While the mood was jovial and the music loud, heightened security made the Carnaval de Nice a different kind of event to the one we’ve grown used it. After the terrorist attack of 14 July of last year, the procession route was changed to exclude any part of the Promenade des Anglais. This meant that on the final night when the king of the carnival is set alight and sent out to sea, tradition had been squashed. The king was still killed by flames in a bonfire, but quickly extinguished on the spot by firemen. Also breaking from tradition, the battaille de fleures, where crowds and the people on the floats throw flowers at each other – had been changed to flowers coming only from the floats and not the audience – not so much a battle as a handout.
Officially, these adjustments were out of respect for those who perished on the Promenade – some of very spots where the killings took place would have been included in the normal carnival procession route, including the king’s route to the beach. Flowers are part of official memorial sites to the attack victims and in the makeshift memorials still peppered along the Promenade. Unofficially, a second reason emerged. The smaller area given to the carnival and spectators not being allowed to enter with bags of flowers clearly made it easier for security forces to manage the crowds and any terrorist threat.
These changes to tradition shouldn’t be taken lightly. Purported to be one of the largest carnivals in the world, it is also the oldest in Europe. The earliest record of the carnival goes back to 1294, when Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence, made mention of visiting the celebrations in Nice. In recent weeks, I’ve heard local people talk about not following to tradition in ways that one speaks of the death of a close friend – nothing will ever be the same without them.
But those were the quiet faces under the carnival masks. The public faces, sparkling with glitter, paper-macheted, sexy, comical, upheld the traditions and essentially gave the finger to the terrorists of our age.