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The Globe Guides team trip round the world’s famous and extravagant pre-Lentern festivals , from Venice’s ancient Carnivale in Italy and Trinidad’s street parade to Sydney’s Mardi Gras and Rio de Janeiro’s world famous and highly charged carnival.
First we travel with Ian Wright to Baalbek in Syria. Here, thousands of years ago the Babylonians celebrated the same feast associated with Pompeii and Bacchus the God of wine which included the ritual of pulling a wheeled ship full of revellers to throw trinkets to the poor. The Roman name for this was Carre Navallis, ‘ship of fools’. Later, the words were changed to Carne Vale or farewell to the flesh – in other words – carnival. The Venetians lead the way with the most debauched of carnivals, each hiding their shame behind elaborately designed masks. The carnival was banned by Napoleon who was disgusted by this show of religious indulgence. Nevertheless, carnival has spread throughout the Catholic world and is now synonymous with an unrivalled passion for partying, for which towns prepare for months in advance.
In Venice, Megan McCormick decides to have her own limited edition mask made from a cast of her face. Venetians used to have masks made to avoid public scrutiny. Meanwhile, Justine Shapiro heads to New Orleans where decorated floats proceed through the lit streets. Carre Navallis has come full circle as hundreds of thousands of spectators line the streets to catch throws and doubloons. Justine heads back into the melee to experience the Mardi Gras on the other side of town in the French quarter’s main drag, Bourbon Street, where tourists crowd the streets until the early hours of the morning.
In Trinidad’s Port of Spain, Justine picks up a costume and heads to the ‘best show on earth’, introduced to the area by French Catholic plantation owners who held masquerade balls to celebrate the last two days before lent. When slavery was abolished in 1834, the ball took to the streets with unbridled frenzy. Today more than 250,000 revellers participate in the ‘Carnival of the People.’
Like Trinidad, Rio reflects the diversity of the many cultures that influence the carnival. Ian Wright goes downtown to a Samba school, where steel bands and talented dancers strut their stuff. The Samba Schools are neighbourhood associations that spend all year creating the costumes, songs and floats in preparation for the big one. Eventually, the schools will descend on the Sambadrome, the arena for the competing Samba schools. With 5000 dancers in each school, the parade is an awesome spectacle as half naked bodies, glitzy costumes and pulsating drums all combine to compete for the pride of Brazil. Ian quickly changes his carnival costume to checkout the Copacabana carnival ball. A completely different affair, this type of carnival is exclusively for those who can afford it. At $300 a ticket, the event is a must for the country’s elite.
Last up, Justine heads to Sydney to participate in Australia’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. A celebration of Gay and Lesbian rights, the city embraces outrageous behaviour and on the night of the Mardi Gras parade, anything goes!
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