Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hiding in the shadows of Venice

Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go. 
~ Truman Capote

I think the quote above is a good description of Venetian decadence. I'm trying to imagine Truman Capote vacationing in Venice, and my mind is conjuring up all kinds of entertaining things!

The above photo was taken through a shop window at night. I think a mask can look scary with even a mannequin's eyes peering through it! In case you don't know, Venice holds a yearly celebration called Carnival (Carnevale). Basically, during Carnival, people dress up in elaborate costumes and masks. Mostly people are so covered, that you couldn't guess who is inside the costume! 

Part of assembling my last blog post involved paging through trip photos. I was searching for photos of plague doctor masks. I ended up finding more mask photos than I remembered taking! I wanted to share these photos with you guys. Actually, I wanted to share more trip photos than this, but I'm staying true to the Halloween theme and sticking with just costumes and spooky shop displays. All the photos in this post are from my trip to Venice.

The video below features an interview with a German woman who travels to Venice each year for Carnival. She has designed some beautiful, prize winning costumes. Get this: she doesn't sew, but rather hot glues her dresses together!

I felt really inspired after watching this. With Halloween fast approaching, I might have to get going with my glue gun!

This is probably the scariest photo I took in Venice:

You might need to click this picture to see the details. This was taken through a very dark shop window. Don't enlarge this if you're scared of clowns!

If you've been to Venice, you know about the narrow alleyways between buildings. I can't imagine walking past someone wearing this clown mask in a dark alley.

Here's another mannequin at night. I'm not sure why this one freaks me out, but it does.

There are many videos on youtube that show people dressed up for Carnival. Here's a favorite:

You'll notice that most of the people in this video are entirely covered. There's no way you could recognize a person wearing one of these costumes. As you can guess, anonymity didn't always bring out the best in people. We've all seen what sometimes happens when people hide behind their avatars and user names online. Imagine that kind of anonymity in real life. To make matters more dangerous, everyone was anonymous.

Hundreds of years ago, all Venetians were wearing masks year round. There were many reasons for this. Wealthy Venetians didn't need to fear being robbed if no one knew who they were. Masks were handy for spies who wanted their identities hidden. Criminals found masks as useful as bank robbers find ski masks today. If a person didn't want others to know they gambled, they wore a mask to gamble. It goes without saying that there were all kinds of sexual acts that wouldn't have happened without the anonymity of the masks. People wearing masks could do all the things they were ashamed of or wanted to keep secret.

This lifestyle was fun for a while, but after a point the masks were having a negative impact on Venice's society. Things got so out of control, that masks were banned! During the 1100's the Catholic Church got involved and it limited mask wearing to only several months out of the year. This eventually led to the Carnival celebration we know of today. Outlawed off and on, Venetian Carnival was officially reinstated in 1979. More Venetian Carnival information can be found on this informative web site: http://www.magicofvenezia.com/servlet/the-template/maskstory/Page

Aren't these animal masks cool? It would be fun to go to Carnival as the whole zoo with a group of friends.

Oh, and last but not least... I was pretty happy to find this lurking in my photo collection!

Of course I had no idea what I was looking at when I took this picture. A neat feature of this mask is the full plague doctor figure painted between the eyes. If anyone can read Italian, please let me know what is written on the beak.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed my trip photos! I know that if I ever visit Venice again, I'll have a better understanding of the history behind the masks I see.


  1. Oh, Venice is so beautiful! Gorgeous post! That woman creating dresses with a glue gun was amazing. They look like they would be worth an absolute fortune, but apparently she manages to create them for relatively little money.

    At the risk of constantly recommending movies to you (haha), have you ever seen "Don't Look Now", starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It's set in Venice and it's very creepy. I saw it years ago, not long after visiting Venice, and it freaked me out. It really uses the maze of lane ways and canals all over Venice to create the atmosphere. I'll have to watch it again to see whether it has the same effect on me.

    My husband, Danny, has translated your plague doctor mask as best he could - some of the script is a little hard to read. Basically, it is a description of the costume.

    The title is, "The Plague Doctor", then it goes on to say that he is in a tunic and mask of the time, filled with disinfectant flowers in the snout, and defending his eyes with a pair of characteristic glasses.

