Rome is not the first city that comes to mind when thinking of Carnival and Italy. It has never been even an after-thought to the popularity of Venice's legendary pre-Lent party season. Perhaps this is why I only have the vaguest memory of an epic Tuesday evening in early 2000s, a martedì grasso during which my cousins and I dressed as courtesans to a gang of 1970s Roman papponi. Masks? Gowns? Balls? No, we were more concerned with the all-night dance party.
Though it may be the Venetian Carnevale's country cousin, Carnevale Romano is a historic festival of horse races and Bacchanalian celebrations where masks and costumes were the great social equalizer. Over the past few years, Carnevale Romano has had a revival, inspiring a "return to its roots" with organized events. Rome's piazzas host daily theatrical performances, equestrian shows, musicians, dancers and buskers, a kind of Venice-lite for the Carnival crowd. These festivities lead up to martedì grasso, the Fat Tuesday revelry and often all-night celebration.
For the most part, it wasn't until I nose-dived into the world of parenting that I noticed the waist-high confusion in a very different Rome, an eternal child's city where 10 days a year, colorfully costumed children run rampant throwing coriandoli (paper confetti). Carnival is like Halloween on a prolonged sugar high, where happy congregations of princesses, lady bugs, Spidermen and knights celebrate daily.
Whether home-made or made in Disneyland, no child is left uncostumed, and it's often the parents whose latent and sometimes naughty humor makes an appearance during Carnevale, something I look forward to every year. (I should note that my own two are faithful to the wonderful world of Disney, no matter how hard I try to get them to favor conceptual art.) This year I've seen miniature Cleopatras mash with Michael Jacksons, dashing knights battle Coca Cola cans and princesses fight fairies. But there is one costume that remains unrivaled in my carnival collection, the Grey Nun, circa 2009, Napoli, a city where anything goes.
In Rome this Tuesday? February 21 is Martedì Grasso, head to Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona for the celebrations.