Carnival returns to the French Riviera, as virus fears recede


PLEASANT – Two years after the pandemic put an end to the Carnival of the city of Nice on the Côte d’Azur, artists, florists, actors, technicians and drivers are putting the finishing touches on their costumes, sumptuous floral arrangements and floats giants ready to roll down the city’s famous boulevards and squares on Fridays.

It will be a loud, rich and crowded chain of events over the next two weeks. The 149th edition of the Carnival is led by the King of Animals, celebrating nature, light, human connections and life itself after months of confinement, silence, social distancing and prohibited public gatherings.

“It’s a makeover,” said Nicole Bravi, director of the La Nouvelle Vague florist association, which has been designing flower arrangements for Carnival floats for 20 years. Flowers feature prominently in the Nice Carnival and feature in their own parade known as the Bataille de Fleurs. Traditionally, people throw flowers to spectators, but this year they decided to distribute them to people.

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“It’s to express our desire to reconnect with people,” Bravi said. “There’s been so much heartbreak and longing and melancholy that we just want to give people back some beauty.”

The Carnival of Nice is part of a European medieval carnival tradition, and the city‘s two-week festival of excess costume, food and music is one of the largest in the world, after those in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Public celebrations in the town on the French Mediterranean coast began in the early 19th century to honor visiting nobility. There were street battles in which people bombarded each other with flour and eggs. In the late 1800s, a modern version of carnival emerged after local painter, Alexis Mossa, designed grotesque figures and put them on floats.

Carnival is a rare event in the French republic that offers a chance for royalty to return. In keeping with this year’s theme, the king and queen have human faces perched on animal bodies – and giant crowns, of course. They will watch over their subjects in the city’s main Place Masséna until the end of the month, when they will be burned and buried.

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French political leaders must not feel rejected. Candidates for the presidential election in April are also presented. Their giant faces are perched on the crabs’ bodies.

“They’re in a basket of crabs,” said Pierre Povigna, a fourth-generation “carnival rider” from Nice, whose family has designed the royal floats for decades. “It’s a famous dish, basket of crabs,” Povigna explained. But before serving it, the crabs are put in a basket and they turn against each other, they chase each other with their claws, he said.

The city will be divided into carnival zones for the next two weeks and as Nice celebrates ‘a return to life’, according to Povigna residents and tourists will only be allowed into the festivities with a vaccination pass complies with national health regulations. Masks are recommended, but not required outside.

However, city officials are expected to announce new rules at the opening ceremony on Friday night.

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Sign that Nice, like the rest of France, is ready to turn the page and turn its back on the pandemic, a journalist reporting from Place Masséna decorated and illuminated for BFM television ended her report by removing her mask surgery and covering her eyes with a Venetian mask instead. “I urge you to do the same,” she said.

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