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  3. Yeah, that fourth photo down of that mask is pretty scary looking.

  4. What a great post! I so want to go to carnival now! Any excuse to get dressed up in a costume!

  5. I absolutely love Venetian/Masquerade masks. I have quite a few myself. They're so magical and mesmerising.. I just can't get enough of them.

    My boyfriend would hate to take me to Venice.. we'd be coming home with twice the luggage that we took haha! Whenever we are near a fancy dress shop he always rolls his eyes at me because he knows I would dying to go inside and look for masks.

    Venice does look lovely though!

    I find the beautiful and extravagant fashions of the 18th century very fascinating. I love the huge powdered wigs, the white faces and the nobility and aristocracy of that time. It was all so camp and gay! I especially love films that are set in that era like Casanova with Heath Ledger - I love that movie!

    The plague doctor mask in the last picture is amazing! That would have definitely been coming home with me if I had been there! xxx

  6. This looks like it would be taking a trip for. It looks like fun!

  7. I wish I had a party to go to. I would love to wear the steampunk/victorian outfits and funky masks. The beak masks are freaky.

  8. I am very much in love with your blog.

  9. Victorian style is awesome!

  10. Oh my! I love seeing all these comments. :) I'm going to respond to these in clumps, since blogger only lets me write so much at once.

    Little Gothic Horrors ~ I'm sending a big Thank You! to you and your husband for the translation! How could I have forgotten that he's Italian? How handy! I love how I've wondered what was written on this mask for years, and all I have to do is ask to find out right away! :) It's good to know. I always wondered if it might be a poem, but a description of the costume makes sense.

    So, you've been to Venice? When were you there? It's such a magical place! So beautiful. Yes, the costume designer was amazing. I admire her talent, especially considering her technique. I also admire her spunk for staying in the contest. I love her Gothic Marie Antoinette outfit.

    Oh, please continue recommending movies to me! We have the same taste in films. I tried to find "Don't Look Now" at the library today, but they didn't have it. I'll find it elsewhere. I'm a Donald Sutherland fan, and the premise for that movie sounds awesome. You can't beat creepy + Venice! :)

  11. Max ~ Yeah, that mask was freaking me out as I took a picture of it! I don't even have a clown fear, but it was a dark night and that face looks wicked! I can only imagine how a person with a fear of clowns feels when looking at it.

    Stacey ~ I'm with you! Any excuse to dress up! Not like I need to tell you that. :) Did you have any favorites out of the costumes/masks you saw here?

    Vain Glory Sinner ~ I would love to see some photos of your masks! Are they featured in any of your blog posts? I take it that your masks decorate your walls?

    Haha! Yeah, Venice would be a tempting place for you to shop. I'm sure you would have lots of fun there, between your love of history and fashion!

    I managed to find "Casanova" at the library today. I read the back of the DVD case and it sounds like a cute movie. I can't wait to watch it! I really like Heath Ledger. I saw that there are some extras on the DVD about 18th century fashion. I'm almost looking forward to the bonus features more than the movie! :) Thanks for the recommendation.

    Ha! Yeah, now that I understand the history behind plague doctor masks, I want one too.

  12. Jessica ~ Well, I think Venice is worth taking a trip to see, even without Carnival going on. I bet going during Carnival is the most amazing experience. I heard a lot of stories about Carnival from an American woman who owned our hotel. Her first visit to Venice was during that time of year! Those costumes are so over the top - Venetian Carnival is like Halloween on Steroids!

    Adsila ~ Aww...I also wish I was going to the kind of party where people paired Victorian/Steampunk clothes with Venetian masks! I'm not sure if I ever mentioned that the Victorian time period is my favorite as far as fashion, architecture, and art.

    Veggie Macabre ~ That is very sweet of you to say! Thank you. :)

    Timothy Bowen ~ Yeah, Victorian style is the best! Thanks for following my blog today. I'd like to follow you back, but I'm not seeing a link to your blog. So if you have a blog, post a link to it in my comments, and I'll follow you back.

  13. Our pleasure! Danny enjoyed translating it - he doesn't get to use his Italian much.

    We were in Venice in the late '80s. Danny has relatives living in Trieste, which is not far from Venice. We stayed in Mestre at night, and caught the train into Venice each day. I'd love to win the lottery and go and stay in one of those amazing, luxurious hotels on the canals.

