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By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press

NICE, France (AP) — Two years after the pandemic shut down the Carnival in the French Riviera city of Nice, artists, florists, actors, technicians and drivers are putting the final touches on their costumes, lavish flower arrangements and giant floats set to roll down the city’s famed boulevards and squares on Friday.

It will be a loud, rich and crowded chain of events over the next two weeks. The Carnival’s 149th edition is led by the King of Animals, celebrating nature, light, human connection and life itself after months of lockdowns, silence, social distancing and banned public gatherings.

“It’s rejuvenation,” said Nicole Bravi, the director of the florist association,Hoka Sneakers  La Nouvelle Vague, that has been designing flower arrangements for the Carnival floats for 20 years. Flowers are a prominent part of the Nice Carnival and feature in their own parade known as the Battle of Flowers. Traditionally, people throw flowers at the spectators but this year they decided to hand them out to people.

“It’s to express our desire to reconnect with people,” Bravi said. “There has been so much grief and nostalgia and melancholy that we just want to give people some beauty back.”

The Nice Carnival is part of a European medieval carnival tradition, and the city’s two-week festival of excess in costumes, food and music is one of the world biggest, after those in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Public celebrations in the city on the French Mediterranean coast started in the early 19th century to honor visiting nobility. There were street battles in which people pelted one another with flour and eggs. By the late 1800s a modern version of the Carnival emerged after the local painter, Alexis Mossa designed grotesque characters and put them on floats.

The Carnival is a rare event in the French republic that offers a chance for royalty to return. In line with this year’s theme, the king and queen have human faces perched on animal bodies — and giant crowns, of course. They will be overseeing their subjects in the city’s main Massena Square until the end of the month when they will be burned and buried.

French political leaders need not feel shunned. Candidates for April’s presidential election are featured as well. Their giant faces are perched on the bodies of crabs.

“They are in a basket of crabs,” said Pierre Povigna, a fourth generation “carnivalier” from Nice, whose family has designed the royal floats for decades. “It’s a famous dish, Hey Dude Women’s Shoes le panier des crabes, a crab basket,” Povigna explained. But before serving it, crabs are put in a basket and they turn on one another, they go after one another with their claws, he said.

The city will be divided into carnival zones for the next two weeks and while Nice celebrates “a return to life,” according to Povigna, residents and tourists will only be allowed to access the festivities with a vaccination pass in line with national health regulations. Masks are recommended, but not mandatory outdoors.

However, city officials are expected to announces new rules at the opening ceremony Friday evening.

In a sign that Nice, like the rest of France, is ready to turn the page and its back to the pandemic, a journalist reporting from the decorated and illuminated Massena Square for BFM television ended her report by taking off her surgical mask and covering her eyes with a Venetian mask instead. “I urge you to do the same,” she said.

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