Pam’s Pictorama Post: Occasionally I get the odd idea in my head for a mini-adventure and this weekend I decided to revisit my youth and talked Kim into hitting up the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. This idea first scratched at the back of my brain when Kim and I were in Chinatown and Little Italy a few weeks ago as banners were already going up for it.
Then yesterday morning I was reading the local version of The Patch (does everyone have this ultra local newsletter? I am amazed by some of the things I find out reading it), which cheerfully informed me that the festival had commenced and would end its run this weekend.
I missed the Fireman’s Fair just blocks from my mom’s house this summer by a few days. I have written about that (here) and again, I haven’t been to it in many decades, but thought we might time a visit right and go but no, it didn’t work. So I guess I had a yen for that sort of thing – cotton candy, candied apples and the smell of fried dough against a background of rides and games of skill and chance. Kim was game so off we went.
For those of you who don’t know, the San Gennaro festival is an annual tribute to the aforementioned saint. This tradition in Manhattan’s Little Italy dates back to 1926 when immigrants from Naples congregating on Mulberry Street brought the festival to this country. Neapolitan’s had long looked to the saint for protection from natural disasters including eruptions from Mt. Vesuvius and he is the principal patron saint of that city. (For the record San Gennaro was martyred back in 305 AD and his miracle is the liquefaction of his blood after his death.)
We missed the Mayor and former Astronaut Micheal Massimino in the kick off Grand Procession where the statue of the Saint is brought out for a walk around the grounds as well, complete with (unidentified) relic of the saint. Evidently the stands are also each blessed as the festival opens. All that happens on September 19 which is the day San Gennaro was killed and the beginning of the festivities.
Instead, we tucked ourselves into the hoards of people, early enough in the evening so no one had tipped over into overt and inevitable drunkenness from the impossible large and refillable plastic vessels of sugary well booze for sale. These days the air was also thick with the smell of pot mixing with a lot of more traditional cigar smoke. That combined with the smells mentioned above and a lot of roasting meat contributed to a carnival atmosphere.
My expectations, based on the last time I attended which must have been back several decades (maybe as many as three) were kept fairly low. Kim hadn’t been since his days at Pratt, once on the year Connie Francis was celebrated. He didn’t see her, but they played her records (a selection of her international songs he remembers) and after a quick Google search it turns out that she also attended again in 1982 and yet another time in 2012. She’s clearly a fan of the festival. While we heard a band playing the theme from the Godfather at one point, music was not very much in evidence this year, recorded or live.
I will say I was disappointed by the quality of the prize offerings for the games. No goldfish which is a good thing I am sure, but really uninspired stuffed toys. Usually I can pick out a sort of best of or favorite, but these were definitely bottom shelf. Of course I am a more discerning collector of toys now as well. Just as well as I do not think Kim or I had the skill to achieve in this arena. We did see one guy really having at the bottle knockdown stand. It is beer bottles these days and some were getting smashed.
I did get a candied apple – one of my goals for the evening. They were much less prevalent than I would have thought, but I found a stand. (There turned out to be two places you could acquire them; sadly they are less popular than they once were.) Kim bought it for me and it was a traditional one with coconut pressed into the candied part. Yum! After breaking into it, and always the challenging part of the candied apple and the most hazardous to dental work. This makes me think in all fairness to my teeth I may not have many more candied apples in my future and will focus on cotton candy in the future perhaps. Kim seemed quietly mystified by my passion and took one adventurous nibble.
A young man selling frozen ices from a cooler asked where I had gotten it (clearly a fellow candied apple fan) and I pointed him in the right direction, only up half a block from where we were in the slow moving crowd. He told his female partner to watch the ices and he’d be back in half a block’s time which made me laugh. I like a fellow partner in candied apple crime.
We ended the evening by circling back up and around to Kenmare Square where we perched at the edges of their outdoor dining space and ate a real dinner instead of standing in long lines for plates of fried food, meat or pizza at the festival. It was a satisfying end to the evening’s adventure.