Architecture – This year in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans people wore masks but not costumes. In the three iconic carnival cities, all major events and masquerades have been canceled transforming their festive urban-scape.
On February 13, Rio de Janeiro’s empty Sambadrome lit up in tribute to Covid victims. Completed in 1984 by Brazil’s legendary architect Oscar Niemeyer, the iconic venue was designed to host the city’s carnival major event during which samba schools parade competitively in front of 90.000 spectators. This year, the empty catwalk, grandstands and ‘Apotheosis Square’ which hosts a monumental concrete arc, were literally flooded with an iridescent light show.
Recently, the Sambadrome has also been reconverted into a temporary Covid-drome. Where once people used to dance now they queue to get vaccinated. Indeed, pop-up tents and stalls have been set-up to run a drive-thru vaccination site.
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Venice alleys and canals are empty. Less than 20 people – only a few of them wearing a costume – wander around in San Marco square. Only 50.000 people live in the Italian city but for the carnival week and other major events, half a million visitors are usually expected. So many that the fragile city had to set a limit capacity and urban barricades to preserve its architectural heritage from further sinking.
Now only 10% of hotels are open, all mostly empty, while bars and restaurants must shut-down at 6 pm. A heavy blow for the economy. In 2020, Covid-19 meant missing over 1 billion euros in revenue; at the same time, the pandemic paradoxically offered a chance for residents to finally feel at home without being overwhelmed. Venetians’ dilemma has always been: welcome them all and profit or re-appropriate your own city? This empty carnival could offer an opportunity to reflect and rekindle with their city.
“We have to act now before mass tourism will be back at full capacity because we won’t get a second chance,” said Paolo Costa, a former mayor of Venice and an economics professor who also served as the dean of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.
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Meanwhile, New Orleans residents did not let the pandemic ruin their annual Mardi Gras by turning their houses into floats instead. A special project was set up encouraging home-owners to hire the many artists who would normally have months of work preparing for the event. And thousands of buildings have been transformed for the two-week-long carnival.
Some homes paid tribute to musicians, from New Orleans resident and jazz clarinet payer Pete Fountain to Dolly Parton. Many residents went crazy featuring dinosaurs, giant octopi while others paid tribute to doctors and nurses or women rights icons. An online map of the decorated houses was made available for people to visit in their own time and, hopefully, in a socially-distanced way.