Last year, I went to see the Dance of the Giglio in East Harlem. This year, I went to see it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where it is the centerpiece of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In East Harlem, the Giglio structure is made of wood and in Williamsburg it's metal. The Williamsburg feast is also bigger, more crowded, and on narrower streets. But the feeling is the same. It feels like New York. People talk with Brooklyn accents, they wear gold chains, pinkie rings, and cream-colored loafers. They say Madonn' and minchia. Their tattoos are far from ironic.
We sang the Star-Spangled Banner and the monsignor said a prayer. After the Giglio singer sang the traditional Italian songs, he did Sinatra. "Start spreadin' the news..." as the Giglio went up and down, around and around, making its precarious and glittery way along the street.
A few hipsters wandered in with their Super-8 movie cameras and Wayfarers, but the crowd was decidedly Italian-American of the classic Brooklyn type. It felt like stepping back into a time when these people actually lived in the city. (I know some still do, but the numbers are waning.)
When the Boat Singer announced that "one of our own, a paesan" Danny Aiello was in attendance, the crowd went wild.
The NYPD escorted Aiello through the crowd, gently asking people to back up. But people wanted to get close to the Italian-American hero. It was as if they all knew him personally. "Danny! Hey, Danny!" they called, "Over here!"
An older guy standing near me said, "I know Danny Aiello from way back. I was in The French Connection and that's where I met him." Except Danny Aiello wasn't in The French Connection. Maybe the guy was thinking of Fort Apache the Bronx.
The crowd pushed and pressed. Aiello graciously shook hands and posed for photos. He was patient and affectionate with everyone who crossed his path. Women kissed his cheek. Men did too.
"Minchia," said one woman behind me, "You'd think he was Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph."