Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Carnevale, Genovese Style

Fat Tuesday (martedì grassi) had technically already occurred on the prior Tuesday, yet Genoa conveniently scheduled its big carnevale celebration for the following Saturday, when our guests were in town. After failing to get moving early enough to take the old-timey train into the country, we set our sights on visiting the San Lorenzo cathedral prior to viewing a portion of the carnevale (but not before le simpatizzanto della destra and I took a nice walk to the grocery store, spotting a peacock a’courtin’, his feathers fanned and the female peacock completely uninterested in his display).  Upon arriving in the city, we slipped into the so-called Oriental Market (reminiscent of the Arthur Avenue market in the Bronx) and then made our way down Via Septembre XX, which was closed off, 5th Avenue parade style and covered with costumed, silly-string-spritzing and confetti-throwing revelers (Trofie Wife especially liked the below dino get-up with optical illusion included).

After wending our way over to the cathedral, we strolled to the Porto Antico and cute Sarzano neighborhood (which houses the University’s architecture school through an imposing castle gate and stair and thus 1) an inviting architecture book shop and 2) a chic thrift store, which respectively await the return of Martello e Trofie Wife) on our way back to the Piazza De Ferrari for the conclusion of the carnevale festivitiesan homage to Purim. We’re not sure if this is an annual occurrence or not, but the carnevale organizers decided to include a mention of the story of Purim and some Jewish music at the end of the general carnevale celebration. It was late in the afternoon, but the sun was not totally down, so (from what we think we understood), the Jewish community president couldn’t make it to the celebration, but a representative of the community wished everyone a good carnevale on his behalf and then there seemed to be an exchange of commemorative plates. A great band played a mix of old and modern, likely local and more familiar Jewish tunes. The crowd that remained, largely thinned from its mid-afternoon height, was grooving right along, and we’re pretty sure that only a handful of them had heard this brand of music before. 

A small gathering of protesters carrying Palestinian flags and distributing a lengthy explanatory handout soon wandered into the crowd. Trofie Wife couldn’t really digest it while dancing (and without her extra-large dictionary), but nearly managed to fully translate it a week later. [Note: Martello takes issue with the fact that the following description makes the protest out to be more impactful on our day than it was in actuality. To which I say, Trofie Wife spent an hour and a half translating said handout while he was watching some dubbed, dumb movie from the ’80s, and I’d like to put my effort on display.]

Theirs was a two-folded protest. The first reason they had gathered (and we’re not sure if they were present during the full carnevale celebration or only the Purim part) was to express their frustration that the Jewish carnevale was being twinned with the city of Jerusalem. Each section of the multi-stage carnevale was devoted to carnival traditions of a different country (for example, Italy, Croatia, Brazil, etc.). The protesters took issue with the fact that instead of pairing the Jewish carnival with a country, it was paired with a city (which they believed was done to avoid mentioning Israel following the Gaza operation), and, as they explained, an international city that did not solely belong to Jews. Ignoring the overall tone projected from such statements, at the most basic linguistic level, Martello and I were confused by this assertion, because none of the carnevale literature that we had received mentioned either Jerusalem or Israel (the twinned area was denoted “the Middle East”), nor did we see any Israeli flags, as the protestors had also lamented, meant to signify Jerusalem and the Jewish carnevale. This piece of the protest seemed to lack much traction (especially since protesters had apparently expressed their frustration to the organizers who didn’t quite understand their complaint either and thus chose to ignore it).

The second, more cogent, reason for their protest was that the organizers and Commune of Genoa had invited the Jewish carnival (which they noted was a “religious holiday”) and thus the religious Jewish community into the old city of Genoa while simultaneously attempting to prevent construction of a mosque in the old quarter where the bulk of the religious Muslim population resides. The growing movement to halt mosque construction throughout Italy is not only xenophobic, but incredibly foolhardy if Italy hopes to fully integrate Muslim immigrants into their communities as opposed to further isolating them. I’m not sure if there is any sort of Islamic carnival (and if so, where on the calendar it falls), but clearly if such a holiday were contemporaneous with Carnevale and Purim, the Genovese Commune should have welcomed its celebration. Short of such a fortuitous opportunity, the community should do what it can to make its newest minority community feel at home; issuing permits to allow them to construct their own house of prayer is as good a place as any to start. Of course, welcoming the new should not be done to the exclusion of continuing to celebrate the unique virtues of older minority and majority communities. The protestors—according to their literature, a mix of ethnic Italians, Jews, and Muslims—also should have pointed out that even if the connection has become looser as Italian society continues to secularize, carnevale has deep roots in the Church and thus along with Purim is a religious holiday, and therefore, in their eyes, its public celebration in the face of banning mosque construction should be just as frustrating as the public celebration of Purim, if that is, in fact, their main message.

All in all, while it was annoying to be handed fliers while I wanted to dance, it was a respectful protest, with viewers mainly ignoring the protesters and protesters not being verbally disruptive of the concert in any way (most of them hung in the back or on the sides while a couple worked the crowd with their handouts); I doubt a similar protest in the States would have taken on such a quiet demeanor.  

Following the end of the music, Trofie Wife finally got her hands on some zucchero filato (cotton candy! bearing a surprisingly straight-forward name as opposed to the fanciful French barbe à papa), after seeing it in the hands of way too many babes and not her own. It was delicious! 

We then made our way over to Piazza del Erbe for some aperitivo e stucchini (happy hour with free snacks!). We passed up going to a party thrown by Martello’s co-worker in favor of hitting the sack early so we’d make it to our Sunday destination—the fabled Cinque Terre— at a godly hour.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

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