Just before the rain swept in yesterday, the Giglio Boys of East Harlem got their handmade, five-ton, five-story tower off the ground. What a thrill to be alongside this massive, bouncing, gilded lily spire hauled on the shoulders of about 100 men and ridden by a brass band, complete with a couple of priests and a guy singing Italian folk songs.
Unlike San Gennaro, this feast was small and cozy. Everyone seemed to know each other. There were few outsiders. It felt a little bit like crashing a family reunion. It also had a more traditional Italian ambiance, as if you might stumble upon this event in a Sicilian village.
Like other southern Italian organizations, the Giglio feast has a hierarchy. There are capos, lieutenants, and paranzas, the lifters. They wore white caps and Old Glory bandannas that came in plastic packages with their blue t-shirts. Under the weight of the Giglio, the paranzas strained and groaned, their faces turning red, the veins in their arms swelling.
The crowd cheered and hustled alongside as the Giglio was shifted and turned, carried up Pleasant Avenue, bounced and shaken. The Statue of Liberty (or "Statua Libbidy" as they called it) waved her torch and did a little dance of her own high atop the Giglio.
For this one weekend, East Harlem's Pleasant Avenue was an Italian neighborhood again, filled with the smells of sweet sausages and parmesan cheese, populated by big cigar-chewing guys who say "fuggedaboudit" as they talk about a "63 Firebird with the plastic still on the seats," and women who proclaim "Maddon, you're gettin' too big" as they lift children into their arms.
After yesterday's festivities, most of them vanished to their quiet Long Island streets and Jersey suburbs, abandoning East Harlem once more to the condo developers.