If You Dream Of Sampling Venice Carnival. . .

IT had been on our must-do list forever. One day, we’ll get there, we said to a couple of close friends while enjoying supper with them, and they both revealed that they too had been keen to visit Venice at Carnival time, for many years.
Two drinks later, we’d agreed to stop talking about it and get booked up – straight away – so that we’d be fully committed and have something to look forward to early in the New Year.
Next day we found flights and hotel rooms, feeling lucky that we’d been able to capture accommodation close to the Doge’s Palace, and just a stone’s throw from the Grand Canal.
The scene was set. What a spectacularly dramatic adventure this could be…
Come February, we met up with each other at Glasgow Airport, filled with eager anticipation for the experience, and it was clear that our female friend was even more excited than we were and hauled Brenda off to the ladies’ room for a chat as soon as she got the chance.
When Bren returned, her face was drained and I sensed something wasn’t right. Once she could speak to me without anyone else listening, she told me, shocked and in complete disbelief, what had transpired.
Her confidant had told her that she’d decided to break up (they were married) and tell him the bad news once we were in Venice. We were not to let him know we knew as that, she insisted, would make it even worse for him.
So, we were faced with the prospect of spending four days and nights together at what is potentially one of the most romantic happenings in the world, maintaining the pretence that all was still sweet between them.
I wanted to scream out loud, pull my hair out and stamp my feet up and down like a petulant five-year-old does when told that Christmas has been cancelled.
Can you imagine the scale of our predicament – in Venice, when we’d all been dreaming of how amazing it would be?
The very thought of Venice Carnival can already spark your imagination to step up into overdrive, particularly if you recall the opening scene from Fellini’s Casanova, set at a masked ball with Carnival in full debauched swing. He ends up on one of those islands that once was a leper colony, to copulate with a female dressed as a nun for the pleasure of a rich voyeur.
Oh, no, brain, let’s not go there!
How was our very own drama going to play out? Might he throw himself into the canal from the Rialto Bridge, heartbroken and filled with despair? How was she intending to play it? Eek!
We agreed to try to pretend it hadn’t happened, concentrate on soaking up the atmosphere, join in the revelry to the best of our ability, and hope and pray that everything would work out alright.
The Carnival was as entertaining and edgy in equal parts as we imagined it would be. We bought masks, of course, to enter the spirit of the occasion and marvelled at the costumes, some of which must have been hired for very substantial sums of money.
Then after you’ve done all of the people watching it’s possible to fit into a single day, you find yourself easing off and getting more relaxed, maybe even flirting with the notion that it’s starting to feel like this is the most natural thing in the world to be doing in mid-February.
But, your brain takes off again, clicks into overdrive and you start to imagine dozens of different scenarios that might be playing out all around you.
Who IS that tall dark hooded stranger lurking in the shadows as darkness falls, dressed head to toe in black satin and just standing there on his own?

Who might this couple be that are sashaying provocatively through the crowds, so self confident that they create their own bow wave effect as others automatically part to allow the graceful promenade to proceed?
Could that be Prince Charles and Camilla, completely anonymous in their luxuriant disguise, or maybe Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt savouring the chance to rub shoulders with complete strangers and live dangerously?
How many of these lavishly-created costumes could be concealing a famous celebrity who’s having an affair in the perfect setting to pull if off without anyone knowing?
Down the centuries, masked balls have been renowned for providing opportunities for both dirty deeds and debauchery.
In the mid-18th Century, for instance, Sweden’s King Gustav III, an outspoken opponent of his parliament’s reforms, seized power in a coup d’état and set about restoring royal autocracy.
Enemies began to plot against him and he was assassinated at a masked ball, by a disgruntled nobleman who was able to take advance of the opportunity his disguise gave him, to get close enough to kill his target
From that point on, the mysterious masked ball provided the backdrop for many a new opera, and gave plenty of plots to playwrights.
As you sit outside any of the canal-side bars, quite content to pay the extra charged for the coffee or beer just to keep the best seat in town, you come up with dozens of story lines that might help you to produce a best seller.
You find your mind contemplating decadence and lust; some of the more rakish participants may have their own agendas – prowling around unrecognised and watching out for opportunities to present themselves, intent on putting their desires to rest.
Maybe two complete strangers whose masked eyes met in the elevator of their hotel, found the tantalising glance too much of a sizzler to ignore? Wearing a disguise gives them the freedom to be someone else, and without inhibitions, they submit instead of resisting the temptation.
The air is powerfully charged – Venice has that effect at any time of the year, if you are lucky enough to visit when the crowds and crowdedness are not so intense. It plays games with your imagination and teases.
And, yes, one night our friend indulged in her own fantasies, left her husband in their hotel room, went out on the town and had herself a fling.
Of course, the vast majority of revellers are there for the same reason as us, to let their hair down and indulge in some light-hearted high jinks. Bren and I found the perfect little bar with a fine selection of gorgeous savoury snacks and wine that was very palatable and not at all over-priced. We hooked up with a party of young Chinese visitors, who amazed us, folding tiny paper zhezhi birds (we still have one), shrugged our shoulders and enjoyed the night together.
Some weeks after returning to Glasgow, we heard that our fellow travellers hadn’t parted company at all, but decided instead to try to make it work and stay together. By then, he knew that we knew, and it left things very awkward, so the friendship we formerly had was never to be rekindled.
You never imagine in your wildest dreams what might unfold when you tell someone you know that you’d like to sample the Venice Carnival.
What is it they say again?
…you couldn’t make it up!