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Nice carnival celebrates 150 years, with a nod to Rio

More than 200,000 visitors are expected in Nice this weekend for the southern French city’s famous carnival — one of the three largest in the world — now in its 150th year, hoping to recapture pre-Covid numbers, and sending a special wink at its sister celebration in Rio.

Started in 1873, this party with a global flair has since become a major economic force on France’s Cote d’Azur, supporting 1,800 jobs and raking in 30 millions euros ($32m).

The annual event was cancelled in 2021 and greatly reduced last year, due to the pandemic. This year, from Saturday to February 26, the public can expect to find those famous floats and big heads, where many mimosas will be shared, along with some 20 tons of confetti.  

“We’re a bit stressed, but still on track,” said Jean-Pierre Povigna, 17, whose family has had “the honour and privilege” of constructing party floats for five generations. 

In a large warehouse situated in the centre of town, he worked tirelessly to complete the crowd’s two most popular floats: those belonging to the king and queen of the carnival, “for months, from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm these last few days,” he said.

– ‘Can’t wait’ –

Povigna can count on his grandfather to learn the ins and outs of a profession “that’s passed down from one generation to the next,” a man of whom he’s “proud to carry the same name.”

The elder Jean-Pierre Povigna, 79, has seen his job change with the times: “The first carnival I remember is the one from 1954. It started in the snow,” he said. 

“Every year, we can’t wait to see people’s faces and see if all our work was worth it.”

For the last three years, the large styrofoam heads have been created by a computer-programmed robot, instead of the longstanding tradition by hand. “This saves us so much time,” said Vincent Povigna, 21, another family member. “Nowadays, it only takes three days to sculpt one head, instead of two weeks.”

Once set up on the floats, the giant figurines themselves are also programmed by a computer, along with the dozens of spotlights on board. 

Although many of the floats still run on gas, “they’ve also been adapted, two of which are equipped with electric motors,” said Jean-Marc Mathe, 64, a retired firefighter in Nice, who added “it’s an honour” to steer the queen’s float “for the past 25 years”.

Even one week before kick-off, the carnival was already showing 95 percent capacity. 

Nice’s festival in 2023 is expected to attract more than 200,000 spectators, according to the city hall. 

That ranks it among the top three largest celebrations in the world, after Rio de Janeiro and Venice. 

Attending the event will cost a small price, unless revellers attend “in full costume.”

This year’s theme is “The World’s Treasures”, with the parade’s king travelling between the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Statue of Liberty. The city of Nice has invited Rio as its guest of honour. 

One float was even designed by two Brazilian…

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