We read about this event in the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce publication. We were looking forward to attending. According to the publication this four-day event in Florida, February 20-24, coincides with the dates of the eponymous carnival in Venice, Italy.
No one expected translocation
We were very enthused about this event in Florida as we knew a fair bit about the Italian carnival and expected some effort would be made to emulate the real Venetian festival. Images of the authentic carnival danced in our heads: the traditional masks worn by the paraders and carnival participants, the kiosks serving galani or fritelle, sweets typical of Venetian carnival season, and of course, the gondolas anchored by the Bridge of Sighs adjacent to the famous piazza San Marco. OK, it’s southern Florida, cancel all the above mental sketches and adjust expectations accordingly.
Fermo, not a gate crasher
The festival site is on seldom used runway of the Venice airport. So, parking, no problem. However, entrance to the festival grounds was as warned by the entranceway signs. “NO PETS.” Using our most personable manner, we explained to chief gate keeper that Fermo was a documented, certified service dog and we had the credentials with us. He gave us the approval to pass without any discussion regarding Fermo. Fermo was in. Maybe his Italian name? Likely, the gate keeper was four-day tired and not ready to argue. We had alternate plans in case we failed this entrance test, but thank goodness there weren’t needed.
The first tent upon entering the festival grounds was the genealogy kiosk. Very positive, lots of colourful, framed regional maps on the kiosk tent walls. These authentic looking maps were much like the authentic ones sold as nice souvenirs at the festival in Italy.
Off colour but nice try
Next to this kiosk, an even better symbol of the real festival: a full-sized gondola . Yes the kind you see docked throughout the Venetian canals. Perhaps a bit “mis-coloured” as the real ones are always glossy black, this one some kind of geiko green or Florida alligator green.
Good swing, but off beat, a bit
We continued along the carnival’s pathways. In the distance the traditional children’s rides were doing a fair business with miniature sized attendees. Parents felt assured their kids would enjoy one aspect of a typical American county fair.
On one of the main walkway, a bandstand held a large band doing their best to personify a big band era production, with horns, strings and percussions trying their best to sound like one of the famous ones of that era, even presenting their own version of the ‘big crooner.’ It may have been amateurish, but given their enthusiasm and effort, it was a good show. At the very least, it was great for the older folks, an opportunity to rest tired feet, enjoy some melancholy sounds from the past, and do a little tanning/sun burning in the open air.
Pepto bismol, Tums please
Then the food. In short, stay hungry! The stereotypical Italian foods were all there, pizza, sausage on a bun, pasta with the ubiquitous meatballs, accompanied by the expected libations, beer and California wines. The food was a poor comparison to the Greek festival fare the previous week in Port Charlotte. The pizza, pass on it; the sausage on a bun, repeat…it does. We cannot recommend any of the foods we tasted except for the soft ice cream. That deserved commendation. It was creamy, rich and delicious, worth the $3 cost. The other foods, particularly the pizza, we recommend a pass, unless you are really, really hungry.
Tired and fatigued
It was Sunday, the last day of the festival. Perhaps vendors were tired. Many were missing as witnessed by the numerous empty stands. Previous days may have been better attended and better presented. We will never know.
Energetic management needed
This Venice Italian festival likely has much potential if it gets enthusiastic support from the local community. Unfortunately, as presented this year, the festival emanated a tired look, fatigue built up by the same things repeated year after year. Some rejuvenation is needed. Demanding attendees would expect better and deserve it. Revitalizing the whole show might deliver it. Someone needs to take charge a year ahead, someone with energy, enthusiasm and willingness to work on the Italian festival and make it worthy of acclaim and applause.
It can be revived
Find that person and the festival may once again become a four-day event of quality and excellence, giving attendees the feeling they are visiting the annual festival of Venice, Italy.