For the first time since it establishment nearly 150 years ago, the Viareggio Carnival will take place in September and October rather than the traditional pre-Lent month of February. The Carnival Foundation has announced that the 2021 festivities will be held from September 18 to October 9. Although the pandemic has forced the Foundation to rethink this year’s calendar, five parades are planned to celebrate the theme of a “Universal Carnival.” On Sept. 18, 26, and Oct. 2, 3, 9, commissioned floats (carri), designed and created by various local artists, will tell the stories of Carnival traditions around the world.
The Viareggio Carnival is also a competition for float entries, with each aiming to be the best in their respective size categories and win the overall prize. All floats in the parade that moves parallel to the sea give a visual representation (usually satirical in the past) on a chosen theme. Skilled attention to detail are not lost in the craft, with some of the largest floats towering at 65 feet or 20 meters, weighing about 40 tons. These remarkable works of pop art, entirely of paper-mâché, are pulled by concealed tractors. The multiple moving parts are worked manually, by manipulating an arrangement of ropes, pulleys and levers. The carri are in constant motion against the backdrop of the beach, rendering the scene out of a Fellini film. Each is a year in the making.
In addition to these floats, a reworking of Uberto Bonetti’s stylized logo of the cheerful Burlamacco clown, a 1959 representation of the Viareggio Carnival’s time-honored symbol, will also be highlighted in the 2021 edition. Bonetti’s poster and the handmade floats, ranging in size and design, will celebrate rebirth and hope for a post-pandemic world. Previous festivals have showcased floats zooming on specific topics including environmental and social concerns and the impact of social media in order to interpret contemporary issues. And this year’s carnival will be no different, speaking to how the health emergency has brought suffering but also solidarity in the past months.
Home to the Tuscany’s biggest carnival celebration for decades, Viareggio is normally filled with parades, street decorations, masquerade balls, fireworks, and enjoyment of food and drink leading up to Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). It is not yet clear how these traditions may alter in the late summer and early fall but we can hope that the Viareggio Carnival is the first of many moments of celebration and community in a less critical moment of personal safety. (elizabeth berry)