Monday, February 15, 2010
Eine Unglaubliche Grosse Partei : Karneval in Venedig... (An Unbelievably Big Party: Carnival in Venice)
Guess what?! I’m back. That’s right. I have another blog post for you. Woot woot. :) As I write this time, I am watching some sort of skiing on the Olympics. The commentary is, of course, in German, which is pretty spiffy. USA! USA! USA! (oo-ess-ahh :) German pronunciation)
Okay, so if you’re reading this blog update, you are likely expecting some sort of update. So an update you will get. But before I begin, I must apologize again for my awkward sentence construction. Although my German is by no means fluent yet, it has definitely corrupted my ability to speak and write in normal English. So if you notice a strangely worded sentence or an oddly-placed verb, that’s the reason why.
Finally, now for the update….
SATURDAY (February 13) = A day I will never forget. On Saturday, I was in Venice, Italy, for Carnevale. And it was one of the most amazing, memorable things I have ever done. It was certainly worth the 50 Euros, worth waking up at 3:45 a.m. and walking 20 minutes in the cold to the bus meeting point, worth the five-hour bus ride, worth the standing up for essentially 10 hours straight and worth the aching feet the next day. It was without a doubt one of the most incredible experiences of my life. That being said, let me tell you about it.
In America, church holidays (excluding Easter and Christmas) aren’t a very big deal. Sure, some people give up things like chocolate for Lent (which I am NOT doing this year. The chocolate here is simply too amazing.). Catholic churches have “Fish Fries” on Fridays (which my Lutheran family and I often attend and enjoy). And cities like New Orleans make a big deal about (and a lot of money through) Mardi Gras. But overall, we Amis (German slang for “Americans”) don’t do much on Fat Tuesday. Not so in Europe, and certainly not the case in Venice. On the contrary, Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Karneval/Carnival is a HUGE deal. It’s like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Independence Day, New Year’s Eve, and International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day all rolled into one. Yeah. HUGE.
And if Times Square is the New Year’s Eve hotspot, Venice, Italy, is the Carnival/Fat Tuesday/ Mardi Gras capital of the world. During the ten days leading up to Ash Wednesday, Venice is one giant party. Everyone and their dog (literally; I saw many dogs) who can come to Venice for it comes to Venice for it. And I was fortunate enough to get to be one of those people (not dogs. Ha ha).
Basically, thousands of people flood into Venice, and the Saturday before Fat Tuesday is especially busy because—obviously—it’s Saturday. Now, I’d seen pictures of Venice before; I knew it to be the city of canals and gondolas; I remembered it from some of Shakespeare’s plays; and—being the history nerd that I am—I had learned about the Medici family that basically ran the town during much of the Renaissance. I’d also done a little research about Carnival on the Internet and had seen some pictures of people with strange masks. But none of my prior knowledge could have prepared me for just how unbelievably incredible—and beautiful—it would be.
I don’t know how much you know about Venice, so I’ll err on the side of ignorance and give you a quick lesson. Venice is built entirely in water; it consists of a bunch of man-made and natural islands all clumped together and connected by canals. There are streets and big squares and cobblestone spaces between the five-hundred year old (and older) buildings, but canals run through the entire city—the Grand Canal is the biggest (obviously), and there are many, many smaller canals with bridges over them. If you want to get around Venice, you can take a water-taxi or a traditional gondola, but those can be pretty pricey, so your best bet is to go by foot. But be forewarned: you WILL get lost. No question about it. Even if you have a map, you are guaranteed to get confused. The streets aren’t labeled; many of them aren’t even named, and they consist of so many twists and turns and back alleys and corners that you won’t find your way immediately. It’s all but impossible.
But don’t worry; it’s definitely worth getting lost. Why? You might ask. Simple: the city is BEAUTIFUL. It’s without a doubt the most beautiful city I have ever seen. Every time I’d turn a corner, or enter another square, or discover a side alley, or cross another canal with water of the perfect shade of turquoise, it seemed more picturesque than the last. I can’t say it enough: it was so so so so unbelievably beautiful. To prove my point, I had fully charged my brand new camera battery the night before I left; by 8 p.m. it was completely dead. Luckily, my friend Jodie has the same camera, and she took lots of pictures too. Seriously, though. It was so incredibly beautiful. All day I had to keep reminding myself that it was real, that I wasn’t in some dream, but that I was actually in Venice. I wish I could describe it better, but I honestly cannot think of sufficient words. And that in itself is significant; I am very rarely rendered speechless.
In addition to being a gorgeous city with incredible architecture and history, Venice was also overrun by masked people—not the robber kind, the Carnival kind. Venetian locals and various wealthy people from the surrounding area dress up in ridiculous Renaissance-era costumes with masks. The costumes are insane; they come in all varieties and colors, with different themes and looks. Sometimes, they come in pairs, with a man and woman dressed to coordinate. Their eyes are their only visible facial feature; everything else is covered by the masks. They spend the first part of the day gradually making their way to San Marco Plaza, the main area or “Times Square” of the Carnival. It takes them a long time to get there, though, because every few seconds, someone or whole groups of people stop them and take pictures of and with them. It’s like a high-class Renaissance festival crossed with Disney world. It’s so crazy.
