My Diary

In Praise of Masks

Let’s take a look at the tradition of masking. The Venetians were big in this field as carnival time was a moment in all Europe to upset traditional hierarchies even for a day, but was particularly keenly felt in Venice where social hierarchies were extremely rigid. Masks had a practical purpose, that of secrecy, but also aspirational. Do you dream of being rich, just for a day? Mask up as a noble; or maybe you fancy belonging to the opposite sex ? You can do that too. Illicit loves could prosper behind a mask too. From the 12th century onwards Venetians had been hiding behind masks until the untoward happenings consumed behind them, eventually forced one of the Doges to emanate a law restricting masks to carnival.

The BAUTA mask is a simple , all-white mask with a projecting jaw so that the wearer can eat and drink. Held in place by a tricorn hat it was the standardised way to participate and even VOTE in political decision making.

The PLAGUE DOCTOR mask with its long beak-like nose was actually used by doctors to keep their distance, and the beak stuffed with herbs and flowers to filter the air and mitigate the stench coming from decaying bodies.

The MORETTA mask is an oval black mask,with holes for eyes; it is held in place by biting the button on the rear which means that the wearer cannot eat, drink or speak lending her an aura of mystery.

The GNAGA or cat mask worn by ante-litteram drag queens! It had to be accompanied by a basket of kittens and was a loophole in the ferocious anti-homosexual laws which carried a very heavy sentence……. death.

But masks are not just fun and games. A lot of our super heroes Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, Ironman, Zorro all wear them. Probably to protect their identity from ill-wishers. The Baddies too wear them to protect THEIR identity, presumably from the super heroes; bank robbers have always been depicted as being masked men, even when the mask was only a nylon stocking pulled over the head giving them blurred features and recently the joker mask worn in a tv series has been adopted by protesters over the globe.

And what about us? Shall we grumble grumble grumble? Let’s cough and sneeze and spread our germs through the air, or shall we put up with the relative discomfort of wearing a mask? Consider its advantages (apart from of course keeping your grandmother safe!) I like the mask for at least a couple of reasons: it warms the cold winter air which is a good thing for all the asthmatics out there; The biggest plus however is that I can eat garlic and onions with impunity! Before the advent of Covid, I had to eat spaghetti, aglio, olio and peperoncino on a Saturday evening so I had all Sunday to sweeten my breath and be able to teach students to pronounce “TH” correctly without them turning green!! And last night I heard the most unusual one of all; a dear friend told me that when they played the Hallelujah chorus as an encore she was able to sing with them from behind her mask! Lovely!

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