• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 03
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"I can at least excuse your ignorance. Very few who come to Carnevale from outside the city know anything of the contest."

Giraldi the mascherari arranges his brushes, pastes and dyes and lights another Toscano to pass the waiting moments.

"'La maschera piu bella.' It's quite a dogfight. Always the last weekend. Always harder than the year before to see off the competition. The mascherari are like old mothers with their recipes. The contest comes around and we become like hermits. 'Creative hibernation' you might call it. But the beauty it inspires! Intoxicating - it really is.

The first week I spend up at Marco Polo just watching, watching, watching. The store barely opens. There's a particular spot that gives me the view of the place without my having to move and I sit and soak in all the features washing over me. It's acutely anatomical: classically balanced zygoma; perfectly fused maxillae. More beautiful than anything carved in alabaster for sure. I swim in it, drown in it. But then I have to shut myself away and make sense of it. All those angles, slants and shades. Combination after combination pieced together and disassembled until I see it in plain sight: la maschera piu bella.



And then it's back to Marco Polo to watch some more. It never fails to arrive. So many come for Carnevale these days you see. Counting the bags. Noting the weights as they're carried. A few bills here and there to the handlers and the migrant drivers offering the cheaper fares. And here we are. You know what our festival is a reminder of? The prestige of our city and its people. It survived the fall of the old Republic, survived plagues and wars, outlasted Bonaparte and the Austrians. It demands something more of the mascherari than simple manufacture. There is breath and blood in our creations. We don't make airport souvenirs. I devote this time each year to just one mask. The most beautiful. To the people, I give the joy of seeing it. To you, I give the honour of being it."

Giraldi the mascherari stubs out his Toscano and snaps on a latex glove.

"Paralysis sets in fairly quickly after the initial numbness. It's necessary for the type of incision required. You might be interested to know that I'm also quite an accomplished craniometrist in my spare time. I just wouldn’t want you to think me wasteful.”