Okay, having given you some background on the Carnival, so hopefully you have a better feel for it. Now, I’ll share a bit from my personal experiences there. Our two double-decker buses finally arrived at the Park-Insel, or island designated specifically for parking, at 11 a.m. Immediately, our huge group of Erasmus students got broken up as we started to make our way over bridges and through other islands toward the city. Fortunately, Jodie and I were able to stick together. But I was really hoping to meet other international students and become friends with them; however, since the other Erasmus people had disappeared, I feared that this wouldn’t be possible. Then while walking past sign for a restroom, I heard a girl comment that it was ridiculous to have to pay 50 cents to use the toilet. I told her that I agreed (little did I know that I wouldn’t use the restroom until 5 hours later—and it would cost me 1.50 Euros. Oh dear.) We started chatting as we walked. It turned out that her name was Shirlee, and she was from Australia. She was there with her roommates from France (Sarah) and Portugal (Claudia); they are studying in Milan and were also in Venice for the day. We quickly became a five-some and spent the entire day together; not only was it a blast getting to know new people, but it was also a direct answer to my prayer that I would make new friends in Venice. Yet again, God hears and provides.
I guess there isn’t much exciting to say about the day. We spent the first 4.5 hours lost while trying to find San Marco Plaza. There were so many people that we felt like cattle being herded through, especially when we came to really narrow alleys where everyone was going the same direction. It was crazy how many people there were. We took lots and lots of pictures, many with the masked people. The weather was gorgeous: sunny and 50 degrees; it couldn’t have been more perfect. We even bought masks; mine is turquoise and green with tons of sparkles. I felt so much more festive once I was wearing it. :)
Finally, we arrived at San Marco Plaza. And there were even more people than I’d ever seen in one place; I was kind of scared the island would sink. But it didn’t, and the party went on, especially as it got later. At one point, there were gigantic paper or plastic insects that appeared to be crowd surfing; they were actually controlled by someone walking below them. I seriously felt afraid, since the praying mantis, fire ant, and especially the black-widow spider were so lifelike. Like a nightmare come true. Eventually, they disappeared and some disco music played for a little while. Oh, Europe and disco. Ha ha. I think the actual parties started later that night, but our bus left at 9:30 p.m.
At that point, though, we were ready to go. It had been an unbelievable, yet very long day. I’d taken about 400 pictures, walked who knows how many miles, seen countless beautiful buildings and canals, made memories to last a lifetime, eaten two scoops of gelato, and was ready to call it a day. We rode a water-bus (like a big boat with bus-style seats) back to the Park Insel. Once I was in my seat, I tried to stay alert to talk with people, but my eyes had other plans. They wanted to close and refuse to open. So I slept the entire way back to Graz, dreaming of the lovely fantasy-world that is Venice, Italy….
Since then, the last few days have been relatively uneventful. Pierce Winters, the other OSU student, arrived, and I’ve been introducing him to my friends and helping him get settled into Graz. He’s actually my next-door neighbor; he lives in the next apartment over, which is kind of fun. I washed my jeans yesterday, which was extremely exciting. I will never take clean clothes for granted again! Yesterday, I went with Jodie, Pierce, Anne-So (from France) and Giulia (from Italy) to the Kunsthaus (art museum with different exhibitions) and then to eat dinner.
Afterwards, I gave Anne-So and Giulia some of my Omi’s recipe peanut-butter cookies I made; they loved them! I never realized how wonderful it would feel to have European friends enjoy something I cooked. We’re going to have an international dinner night; Giulia will make pasta, Anne-So will make crepes, and I’ll make cookies. Ha ha. :) Then today I didn’t have German class, which was very nice. This afternoon, we went along with some other French girls to see “Valentinstag” (Valentine’s Day) the movie, dubbed into German. I was surprised at how well I understood everything. Maybe my German really is improving…
I’ve been kind of discouraged at different points in the last several days. I worry that I’m not stepping out and making enough friends or that I’m not making the most of my time here. The last couple days have been better, though, because I’ve gotten to spend more time with Erasmus friends. They really are the best. I just need to not let myself be hard on myself, as I have a frustrating tendency to be. If I can just let things go and not worry about things, I know I’ll be happier. Easier said than done. I just don’t want to get to the end and be disappointed with myself. But worrying won’t help anything; instead, I need to trust God and let go.
Anyway, that’s the latest scoop from Graz, Austria. I’m loving it more than I could have ever expected. I want to make the time stand still, because I don’t know how I could ever come home. That being said, though, I do miss all of you and hope everything is going great. Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you have a fantastic day!