One of the finethings about Italian Carnevale is the huge variety of celebrations. These annual manifestations are not carbon copies of one another. The Lombardy region of northern Italy is an excellent example. Let’s start at the village of Schignano, population less than one thousand, situated about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Milan above Lake Como on the Swiss border. The big days are Mardi Gras and the preceding Saturday. Carnevale revolves around two sets of central characters, the ‘Belli’ and the ‘Brutti’, Beauty and the Beast or more precisely, the Beauties and the Beasts. The Beauties are refined, jewel-bedecked women with big flowery hats wearing a wooden mask. The Beasts get ready for Carnevale by going into animal sheds and dressing in sheepskins and ox horns. They carry a sack and vibrantly ring cowbells before dropping to the ground as if they were dead.

This is only the beginning. It seems that the Belli are attached by ropes to their husbands who, as in olden times, tell them to go home and look after the kids. A beauty named Ciocia rebels and tells her husband where to go. Then comes the costume ball in which the Belli and Brutti once again reunite. But all is not well, sadly a puppet, representing the carnival starts to die. After fruitless attempts to revive him, he is thrown on the fire. He gets up and runs away. The bad guys catch the puppet and throw him back on the funeral pyre. And this time he burns. Until next year.

Pescarolo is a little town of some fifteen hundred located some fifty-five miles (ninety kilometers) southeast of Milan. They also do Carnevale differently from most others. Like Schignano, fire plays a large part in their celebrations. The townsfolk chop down a massive oak tree festooned with umbrellas and then set up in the main square. Then comes the stack of hay and straw that surrounds the trunk. The pile is set on fire and, tradition tells us, Pescarolo the tree is untouched by the flames and is returned to its owner.

Milan, the capital of Lombardy, also hosts an unusual Carnevale. Catholics here tend to follow the Ambrosian rite which means that instead of ending on Mardi Gras, their celebrations continue until the following Saturday. So nothing is stopping you from enjoying the Schignano and Pescarolo festivities and then heading to the fashion capital of Europe (the other one besides Paris) and checking out Milan’s Carnevale.

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One of the finethings about Italian Carnevale is the huge variety of celebrations. These annual manifestations are not carbon copies of one another. The Lombardy region of northern Italy is an excellent example. Let's start at the village of Schignano, population less than one thousand, situated about 30 miles...