Yes, it’s a beggar, not a thief! During Lent, people take pains to show their piety, which includes giving alms to the poor. In this, my first Lent in Venice, a shocking number of beggars have come out to harvest the bounty. When we go to Mass, I’ve seen some accosting passersby on bridges, others leaning against pillars in the arcades around Piazza San Marco. They gain our sympathy by dressing as monks, with big brown cloaks and hoods, or showing their wounds, deformities, and sickness—I almost fainted the first time I saw them.
Papa says some of them are only pretending to be sick. Even so, I wish I had a coin to give each beggar who needs it.
March 19th, 1578
Today we who speak the Italian tongue celebrate not just the Feast of Saint Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, but all fathers. My gift for Papa will be a poem I wrote for this occasion, to let him know how glad I am that we can share this day after years apart.
Everyone can see Papa’s dignity and handsome features in his portrait, but I’m fortunate to know also his loving, witty spirit, and his devotion to me.
Even though it’s Lent, today is a feast day, so we’ll enjoy zeppole, the special treat made of sweet fried dough—mangia, mangia!
(Woman walking to church during Lent in Venice)
The merry, wild Venice I remember from just a few days ago seems like only a dream. Now I see a constant stream of men, women, and children dressed like humble pilgrims—no silk, velvet, bright colors, or flashy jewels. Whether on foot or in boats, they’re heading to churches, sometimes daily—maybe to make up for what they did during Carnevale! It’s a quiet and somber time, still chilly outside, with no mouth-watering aromas of roasting meat greeting me when I open my window. Lent is a lucky season for pigs, lambs, and cows! Fish are fresh and plentiful in Venice, but I’m already hungry for my first bite of meat on Easter.
My first season of Carnevale in Venice has been even more amazing than my friend Valeria’s stories. My old hometown, Verona, never broke free from all its rules for weeks like this city does, with its elegant costumes, parties, masked balls, parades, plays, and sports. I don’t know many people in Venice yet, but if I did, I wouldn’t recognize them during Carnevale. I thought Venetians must be very rich to afford such finery, but Valeria tells me many people rent their costumes.
Here are 3 highlights:
La Guerra dei pugni (war of the fists)—As I rode in the gondola a few days ago, I saw crowds on both sides of a bridge. The bridge was thick with helmeted men fighting each other with shields and sticks. Zuanne, our gondolier, told me this is a favorite sport in Venice during festivals, that the men try to win control of the bridge by throwing the other team’s men into the canal. When I returned home in the evening, a great bonfire was blazing in the nearby square, and I heard music—a grand celebration for the winning team!
Volo dell’ Angelo (flight of the angel)—This was my favorite event, even though it scared me so much, I could hardly breathe. I was so glad Papa took me to Piazza San Marco on Giovedi Grasso (fat Thursday) so I could watch an acrobat (dressed as an angel) climb a rope stretched from the cathedral to the top of the campanile (so high I’d get dizzy and fall!). Somehow, the acrobat sailed down another rope stretched from the campanile to the Doge’s Palace, and scattered flowers all the way down—I’m amazed he didn’t fall off and die!
Another unforgettable event, that same day and place: some official (I’m not sure who; I couldn’t see because of the crowd) condemned a bull and 12 pigs to death. Then a group of young men chased the animals around in front of the Doge’s Palace. Finally the men chopped off the poor animals’ heads with swords, butchered them, and passed out the meat to whoever was in charge (maybe the doge and council members; I still couldn’t see). What a bloody mess it left on the piazza! I hope the rains wash away the blood and gore before I return.
Now, goodbye to meat (Carne vale)! Quadragesima (Lent) will be a long, dull 40 days after all this excitement!