Our friends, Faith and Michelle, visited last week, and we took the train to Lucca to see the nearby Carnevale di Viareggio. It was a trip in every sense of the word.

Viareggio is a Tuscan town on the west coast of Italy, with a huge beach and boardwalk where they put on this annual parade and street party. The website for Carnevale di Viareggio claims it is the largest Italian folk event. This year was its 150th anniversary, and the highlight is a parade with incredible floats, attended by locals and many other Italians, many of them dressed in costumes. They stage this whole production six times over about two weeks, and we went for the fourth showing on a Sunday afternoon.

The floats are massive papier-mâché affairs, often allegorical, that can rise up to 65 feet in the air (for comparison, Steve is 6’5″). They are beautiful, colorful and extravagant, many have moving parts, and most have lots of costumed people riding on and around them dancing and singing. The parade also has “masquerades,” which are more like moving tableaux than floats per se. Many floats and masquerades were overtly political, highlighting climate change, war and poverty; some were reminiscent of Day of the Dead floats, with witches, skeletons, pirates, fiends and other Tim Burton-esque creatures; some featured music or wine, including one with a giant farmer guy surrounded by sunflowers and playing a huge violin, one with a raggedy Bo Jangles sort of character playing an accordion and one that looked like a mammoth wine barrel overflowing with grapes; some seemed purely whimsical, like those with Alice in Wonderland, Stan Lee, the Moulin Rouge and the carnival’s mascot, a red-hatted clown named Burlamacco. One tableau paid homage to the late Queen Elizabeth and her dogs, and was titled “Anglicani;” “cani” is Italian for “dogs.” One float viciously mocked Elon Musk (photo below and on the Photos page).

A couple of floats really stood out, for their message or size or both. One was an anti-war float with a gigantic, snarling gorilla and plenty of not so subtle references to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was kind of terrifying and likely gave some kids nightmares. Another was especially poignant. It was a masquerade of scary, horned beasts (Minotaurs) carrying tangled bundles of red yarn (Ariadne’s thread), a walking, man-sized effigy of a beating heart and a labyrinth. It was titled, “Humanity Has Lost the Thread,” and meant (I think) to ask whether humans will ever escape the labyrinth of social ills we have created.

The Elon Musk float was diabolical. The theme was Mars Attacks!, with Musk as the Martian King, sitting on top of the globe, holding a brain in one hand and a computer in another. Inside the globe was a huge slot machine spewing oversized gold coins. The names and logos of Elon’s companies were featured on the slot machine spinners, instead of fruit or other symbols you might see in a real casino. Naturally, there was also a moving model of him sitting astride his giant space … er, … ship. I read that there were also Musk-mocking floats at Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnevale in Cologne, Germany. The whole Western world seems to be on the “Musk is a Twit” bandwagon (literally).

We got a huge kick out of the spectators, too. It was like Halloween in February, with lots of people decked out in costumes ranging from simple (pink wig and a mask or funny glasses) to exquisitely detailed and clever. The most popular costumes for the kids were Wednesday Addams and Harry Potter, with the perennial favorites, Princess and Spider Man, running a close second. Entire families were dressed up, as well as plenty of grandmas, teens and everyone in between. In one family, the little girl was dressed as Wednesday and her toddler brother was Gomez Addams, with a pint-sized suit, side comb-over and fake moustache. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

Unlike most parades I have attended, the crowd did not sit idly by and watch. There were some grandstands, but they were mostly empty. We all just roamed the streets and moved freely among the floats. You could walk right up to them and talk and take pictures with the people working them, at least until they started moving.

There were a number of food and beverage vendors scattered about, and we discovered an amazing new (to us) snack called brigidini. Brigidini are potato chip-sized thin cookies that are a like a cross between a fortune cookie and a communion wafer. In fact, they were invented by nuns in the Brigidine order (followers of Santa Brigita) who made communion wafers in the 1500s at their convent in Lamporecchio. The traditional recipe uses anise flavoring, which I do not enjoy; however, one culinary mastermind at Carnevale was selling anise-free chocolate brigidini, drizzled with more chocolate, and they were spectacular. God bless the good sisters of Lamporecchio.

Did I mention that all of these festivities took place next to a sandy beach that appeared to go on for miles? We saw what looked like winterized super yachts at a marina in the distance. It’s easy to imagine how great this place would be in the summer, too. Overall, we got a South Florida/New Orleans/Caribbean vibe, with a strong Italian accent. Trust me, it works.