I Love Italian Travel - Emilia-Romagna Carnevale Season
Emilia-Romagna is widely considered to be the gastronomic capital of Italy, and you better believe that it has a lot of competition. Its regional capital and largest city is Bologna, which brings a very ungastronomic sausage to mind. The city of Cento, population 35 thousand, is located 15 miles (24 kilometers) northwest of Bologna. It is home to the historic Cento Carnival of Europe, which runs on five consecutive Sundays attracting over 300,000 people. Since 1993 the Cento Carnival has been twinned with the Rio Carnival.
The Cento painter Gian Francesco Barbieri, known as "Guercino" depicted the Cento Carnevale in the early Seventeenth Century. Unfortunately the historic Carnevale was often a center of abuse and violence. The modern version started after World War II but it has really gained popularity and scope in the last twenty years. Its central attractions include the allegorical floats that are some of the most impressive in all Europe.
These "Monuments of papier-mache" that glorify fantasy, gaiety, and satire may be 20 feet (6 meters) wide and 60 feet (20 meters) long. And there are hundreds and hundreds of such floats, many of which are outfitted with complex mechanical and hydraulic systems. The float processions are accompanied by snake dancing. Of course many of the floats refer to local and Italian personalities but even if you haven't the vaguest notion of who is Italy's prime minister (Silvio Berlusconi, who does manage to make it into the news from time to time), you'll enjoy and often understand the floats. Extra added attractions are the candies, chocolates, and confetti generously distributed to the onlookers, as if the visual and auditory spectacles are not enough.
Busseto is a small town of about 7 thousand in the Parma subregion, known for great hams and Parmesan cheese. This town is quite closely associated with the famous composer Giuseppe Verdi. It's also home to a Carnevale that started well over a century ago. Its heyday was in the 1930 when the audience was estimated at 30 thousand. Today things are slower but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a try. You may even prefer smaller crowds to Cento's monster event. Busseto Carnevale is Sunday only event, held for four weeks running. One of its major focuses is on local food. You may try Culatello, a traditional ham that spends part of its maturation process in a pig bladder, hot Spalla Cotta (cured pork shoulder), other cured meats and Torta Fritta, savory fried dough often accompanied by cheese or meat. Enjoy the local wine but don't expect it to be as good as those fabulous Parma cured meat and cheese.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but he prefers drinking fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and people. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his Italian travel website http://www.travelitalytravel.com which includes information on Italian wine and food.