A chilly wind was caressing the skin on our faces under the clean Italian winter sky of Venice. My wife and I were visiting the spectacular Piazza San Marco, about 200 m from the mouths of Po and Piave rivers, where the famed St Valentine’s mask festival runs for a week in February. To profess true love, lovers use masks as a ritual to surprise each other.
The romance of Venice is in its 118 small islands separated by canals, linked by bridges. The peculiarity of the ancient Piazza San Marco is that you can sometimes walk nonchalantly there. At other times, the tide raises the river almost a metre, making the Piazza a lake. Some three million tourists from around the world come to celebrate St Valentine’s carnival when Venetians and Italians dress up in traditional period costumes, especially available on hire at this time. The festive atmosphere makes you feel like you have returned to the Middle Ages. Masks went through periods of celebration or being banned since the 12th century in Venice, and were officially revived from 1979 to encourage tourism.
Particularly spectacular is the outstanding way women’s faces are painted in the refined art of Italy. Painters paint delicate tendrils and decorative motifs to beautify women’s faces to accentuate the city’s ancient beige stone architecture. Sometimes, you feel it’s a Hollywood studio set for historical films.
On these gala nights, people wear various expressive masks embellished with soft feathers, glitter or colourful gemstones to charm the night with an unreal, glamorous touch. Savouring this theatrical flavour, my wife and I joined the festivities in Piazza San Marco surrounded with musicians in front of cafes and restaurants. The specialty was waltz music with the grand piano, counter bass cello and, of course, the Italian accordion. When dressed in a saree, people would give my wife admiring glances from a distance, but when she wore western clothes, they’d embrace her as a Latino because, being of Assamese origin, she’s naturally crafted with high cheek bones.
She was, in fact, in high demand among the crowd of artists in Piazza San Marco who were keen on painting her face. When she happily agreed, she was told the session would last upto two hours during which time the artists asked me to move around here and there, promising I’d be in for an incredible surprise.
Just a few metres away, I