The Promenade des Anglais is officially delirious.
Flowered chars roll down the town's prom, marquis swivel down the aisle with white wigs and stuffed horses, over-sized masks or "grosses têtes" hang their giant devilish smiles over the crowds. Confettis fly. Sprays spurt greens and pinks everywhere. Trumpets, Brazilian sambas, and an old accordion song mix in a frenzy of imagination released out in the open street.
2008 marks the 124th edition of the Nice Carnaval, dedicated this year to the "Roi des Ratapignatas, Raminagrobis et autres ramassis de rats masqués."
The rat and bat theme is a wink to the Chinese year of the rat we've just begun.
It's also another side of the city of Nice. In Nice's bestiary, the Ratapignata is a bat. It's the inverted symbol of Nice's heraldic eagle, the hidden side of the town. On Carnival 2008, ratty bats crawl out of the dark to dance into the streets.
And what about Raminagrobis? Who is this year's Carnaval majesty?
In his fable "Le chat, la belette, et le petit lapin," writer La Fontaine named the story's fat cat character "Raminagrobis", borrowing the name from Rabelais' earlier writings.
On her grand char, Her Majesty Raminagrobis waves her white paws, each larger than a person. In one paw, she holds a mouse and in the other, a golden paw. She wears a crown of caged bats, her pink tongue tip hangs to the side and her golden slanted eyes shine with a naughty glare. She's so large (14 meters long and 8 large) that she spills over her char.
In the great tradition of Nice's Carnival, Raminogrobis parades on the promenade des Anglais, this year from February 16 until March 2nd, when she will head over to her incinerated death at sea.
Other monsters float up and down the Prom during the Nice Carnival: Neoconzilla who eats the statue of liberty, Soccaman, the Socca delivery character who appears on a couple of sundays for lunch, the Big Bad Wolf and many smoking dragon, escaped from Hollywood.
While most of the Carnival takes place on the Promenade des Anglais, between the Opéra and Hotel Méridien, the Jardin Albert 1er hosts quieter activities for kids. Between 11AM and 5:30PM, famous Guignol puppet puts on a show behind his candy red theater box. In the park, kites conceived by Nasser float above the ground, unafraid of the larger brooding masks next door.
When to see it: In 2008, the Nice Carnaval takes place from February 16 to March 2.
For more information, see www.nicecarnaval.com