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Carnival in Valfloriana, wood faces

Matòci, paiaci, arlechini, sonadori and sposi a colourful procession on the road that connect the villages of the valley
It’s ten o’clock in the morning when the Valfloriana is awakened by the sounds of bells. This is not a liturgical signal, no priest is preparing for the ceremony; the matòcio, from the top of the mountain, waving his bell located in the pelvic area, warns the villages of the valley  of its imminent and irrepressible arrival and he prepares himself for his mission. The Carnival of Valfloriana has begun.
The road to get here was long and arduous, but the landscape that I enjoyed by the camper windows wiped out the concerns and provided strong emotions. I am in Sicina, the highest village of Valfloriana where I should meet Graziano Lozzer the mayor of the village at the "Agritur Fior di Bosco". Upon my arrival, the noise of the camper motor attracts Vasile, a Romanian who works in the dairy of the agriturism. "Is there Graziano?" "No, he is not. He will be back tonight". I take a walk while it is getting dark. The weather is freezing and the surroundings are white deserts; there is an unreal peace. Vasile calls me and asks me if I like ricotta (kind of cottage cheese) and he gives me one he just made
Graziano Lozzer, is one of the main protagonists of this carnival. He remembers when his grandparents used to take part to this event that has gradually weakened until disappearing almost entirely around the 80s. Now thanks to the work of the entire community of Valfloriana it has become one of the most important traditional carnivals among the Italian ones.
They represent the story of a wedding procession which ritual is repeated in all the municipality villages, from the higher Sicina until Casatta in the valley. It is performed by five main characters: at first the matòci or barbi represented with typical wood masks, distorted voice and disrespect. Their assignment is to obtain the admittance permits from the residents of communities that stop them in front of every village main entrance. The elegant and quite arlechini follow them dancing with the sound of sonadori’s accordion that accompany with the typical carnival marcet. Then we have the married couple (he is dressed as a bride, she, the bela, is dressed as bridegroom); the easy-going shameless and burlesque arlechini performing sarcastic mute comedies inspired by the more chatting vicissitudes happened in the village during the year. Each stage ends with the offer of a delicious banquet for the characters and the public. Whereas the stages are 10 or more in a 6 kilometres journey, at dusk you will have your belly well-filled ... but without guilt feelings.
The abundant snowfall during the last season seems to have caused little troubles in public management, these are the main sources of inspiration for the paiaci tales. One of the paiacio, with a demijohn and a big sign tied on his shoulders, announces the closure of winery for bankruptcy. In reality it is self-mockery of the man hidden by the mask who promised to stop drinking
Graziano plays with familiarity the role of one of the main Valfloriana carnival matòci. He runs shaking his bell (bronzin), with his son Emil young promising matòcio, towards the next village where he faces, with the typical speech of this area, the verbal duel created with the people who are waiting him to get the admittance permits
He tells me that originally the matòcio had to become unrecognizable, for this reason he wears always the mask and speaks with the peculiar falsetto voice. Once the Valfloriana villages during the entire carnival period organized parades "against" their neighbours and the matòci instigated people with the contrest, trying to hide their identity. The day after the village, victim of matòcio derision, could "revenge" organizing the same ritual. These challenges were paid with money and women could not participate.
Today the matòci are still wearing masks and changing their voice, but they are certainly recognized by all the inhabitants of the village. Try to imagine the nice plays that can be created when everybody knows the mask hides the mayor’s face. Fortunately in Valfloriana Graziano is highly respected by his fellow citizens Due to his work and his enthusiasm and sarcasm he is adopted and accepted ironically and spontaneously.
But the matòci are many and everyone knows that in every stage  they will face a challenge prepared with care. For example in Montalbano they have placed two tree trunks on the street in order to ask to an ex-woodcutter matòcio to prove if he is still able to do this job as he boasts ..
When the tests are passed and the matòci were able to demonstrate their abilities, the gates opened and the dancing wedding procession, arriving from the previous village, is welcomed.
Thanks to the explanations of the inhabitants of the place I can understand the meaning of this ritual. Ivano, a veteran of the carnival, plays with me along some stages before the matòcio arrival. Together with the inhabitants of the village, currently engaged in preparing dams and banquets, he tells me some curious anecdotes of everyday life in Valfloriana that help me to interpret the contrest.
Around 7 pm we arrive to Casatta, the last stage of this very special day. I am tired and I try to imagine the conditions of matòci, arlechini, paiaci, drides and sonadori that for all the day long contributed to preserve the significance of this characteristic Carnival. The paiaci dress as workers accompanying the matòcio Graziano to overcome a difficult path in a snowy area specially prepared and arlechini do their last round of dancing with the final embrace of the couple. Everybody is certainly tired, Graziano has left the voice inside the mask, but once again they are happy of having kept their promise to maintain this tradition combining cold Valfloriana with its warm heart inhabitants.
Thanks to: the mayor Graziano Lozzer and his wife Isabella, Vasile, Emil (the young promising matòcio), Agnes and staff of the Agriturismo Fior di Bosco, all the inhabitants of Valfloriana who have welcomed me telling and helping.
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