Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Italian Festivus Pole

A couple weeks back, there was a really fun discussion about devotions and devotionals. I'd like to return to that, specifically in the context of the Italian culture in which I was raised.

While the feast of the Neapolitan patron San Gennaro (Sept. 15) is pretty prominent, immortalized in The Godfather and by the group pilgrimages to Mulberry Street in New York for the weeklong festival, the Mother Lode of the Italo-American diaspora comes in midsummer.

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, July marks the giglio festival. For some reason, my countrymen have always had a special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Well, these cats show it in imitation of the annual festival at Nola in tribute to its native son, St. Paulinus. They carry a five-story, five-ton tower bedecked with statues, flowers -- and a 12-piece band on the platform at the bottom -- through the streets. And, best of all, they call it a "Dance."

Perfect Italian euphemism -- as if my paesans can port a five-ton extravaganza and stand up straight? Let's just call it a dance. Who knew?

Bottom line: A frequent topic that comes up in my conversations is how, despite all the technology of the past century, man is seemingly unable to replicate the sumptuous craftsmanship that built many of the great monuments of ancient history and the Renaissance. And the reason for that inability is not one of incompetence, but motivation. The ancients did what they did not for fame or monetary rewards, but because they believed it would earn them heaven.

It's what makes people carry a five-ton float on their shoulders through the streets of Brooklyn. It's what made the Pyramids go up and makes the Sistine Chapel resonate even with the faithless. Whatever one thinks of that drive, we don't see much of it anymore. Here's hoping that, somehow, the jadedness of the world can break and we'll experience it again anew.



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