Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnevale – no matter what you call it, people all over the world who observe the Catholic faith want one last fling before they behave themselves for 40 days until Easter. In this part of the world they call the party Carnevale. Many Italian cities and towns celebrate Carnevale in a big way (notably Venice), but few have done so as long as Busetto, which held its 129th Carnevale this year. The Busseto Carnevale dates back to 1879, reached a heyday in the 1930’s but was suspended during the War years. It resumed in 1950 and is still going strong.
Busseto is a rural farming community surrounded by the vast, fertile farm fields of the Po valley. Its biggest claim to fame is as the home of Giusseppe Verdi, who moved there in 1824 at age 11. (However, it seems all of Italy claims Verdi as their native son. Everyone, from Milan to Bologna speaks of him like family and refers to him as “Peppino”)
Busseto has a population of about 7,000. The townspeople make all the floats and form the parade. Its a good thing we showed up to watch, because it seemed like they were all in it.
We arrived early and strolled the charming streets of the town. The main drag is the Via Roma, and ancient road leading to Roma. The small business center has lots of shops and eateries, several churches and a grand building housing the community’s Opera House. A grand statue of Verdi stands before it.
The festivities began at 2 PM. The church was holding a flea market, the Fire Department had an inflatable giraffe slide for the bambino. Local groups set up concession stands with espresso, sliced prosciutto, fried dough and vino. The ladies were selling home made torino candy and other trinkets.
Sally got into the fray early, elbowing aside children and old men to take a turn at the Win a Salami ring toss. After 10 tries she walked away with a consolation salami earring.
Maureen also made friends quickly. A dapper gentleman in cape and fancy dress with red nose took a serious interest and a firm grip. It took several minutes of persuasion to get him to let go. After we saw him prominently seated in the reviewing stand we came to refer to him as The Mayor.
The crowd grew as the music approached from the distance. Marching bands, majorettes, flag formations were all in line. Soon the floats began to approach, all with their own sound system. No language issues here, as Michael Jackson seemed the performer of the hour.
After a while, couldn’t find Sally. This is the land, after all, that gave us confetti. They must have cleaned out the confetti factory for this one. We still find it in our shoes, pockets, books, everywhere…
At about the time we had had enough, we noticed some familiar faces and music. It seems they had formed a big loop and were coming around again!
That’s when we went down the street to get a bite at the Salsamentaria Storica Verdia Barrata, a local establishment dedicated to wine and salume and all things Verdi. This little eatery was established in the 1800’s, and while Verdi didn’t eat there, they swear some of his buddies did. Following a long tradition, the wine there is served in bowls. We bellied up with the locals and had the local vino with a plate of Emilia Romagna local meats and cheeses. They came with a selection of condiments to spread on the local bread. We chowed down with gusto.
The Carnevale had been a hoot and an epic photo session. Note that many of the photos in Busseto and Zibello were taken by Lisa, and the editing has been brutal to reduce them to so few.
Time was getting short. We had to get Spin to the train station in Parma so she could catch a plane in Milan the next morning. Sally and Lisa and I would be staying on in Parma, having booked a few days at a Palace.
Soon we were back in the car and on our way. We never suspected that the seeds had been sown for several days of misery for some members of our party…