In Honour of The Venice Carnival 2018 which is taking place at the moment in Venice and that will end on 13th February, I thought I would give you an insight into this event that triggered my inspiration for THE ECHOES OF LOVE, which subsequently has been translated into SERBIAN, MACEDONIAN and ALBANIAN.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved fairytales. I recall so vividly those told to me by my governess, Zula – the traditional tales of folklore and those she invented to suit my romantic sensibilities. One of my favourite aspects of any story was a ball: a colourful, flamboyant, lively party to form a backdrop against which the hero and the heroine would share a moment of meaning and passion. Ugly sisters and fairy godmothers and rats turned into footmen were interesting enough, but it was the ball at which Cinderella stole her prince’s heart that I would beg Zula to describe in detail, over and over; that I would close my eyes at night and travel to, picturing the dresses, the dancing, the music.
Sadly, in the modern age, there is little occasion to make a little girl’s dream come true: put on finery, slip an arm through that of a handsome man and step onto the dance floor at a grand ball. But if you are fortunate enough to work as a writer, you can let your imagination take flight and place your hero and heroine at the scene. That is exactly what I did in my novel The Echoes of Love, which opens at a ball during the Venice Carnival.
Paolo and Venetia, the lovers in The Echoes of Love, may be fictional, but the ball that they attend is by no means fantasy. The 2018 Carnival commenced on 27th January and is running until the 13th of February. You’ll find a whole host of balls on the events schedule: the Casanova Grand Ball, the Enchanted Palace Ball, the Saint Valentine’s Grand Ball, the Mascheranda Grand Ball, the Grand Feast of the Gods, the Thousand Nights of Arabia, the Moon Masquerade, the Grand Carnival Ball, the Baroque Grand Ball, and the Serenissima Grand Ball, to name but a few! Many are held in beautiful buildings – ancient palaces lit by candlelight – and at all guests can expect a truly cultural experience, from the décor to the menu, the music to the entertainers. Drama, passion, splendor, pageantry, and all amid the age-old, traditional masquerade costumes and masks. Magnifique! little white dresses
Venetian masks date back to the parties Venetians held during the 13th century at which they would wear beautiful masks to conceal their identities, so allowing both upper and lower classes to mingle freely and live out their fantasies (plenty of debauchery would follow, from gambling to affairs).
In today’s Carnival, party-goers and revellers in the street parades wear traditional Venetia masks of two kinds – those of the Commedia dell’arte, and specific Carnival ones. Well-known Carnival masks include:
• The Bauta, which is always white and covers the whole face, and is often worn with a tricorno hat.
• The black velvet Moretta, worn by women and traditionally held in place by gripping a protrusion with the teeth, thus rendering the woman silent!
• The Columbina, an eye mask that became very popular (after all, revellers want to be able to eat and drink easily!)
This website has some great pictures of these masks, and this site gives a fabulous overview of the main mask types worn.
The tradition of the Carnival mask dates back hundreds of years. Notable features include:
• Vibrant colours
• Extravagance, as visible in the fine adornments
• Individuality – each mask is unique
• Artistry – these are very much works of art
• Wide ranging materials: gold leaf, fur, lace, sequins, precious fabrics, feathers, gems, beads, metallic objects, papers… the list is endless
Some masks are made from porcelain – these are the most expensive masks, and are often used as wall décor now rather than for wearing. Others are made from leather – a true artisan’s mask; when my heroine Venetia first sees Paolo in The Echoes of Love during a Carnival party she is drawn to his eyes ‘behind the devilish features of his half-face leather black mask’. But more typically, masks are made from a kind of papier mâché, allowing the mask artists complete control in crafting the contours. The papier mâché is applied to a mold made from plaster or clay and lubricated with Vaseline, and then baked in an oven until dry. Then eye holes are cut, and the artist sands, varnishes, paints and decorates the mask.
For some wonderful examples of masks – and if you feel like indulging yourself in an authentic Venetian mask for your next masquerade event – take a look at these website: Mask Italia, 101 Venetian Mask Shop, 1001 Venetian Masks.
Would you love to step out at one such ball? Have you ever attended a ball? Was it a night to remember? I would love to hear about your experiences.
And if you are going to be in Venice for this year’s Carnival season, or you’d simply like to check out the calendar and the costumes, visit its official website at