    I loved Venice so much! At the end of each day we would get lost in the maze of alleyways as we made our way back to the station, and find all these gorgeous little hidden shops, and stop for lemon tea in non-touristy cafes. Sigh!

    You've given me the urge to dig out some of my photos now. I'll be on the lookout for any plague doctor masks. I wouldn't have had the faintest idea what they were back then.

  14. Great photo collection of masks! I'll have to rent "Don't Look Now' too- It sounds intriguing. The movie that springs to my mind when I think of Venetian Masks is "Eyes Wide Shut", but those masks were so plain compared to these beauties.

  15. Carnivals to me were all like cotton candy and fun times....now I'm thinking it's more like Eyes Wide Shut. Great! Just one more thing I'm scared of.

  16. Little Gothic Horrors ~ It sounds like you two really got a chance to experience Venice in depth. With the help of your husband speaking Italian, I'm sure you were able to tour Venice in a way most tourists can't.

    I would love to stay in one of those luxurious hotels too! Did you ever see "The Tourist" movie? I know it got some not so favorable reviews, but I enjoyed it. Part of the reason I liked it was that I got to see the beauty of Venice again! At one point, the characters stay in one of those luxurious hotels. I have a feeling there's an entire hidden Venice for the super wealthy!

    I would love to see some of your photos! Please post or email me some if you find them. You might just have a plague doctor mask lurking in your collection too. :)

    trick or treat ~ Thanks! Yeah, that movie sounds great. I hope I'll be able to get a hold of it. Venice certainly has possibilities for spookiness. Although, I never felt afraid walking around there. I haven't seen "Eyes Wide Shut" yet. I'm not sure if I want to from the things I've heard! Maybe it's not so bad... I'll at least have to google some pictures of the masks in that movie to compare.

    Copyboy ~ Aww "cotton candy and fun times" :) Yeah, this was maybe a little different... I'm afraid there was a little bit of an "Eyes Wide Shut" element to Carnival back in the day. Don't be afraid! I'm sure modern Carnival is just a fun dress up party for one day of the year. I can't promise that you'll get any cotton candy, though. :)

  17. Someone was only just telling me yesterday that they'd seen "The Tourist" and really enjoyed it. It's interesting that certain movies seem to attract such negative publicity which leaves them tainted. I'll definitely put it on my list to check out, now.

    The first movie that comes to mind when I think of films which showcase Italy is "Only You", with Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei. From memory, Venice is the first location they visit, but Rome and Positano are gorgeous eye candy, too. Of course, this movie isn't spooky, BUT it does feature a Ouija Board and a carnival fortune teller, so I think we can just about sneak it in there. Haha!

    Did you visit any other parts of Italy? With your art background I'm sure you'd love Florence. The Uffizi gallery is my favourite art gallery, ever. Seeing the Botticelli paintings up close was mind-blowing.

  18. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Yeah, I'd say "The Tourist" is worth watching. The first time I saw it, I was sure it was a comedy. The second time, it seemed more serious. Maybe it's a little of both. Anyway, you can't beat looking at Johnny Depp and Venice!

    I don't know about "Only You" but I'll try to find it. As you know from my plague doctor post, I like any movie with Robert Downey Jr. in it. :) (He and Johnny Depp are my two favorite actors.) Ha! Yeah a Ouija Board and fortune teller are enough to fit my theme. I do occasionally see non-spooky movies, though. :)

    Yes! I saw Rome, Florence, and The Cinque Terre. Have you been to all of these places? The Cinque Terre was amazing! Actually, expect to see some blog posts in the future to go with those places. There are definitely more spooky photos from Italy where these came from!

    Yeah, especially for an artist, Florence is mind blowing. I just kept thinking "Am I really seeing these paintings?" It's almost embarrassing to admit how many photos I took on that trip. (3,000) I wanted to record every little moment. Hopefully, some day I'll be back!

    P.S. ~ I managed to get a hold of "Don't Look Now" at the library today! I'll let you know what I think...

  19. We mainly went to Venice, Rome, and Florence. Also, Trieste, and some other small places. Didn't get to The Cinque Terre - will have to put that on the list for next time! You do know that I'm going out to buy a lottery ticket today, after all this talk! Haha!

