

That evening after we finished our live coverage and filed our news story, we finally ended up in the Trattoria La Rivetta and although the food was delicious, we did not get that much and the bill came to 87 euro for two people.  They slapped on “coperto” and 12 percent “servizio” and encouraged us to order an antipasto that turned out to be very expensive.  That is the disappointing thing about Venice.  They get too many tourists and they just can’t resist ripping people off.  Always better to go to the bars and have the delicious antipasto rather than to proper restaurants.

The start of the water parade at the Venice Carnival. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 28, 2018

The next morning we were up early to get on the press boat to cover the water parade down the Grand Canal from near St. Mark’s Square in the Lagoon, down past the Rialto Bridge to Cannaregio.  I love doing news stories which require being on boats.  Put me on a boat in a Venetian Canal to cover a story and I am one happy camper. (See my blog post on covering George and Amal Clooney’s wedding in Venice “The Last Wave”).

AP video journalist Gigi Navarra on press boat covering Venice Carnival Water Parade. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 28, 2018

The press office provided a long, flat, very stable boat…which was a good thing since we were broadcasting live.

Pirate boats at the Venice water parade. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 28, 2018

Raffaele Rosa, the press person on the boat with us, explained to me that the water parade is the event for Venetians whereas the Flight of the Angel is more for tourists.  The first float in the parade is the infamous “pantegana” or sewer rat.  A photographer sitting next to me in the press boat explained that it was sewer rats that brought the bubonic plague to Venice and there are still plenty around.  Great.

The Pantegana sewer rat leads the water parade down the Grand Canal at part of the Venice Carnival. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video journalist Gigi Navarra. January 28, 2018

The parade wove its way down the Grand Canal under the Rialto Bridge and to the Cannaregio neighborhood where, in the grand finale, the sewer rat burst open and dozens of multicolored balloons filled the sky.

Photo of Water Parade provided by Carnival Press Office. January 28, 2018

At the end of the parade, stands are set up along the canal for people to get “cicchetti” –plates of local delicacies including fish risotto and fried fish served with some red wine.

Tourists on Gondola take photos of water parade during Venice Carnival. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 28, 2018

Unfortunately by the time we finished filming the parade and had scrambled off the press boat, all the yummy food was gone.  Oh well, next year.

The “pantegana” sewer rat bursts open and dozens of balloons float skywards at the end of the Water Parade down the Grand Canal in Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video journalist Gigi Navarra. January 28, 2018
Not sure exactly why, but this mask reminded by of Melania Trump. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 28, 2018





8 thoughts on “Kicking off Venice Carnival”

  1. Well, I hope your Venetian carnival trip made up for the flu and having to skip the papal trip to South America. I can’t believe your office budget doesn’t allow for water taxis, especially with all that equipment you have to carry. Not fair! I think I’d be at the chiropractor’s on a recuperative visit. I know it’s difficult to navigate those narrow calle if you’re working, but it was a treat for me to be there at Carnevale a couple of times. I loved the costumes, the parades, the fireworks and the way costumers willingly posed for you. And what better backdrop than the doge’s palace! Ok, now I’m getting nostalgic to be in that magical city – even with the tourists. I want some of those strepitose frittole!

    1. Thank you Linda. I always love Venice, but it did not make up for missing the trip to Peru and Chile. It did distract me though and that was good. And yes, those frittole can put anyone in a fabulous mood.

  2. Ahhh! Bubonic Plague – the equaliser. No doubt it will make a come-back along with all those other nasty microbes that are oozing out of the deep-freeze as the perma-frost melts. Sorry to rain on your parade :-D

  3. Joan Schmelzle

    Hi Trisha,
    Fun read. Glad you recovered enough for all that work. I just headed back to exercise class Monday and still have aches which people tell me will be around for a while.
    Especially enjoyed the boat parade info and pictures. I had read about it in another blog called “Venice, I’m Not Making This Up.” The writer and her husband were in one of the boats and with lots of pictures she described quite a few including the rat and its balloons. Your picture of the rat was great and you got a pic of the balloons too.
    Thanks for keeping us posted on your adventures.
    A Preston, Joan

  4. Beautiful photos and great article. I love Venice, but Carnivale always kinda creeps me out. Maybe it’s an acquired taste….

    1. Thanks Kay. I love Venice but it really is cold and damp in the Carnivale period. I think the best time to visit is in the spring or fall. Carnivale doesn’t creep me out though, I love the fabulous and outrageous costumes and the spirit of it all.

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