Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NY Trip: The Giglio.

Today was a sweltering hot day in the Big City, and it's a steamy night that follows. We followed our plans this morning, and erred on the side of caution by getting to Williamsburg early. There was no way of knowing how many people would show up for the Dance of the Giglio, and likewise we didn't know how fast any crowd would congregate. Unfortunately that meant a lot of standing around in the midday sun, trying to figure out where the best position was from which to get quality photos. I decided that I wanted to get up in close to the men who would actually lift the behemoth tower. I had seen shots in the documentary with the strain and camaraderie evident in the faces of the Paranzas. JM thought that he'd prefer shots of the the entire procession. So we ended up claiming separate pieces of ground. It's a good thing that we picked a time and meeting place for rendezvous, because as lift-off time approached it got jam-packed.

I've never seen so many old-school Italian faces in one place in my entire life. The pride and spirit in evidence was actually uplifting in itself. I got awfully tired of waiting for the ceremonies, and actually considered leaving. But then it started and I'm glad I stayed. First the parish father and the local bishop ascended to the platform at the base of the Giglio, and they were followed by the brass band and a traditional folk singer. They started with a prayer,and then sang the national anthem to a lukewarm reception. Next they played the Italian anthem, and the crowd came alive. After another song the capo called for the crowd to pull back so they could begin a march of the Giglio. It took them several attempts before the excited people stepped back to make room. Then it happened, and I got caught up in the excitement. I happened to be in a spot that allowed me to get some of the shots I had envisioned. Shooting in a roving mob proved to be a unique challenge, but I was pleased with the results. I was impressed by the feats of crowd control which kept anyone from getting injured. In the space of about fifteen minutes, my optimal opportunity for a view had passed, and JM caught up with me at our prearranged meeting place.

Afterward we walked many blocks to meet up with one of JM's artist friends for coffee. My ass was absolutley dragging by this point, and it was great to sit down and get into a rambling discussion about faith and alternative spirituality. Our trio walked over to the Pierogi Gallery for a look-see. Both of my companions have had work there over the years, so they have a special connection to the place. It's a flat-file gallery, and its concept was a source of inspiration for JM when he opened up the Digging Pitt in Pittsburgh. I liked the stuff on the walls- we mused on the puzzle aspect of many of the pieces. After a bit I had a look at David Byrne's (yes...that one) work from the file cabinets. They were fairly compelling photographic prints, a few of which were collages. Good evocative stuff.

Then JM decided he wanted to take the subway into Manhattan's financial district to make a connection with Brent Burkett who writes the Heart as Arena blog (check it out here). We left my car in Brooklyn. Brent was so kind as to give us a walking tour of public art in lower Manhattan. Highlights included work by Jean Dubuffet and Jeff Koons. We also walked by Ground Zero, and I couldn't help being offended by all the low-rent vendors who were selling knock-off purses along the nearby walkways. Despite all the damn sloganeering that has made it virtually impossible for me to have an authentic emotional reaction to the site, I was still kinda bothered by these freakin' vultures. We ended our walkabout along the slim park that overlooks the Hudson River. Do you believe I got my very first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty??

You really couldn't do better than Brent for a tour guide. But by the time we were done I was exhausted, and even a bit cranky from lack of food. We rode back into Brooklyn, and then had to get off at a stop that was still a long way from where we thought we had left the car. Fortunately there was a public transit bus shuttle waiting on us, and we had the amazing luck of ending up on the very block where I had parked. Back at the house, I ate wings and we "discussed" politics for a couple of hours. It was a good way to (almost) end the night.

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