Last month was Venice's annual Carnival, which is a bedazzled costume party that started in the 13th century as a way to let nobles and commoners break free from the caste system by anonymously partying together behind masks. The party died during the late 18th century when French troops took over the city but Venice's tourism board brought it back in 1979 and now swarms of visitors travel from around the world to join in the celebration.
I went there in 2010 and I can still remember the chill that hung in the air as my dad and I wound our way (me pretending to be in an Assassin's Creed game) through the narrow cobblestone paths to St. Mark's Square. Dozens of photographers would gather at the nearby docks to take photos of the sunrise and the church of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance.
Our local guide was Silvano Candeo, who has photographed Venice's Carnival for many years and knew all the corners and canals (and best pizza places) hidden away from the hundreds of thirsty photographers prowling the streets. Just as important, Silvano knew many of the people who like to dress up in masks and elaborate costumes (whom we creatively called "Masks"). Like a colorful train we'd walk from photo shoot to photo shoot throughout the city, with the Masks in front and us photographers trailing behind. Last would be the inevitable passers-by who wanted to see what we were up to next.
One of the most desired shots was to capture a Mask in front of a passing gondola. It's not as easy as it looks because Venice is basically half canal and it's not at all uncommon to accidentally to step into a waterway while composing your photo. And look, I got the photo so it was all worth it in the end.
My favorite part of the day was when afternoon settled into evening. We'd wrap up our final photo shoot before sunset then we (or possibly just me) would stuff our faces with pizza and an espresso. By the time we'd step back outside, more people would be in costumes and the street vendors would light up their carts so each plaza and walkway felt like a different room in the same sprawling party.
In the early 16th century, 16,000 people were believed to work in Venice's Arsenale and were able to build a ship in a single day. Boats aren't built there anymore, and in fact it's not usually accessible to the public but the area is opened up during Carnival. We spent a while photographing Masks there, but it wasn't long before we hurried off to find less crowded backdrops.
It's hard to imagine a place like Burano existing without seeing photos of it. Our guide explained to us that the kaleidoscope of colors were used by the island's fisherman to tell their houses apart while they were sailing back with the day's haul. Apparently that might be more folklore than truth, though the local government does require all neighboring houses to have different colors. I kept a sharp eye out for any slip ups, but Burano checked out OK -- this time.