Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Carnival in Sicily - "A Màschira" of Cataffi

Scenes from the Carnevale at Cataffi

February is Carnival Season in Sicily – something not to be missed. Streets of most Sicilian towns and cities are strewn with confetti and streamers sprayed by children dressed up as nobility or peasants – or even as mafiosi – like some of the boys in my English class (“How do you say “mafiosi” in English, prof?”).

Carnevale, born in the sixteenth century to celebrate the end of the old year and party like mad before the asceticism of Lent,  evolved through the centuries. In the 1700s “Abbatazzi”, or folk poets, similar to the Irish Bard, improvised rhymes along the streets of Acireale, one of Sicily’s most famous carnivals. The 1800s brought the parade of decorated horse-drawn carriages, while the twentieth century introduced floats led by speers, accompanied by characters in papier-maché masks and fancy dress.

Le Maschere Tradizionali originate in the sixteenth century Italian Commedia dell’Arte, characterised by masked stereotypes and improvised sketches. Traditional stock characters are Pulcinella, Harlequin, Dottore Balanzone, Pantalone and Colombina, the only female character. You can read more about them here. This is where the satirical, burlesque nature of carnival comes from, and it reaches its most outrageous in the Grotesque floats of Acireale, where Sicilians give vent to political frustrations.

This year, the carnival of Cataffi really impressed me. "A Màschira" celebrates the 1544 battle against Saracen marauders seeking to rape and pillage their way from the coast to the hilltop town of Santa Lucia. But they met their match in the villagers of Cataffi hamlet, and Barbarossa and his Turkish pirates were banished forever. From then on villagers celebrate the victory by dressing up in the amazing attire of their erstwhile enemy.