“Venice Carnival pays homage to the lavish lifestyles of Casanova’s Venice. Still today, the carnival city cuts loose from its oily moorings and drifts free. The Lententide `farewell to the flesh’ is an orgy of excess, much as it was in Casanova’s day, with decadent costumed balls and dangerous liaisons. Then as now, a libidinous nun may be locked in an embrace with an 18th-century fop, or a Doge might thread the inky canals with a winged lion in tow.
Back for Carnival in 1753, Casanova was swept up in the craziness of lagoon life: “I return to my city, full of myself, giddy, loving pleasure, lacking prudence, with opinions about everything. I party day and night, gamble for high stakes, and respect only my honour.” Casanova liked to have a spare girl to hand, preferably an uninhibited nun who enjoyed a messy lunch: “After making punch, we amused ourselves by passing oysters between our mouths – there’s no more voluptuous game between lovers.” Casanova clearly didn’t need a celebrity chef to show him what to do with oysters, even if he secretly preferred shrimps with lagoon fish and a sweet-and-sour sauce – presumably too messy for a first date.
Only eating catches masqueraders out of character. A malevolent plague-doctor struggles to pop a doughnut under his beaked nose. At the end of a blind alley, a bewigged courtier fails to master his plate of ink-splattered cuttlefish. Passers-by peer into the steamed-up windows of Caffe Florian and spot a feathery creature brushing the froth off a cappuccino. Beside him is a winged lion, the symbol of La Serenissima, slurping hot chocolate. No reason why a winged lion can’t enjoy hot chocolate - especially in the city that launched coffee-drinking as a prelude to a dangerous liaison.”