In any other year, masks would be a sign of the gaiety in Venice, an accessory worn for games and parties as big crowds parade about to show off their frivolous, fanciful costumes, especially ones with decorative face coverings.
A young man looks at carnival masks reflected in the window of a shop in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.
Last year, with fears over the new coronavirus mounting, authorities abruptly shut down the Venice Carnival on its third day, just before Italy became the first country in the West to face an outbreak.
A view of an empty St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.
Now Italy has logged more than 2.5 million confirmed virus cases, including more than 88,000 deaths but not including thousands who died without being tested. A “surge” has taken on a different, more ominous context. Masks are worn now to protect, not amuse.
A woman looks at the Canal Grande or Grand Canal, in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.
The Carnival’s appeal is rooted back centuries, when, for a brief stretch in the run-up to Lent, the Catholic period of penitence that begins on Ash Wednesday, ordinary Venetians would strut about masks, taking on temporary new identities, and for a few days become indistinguishable from members of the proud maritime city’s ruling class.
A Venetian artisan mask maker works on an item in a workshop in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.
“Now, paradoxically, we are not able to experience the mask in this way, and we are forced to wear these masks that in some way block the liberation, the freedom, of our so-called senses.”
Venetian artisan carnival mask maker Gualtiero Dall'Osto wears one of his creations in his workshop in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.