Naples has Pulcinella, Venice has Pantalone and Colombina, Viareggio has Burlamacco. Bologna has Balanzone, Arlecchino is from Bergamo, Gianduia is from Turin, Baciccia hangs out in Genoa, and what about La Spezia?
Many Italian cities and regions have a carnival character, a mask reflecting the local spirit.
What is the typical mask of La Spezia? Starting from the assumption that in eastern Liguria, the carnival does not seem as solid and well-established as in other areas of Italy, the figure closest to different Italian regional masks by characterization is Batiston.
WHO IS BATISTON?
Batiston made his first appearance in 1869 in the lyrics of a song and in some posters of the time.
In what are the typical characters of Batiston, you can see the popular sayings concerning the inhabitants of eastern Liguria in general. Batiston is a village figure, an ordinary genuine La Spezia guy, full of vigor, witty and pungent, who calls a spade a spade and is also called “Batiston er mugnon, er vogia de fae gnente” (Battistone the lamenter, the slacker).
WHERE DOES THE BATISTON COME FROM?
Investigating on Batiston mask’s origins, the traces lead to a man who existed, known by everyone.
In short, he was one of the many Sogeti (characters) you can find at every corner, elevated to myth, as it often occurs with characters of small towns. The guy everyone knows, the extroverted or typical commoner exists in the daily family lexicon as an example, usually funny but negative, or in any case, not to imitate.
MAÌA, BATISTON’S WIFE
Soon, another figure joins Maià (Maria, in dialect), also a frank and friendly woman, considered to be the daughter of King Carlevà (King Carnival) and wife of Batiston, who, by the wedding, becomes Carlevà’s son-in-law and finally new Emperor.
Since then, we have often heard of “Batiston e sé mogé Maìa” (Batiston and his wife Maria), a fundamental step to elevate Batiston to the real protagonist of the carnival, closely linked to the spirit of the party.
LA SPEZIA CARNIVAL BEFORE BATISTON
Before this wedding – therefore, in the 50s of the nineteenth century – the La Spezia carnival was an engaging village festival (before the construction of the Arsenale, which took place in 1862, the town of La Spezia had little consistency) with almost total participation.
The leading figure was King Carlevà. In a parade in which the various districts participated with masks and floats, the puppet of King Carlevà – on Shrove Tuesday – was taken in a march with the sound accompaniment of satirical songs strictly in dialect and burned by the Marina.
Traditionally, the dying King Carlevà – before being burned – left a will to the citizens, initially only a list of objects, but later a “list of graces,” a sequence of advice for the population, then turned into a satire. That’s it is the origin of the canzonetta.
When Batiston is already on the scene – at that point, King Carlevà’s son-in-law – he is the one to read the king’s will to the people.
In a calendar, song fragments from the late sixties of the nineteenth century have some Batiston as the protagonist.
The first, signed by Serafino Pucci, goes like this
Cai me fanti, a son de Spèza
Er me nome i è Batiston
Batiston de Falabèla
Ch’i è nassù ‘nte a Sitadèla…
(My dear boys, I’m from Spezia / my name is Batiston / Batiston di Falabela / who was born in the citadel)
Some claim Falabela is a neighboring locality (however, today disappeared and is undocumented), it is more likely that it is a dialectal expression that means “make it beautiful”, “make trouble”. While indeed, the Citadella is the oldest district of La Spezia.
The verses are in a genuine dialect; the small poem tells that Batiston returns home after spending many years in California and is saddened to see the suffering of some workers who, dirty and hungry, rest lying on the ground after work under the arcades of via Chiodo. Then, following the description, a commiseration towards those who sweat and who, as a reward, lead a life of beggars and a decisive attack against the authorities:
Con che stèo, o signoi,
ch’angrassé ‘nte no fae gnente,
a mié ‘sti doloi
che bersègia a povea gente?…
(Who are you with, gentlemen, / who get fat in doing nothing / do you see these pains / that afflict poor people?)
In 1866 it was not a trivial matter to express oneself with such bright tones at public events. These are heavy critics of a city under pressure from the construction of the Arsenal.
The Batiston represents the spirit of the last authentic La Spezia citizen, who no longer recognizes his city and sees his world die rapidly.