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A Venetian carnival in Annecy

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The pretty French town of Annecy has a long and interesting past involving a palace converted to a prison, child chimney sweeps and a reclaimed swampland. A recent addition to the archives is the Carnaval Venitien d’Annecy (the Venetian carnival).

In 2012 this carnival, in its sixteenth year, is a silent procession of beautiful costumes and painted masks. The people behind the masks may stop to pose for a photo but they won’t speak. The vast majority, if not all, of those in costume participate each year in the carnival held in Venice two weeks before the Annecy date. Walking through Annecy gives them another chance to show off the amazing attention to detail of their ornate outfits. The rest of us, in dark winter coats and functional hats, merely accentuate the grandeur of the procession.

So how has a carnival from Venice become associated with a French town at the foot of the Alps? Annecy has a waterfront and a network of canals that has prompted visitors to liken it to Venice. It lacks the gondolas and smelly water, since the waterfront is part of Europe’s cleanest lake, but the old town is arguably as picturesque as Venice, making it perfect for a carnival promenade.

Of course, the original Venice carnival is much older, with masks being worn as early as the thirteenth century, allowing people rich and poor to mingle together, the masks hiding their identity and status. The carnival effectively stopped for years when the Austrians took Venice in 1798 and again in the 1930s when Mussolini banned the festivities. It was revived around 1979 and carnival fever spread to Annecy in 1996.

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Although the carnival in Annecy lasts a mere three days (Friday to Sunday), it doesn’t attract the same street sellers of masks and hats who inundate the carnival in Venice. The atmosphere is more sedate and there are plenty of opportunities to take photos of the beautiful costumes. Many visitors try to do this during the walk through town, vying for a good spot to snap each walking artwork. The masked walkers are happy to pose briefly, but they must keep walking as part of the parade.

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They are much more accessible on the Friday evening or the Saturday afternoon when they find pretty places to pose around the ornate parts of town, normally close to the lake, and wait patiently while people take photos.

Professional photographers might not be aware that the people wearing the costumes retain the reproduction rights of their artistic work, which means only the wearers are entitled to sell photos of their costumes. The rest of us are still allowed to take photos — just as long as we don’t sell them.

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Annecy has plenty of other festivals and attractions, but this one brings the warmth that is missing in the cold months of winter.

This year the Venetian carnival in Annecy will be held from Friday 2 March to Sunday 4 March. And if you can’t get there for this year’s festivities, it will be held in 2013 from Friday 22 February to Sunday 24 February.

 



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