Sunday, July 26, 2009

Notes from the Giglio

Every summer in Williamsburg (and apparently in a few other predominantly Italian New York neighborhoods), they do this thing that they call the feast, or the dancing of the Giglio. In this neighborhood, the whole thing centers around a nearby church: Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Understanding neither the religious nor the tradition/heritage-related significance of the events, this is how I'd describe them: Off and on for a week, you hear brass music, so you look outside to find a rag-tag group (usually like 12 people or so) wearing red berets and playing instruments and marching down the street. It's a very, very low-key parade, ususally enabled by cops on bicycles blocking off streets as the small band toodles by. The band usually goes down quiet residential streets, not a typical parade route. They do this several times throughout the week. Sometimes the band is trailed by a long line of random people, some of whom seem really into it, others who are in their cell phones. And they're often flanked by young boys who try to sell you bread to benefit the parish. Later in the week, the same "parade" commences, though the band is bigger and followed by a small float tugged by an old car. Atop the float is usually a trio of old Catholic priests, or bishops, or something. They wave to the audience, which is typically comprised of 3-5 elderly Italians on the street corners. (The elderly Italians would likely be sitting at the street corners regardless of whether a parade was coming through). Then during the weekend, there is a big street fair around the Mt. Carmel church. It's got your standard street fair fare: scuzzy games, dangerous rides, a variety of only about 7 booths that repeat themselves up and down the street. But the big showcase is when they dance the Giglio. The 12 piece band (seen in the streets during the week) is now up on a platform about 5 feet tall. In the middle of the platform is an enormous conical statue that is topped by a small statue of some important Catholic figure (no idea who). Here is a picture of the feast in Williamsburg circa 1935:

The whole thing weighs many tons, which is why it's extremely impressive when all of the Italian men of the neighborhood come and hoist it up onto their shoulders and dance around with it while singing Italian songs. Amazing.
We found ourselves at the festival this year (sort of by accident). Needless to say, Sprout was terrified of all of the stomping and screeching, but soon found herself very welcome in the community. One woman asked if it was Sprout's first feast that she'd attended (it was), and subsequently performed a brief ceremony inducting Sprout into some sort of honorary Italian society. On the very same block, a nice man asked if she was a rat terrier (she is) and then promptly proposed that we allow his male rat terrier to sire her puppies. He was very forward. Luckily for Sprout, we're not the sort of dog owners to whore her out (and also, she's fixed). Still, with the warm reception she seemed to be getting at the feast, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find her topping the Giglio statue at next year's affair.

1 comment:

Jill said...

Maybe Sprout has a little Italian in her?

This was very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.