    I must get "Don't Look Now" as well. I'm really curious to see if it creeps me out now, as much as it did the first time. Apparently it was very controversial when it first came out (you'll see why!).

  20. (jumping in) Oh yes! "Only You" makes you lust for Italian travel! I watched it about 2 months ago, and noticed Marisa Tomei's outfits all seemed pretty timeless, too (lots of costume changes). Good thinking about the Ouija board and fortune teller! It counts!
    "The Tourist" is visually stunning. It was so sumptuous; beautiful actors (ignore Depp's hair) and beautiful places and even beautiful transportation! That hotel was to die for. Rather like a James Bond film, and many of those are travel-tempting too. We need to send Daniel Craig to a Venetian ball!
    I went to Venice probably around the time "Only You" was made, and I was about their age. I got pinched! Venice was also my first encounter with a hole-in-the floor bathroom, yuk. Did a Meditteranean cruise 3 years ago that went to Naples and Pompeii.Still need to get to Rome!
    Justine, you asked me about Twitter,but alas no as barely time to blog. Thanks for asking though!

  21. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Ha! Good luck with your lottery ticket. :) Yeah, I know what you mean - There are just too many good places to visit! I would say The Cinque Terre should be on the top of your list the next time you go to Italy. It's really beautiful there! When I first saw that beach, I had to catch my breath. It's just that amazing.

    So, I watched "Don't Look Now" last night. I'm going to guess that the controversy came from the never ending, graphic sex scene? There seems to be a lot of talk online about that being real. Pretty daring stuff, especially for the 1970s. I read that the director threw that scene in at the last minute, since the couple was fighting too much otherwise.

    Well, I wasn't really scared except for at the very end. The old women were really creepy. It's one of those movies where I felt suspicious of every character. Most of it actually left me confused! There are a lot of positive reviews online by people who claim to understand this movie. Hmm... It wasn't really for me, but I can see how the movie could spark some conversation. What were the parts you liked? Was it the creepy set design? Maybe I just need someone to explain this to me!

    trick or treat ~ Yeah, I'll look for "Only You" the next time I'm at the library. The nice thing is that we can order from the many other Milwaukee county libraries too. So I can try every movie recommended to me for free. :)

    Yes, "visually stunning" is a good description! Haha, ok I will admit Johnny Depp's hair was looking its worst since "Blow". I think they went a little far trying to make him look average for "The Tourist". Even if Johnny wasn't looking his best, I thought he was really funny. I agree that the hotel was amazing. They built part of the interior for the movie set, but I believe the exterior is the actual hotel. If you would like to see more of the real deal, google "Hotel Danieli".

    Haha! Yeah, Daniel Craig at a Venetian ball would be worth watching! James Bond movies are always so glamorous.

    You got pinched in Venice? Wow, well the Venetians weren't that exciting when I was there. :) I didn't see any hole in the floor bathrooms there either. Luckily! I guess people are used to those in other countries, though.

    I'd love to see some pictures from your trip to Venice! It's always fun to compare pictures with someone who has visited the same place.

  22. See, now this is the danger of recommending a movie that I haven't seen in years. I saw this not long after visiting Venice, when I was living in London. I don't even remember it that well, but I was creeped out by the red raincoat and Venice being portrayed in a sinister way.

    I'm really curious to see what I'd think now. After so many years of horror movies maybe I'm completely desensitized and won't find it creepy at all. Haha!

    If I find any good Venice photos, I'll email them to you.

  23. Haha! Well, maybe the movie that exists in your memory is better than the one I just watched. :) Yeah, the red raincoat was creepy. It was especially creepy in the final scene!

    Well, if you ever do watch it again, you can explain it to me!

    Wonderful! I look forward to seeing your photos. :)

  24. I love the quote in the beginning.

    Venice looks so beautiful! I need to learn Italian! Those pictures are beautiful but it definitely reminds me of The Tourist! I know people already mentioned it. I have review coming up of that too. Weird!

  25. Me too! Truman Capote was pretty cool. I think he'd actually be a good subject for a future blog post!

    It would be fun to speak Italian. It's a beautiful sounding language. How funny that you have a review of The Tourist coming up! I look forward to reading it and leaving some thoughts.