One of the more intriguing aspects of the Venice Carnevale is the beautifully fantastic cartapesta masks attendants wear. Many are colorful, feathery, glittered and elegant. But there is one long, bird-beaked mask that can creep out most who come across it... the Medico della Peste or Dottore Peste (plague doctor).
This birdlike mask wasn't originally designed for the pleasures of Carnevale, but in fact was was invented in the 17th century by French physician Charles de Lorme to protect doctors airborne bacteria and viruses while treating victims of the plague. Carnival goers eventually started wearing a decorated version called Memento Mori, to remind them of their own mortality.
In the 1600s, the beak was to be filled with aromatic and medicinal herbs to protect them from putrid air, which at that time was seen as the cause of infection.
Often the city or town paid their fees, and some plague doctors were known to charge patients and their families (especially the wealthy) additional fees for special treatments for false cures. These so called "doctors" were often lay people without medical training, their only apparent useful purpose was in detailing and recording how many of the population were actually affected by plague. Even though these plague doctors offered little real healing, their value to the ruling class and local governments were overly inflated. In Florence and Perugia, doctors were often asked by officials to perform autopsies to help determine how the plague played a role.
The city of Orvieto hired plague doctor Matteo fu Angelo in 1348 for four times the normal annual rate of a traditional doctor. Pope Clement VI hired several extra plague doctors during the Black Death to attend to stricken in Avignon. Of 18 doctors in Venice, only one was left by 1348: five had died of the plague, and 12 were missing and may have fled.
Their special costume were first used in 1630 in Naples, and spread to be used throughout Europe. The spooky attire consisted of a light, waxed fabric overcoat, a mask with glass goggles and that frightening beak. They carried a scalpel for cutting open blisters (the goggles protected their eyes from the spatter) The wide brimmed hat identified most doctors during this time. Around their neck they wore a pomander which contained more herbs and aromatics--again, to protect themselves. They also kept and chewed raw garlic whenever near the inflicted. Their long cloak went nearly to the ground and was waxed heavily to ward off damp and fleas--possible carriers of the disease. They also carried a long cane to poke and probe patients during examinations and treatments, to avoid actually touching them.
As mentioned earlier, that beak was stuffed with herbs, straw, and spices. The scented materials included juniper berry, ambergris, rose hips, mint, camphor, cloves, laudanum and myrrh.
Historic facts prove that these charlatans in their scary costumes did little to heal or prevent the plague in Italy. The Italian Plague of 1629–1631 was a series of outbreaks of bubonic plague which ravaged northern and central Italy. This epidemic claimed possibly one million lives, or about 25% of the population in these regions. Verona lost over 60% of its citizens. Milan lost 46%. In Venice, one third died.
Stay healthy, amici.
That's right... old men, with Italian Style. Sexy, yes?
Here's how older men look their best in Italy. Take notes.
Aside from my mainstay of photography--advertising for liquors, jewelry and home furnishings--I used to do some beauty and fashion work. I even did a short stint in Paris. In my time, I've worked with and directed many types of models (some who became household names), stylists and makeup people. While lately I don't really pay close attention to fashion styles and trends, I do see what's going on--at least in my peripheral vision. I will also admit to being fairly opinionated--no more and no less than most creative types.
I'm of the opinion that classic style is timeless. It lasts. It's not really a trend. The best Italian style is exactly that. When we traveled throughout Italy, the best looks were the simplest--sort of like the Italian cuisine versus French. The first is simply prepared with the best ingredients. The latter is overly complicated and at times convoluted.
Beauty is beauty. Balance, lines, color and texture have certain rules if they are to work well together.
Here are some thoughts on a few looks I've stumbled upon lately... Am I not getting something?
Keep in mind when visiting Florence, that you are in a timeless city with centuries-old tradition of artisan crafts, with many maestri (masters) in each of their specific trade-crafts. Many still work with traditional tools and methods, while others have modernized their techniques to suit the increase in demand from the tourist trade. This is a double edged sword. On one had, it is still possible to find the best traditional leathers, jewelry, linens and more. On the other hand, the casual Voyager to Florence has to be wary of shoddy materials, careless workmanship, outright fakes and forgeries and cheap factory-made imports from China.
A great way to start your search is to take a stroll through medieval streets of the Oltrarno (“other side of the Arno”) neighborhood, in between Via Maggio and Piazza Pitti. Walk past the vendors on the Ponte Vecchio to the south bank of the Arno and then a bit west. You will sense that you really stepped back in time into the Renaissance discover a literal maze of artisan workshops in the tiny streets--violin makers, bookbinders, gilders, ceramics, tilemakers, mosaics, calligraphers, clock makers,metal-workers, framers and sculptors. Just remember not to go during riposa, when most Italians close up their shops for 203 hours between 2-3 pm. Early morning or later in the afternoon is best. There are also many little piazza with trattoria to enjoy, sit back and just take it all in...
Beginning in January, 2017, Grand Voyage Italy is undergoing a reconstruction: adding new pages, categories and moving older posts to more appropriate pages. If you can't find what you are looking for in this new Lifestyle page, use the Search Box to help find what you need. Grazie!