Friday, August 24, 2012

The Feast 2012: Random Glimpses

I stayed to the end of The Feast this year. I even bought a 50/50 raffle ticket, which I never did and got the same result as all the summers that I didn’t buy a ticket, I didn’t win the money. The pastor of Holy Rosary did the drawing, accompanied by two Nicks and one Carmine.

Before the pastor reached into a large plastic bin to pick out the winning ticket, he blessed the crowd and led them in a quick prayer, which was both weary and rowdy. 


While not exactly a reverent, much less solemn admonition, it was an appropriate reminder of the spiritual context of The Feast, a context initiated nine days before the opening day when the first Novena rosary and mass is said and to the masses and processions of Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Rocco. It also added to the suspense, drawing out the time for the drawing and final conclusion of The Feast. The booths that weren’t closed were giving away or drastically reducing the price of their items.

La Festa Italiana is not just about Rice Balls, or maybeRice Balls are about more than just Rice Balls. Tradition comes to mind. Celebrating Italian culture – really Italian American culture – which is a large patch in the American quilt, especially for anyone growing up and/or living in New Jersey – also comes to mind. But I think it’s really about community. In many ways, in the Christian and Roman Catholic theology represented by the Assumption and Rocco, community is the message. The gift God has given every life is each other.

I finally understand Wine & Peaches.A nucleus of The Feast is the Wine tent, which is operated by the Calusardo family, and features wine from their region of Italy. Peaches soaked in brandy and sugar are put in the wine giving it a fruity, sangria flavor. The beverage – especially the sweeter white wine version – embodies summer. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but with most things alcoholic, that indecisiveness fades with the second, or third.

They also serve lemencello.

The booth is directly across from the band-stand or is that band-shell or is that mobile stage. These girls dance, so perfectly in unison that I’m convinced choreography must be a genetic trait.

The music was loud. Each night another band of nostalgia. The rainy opening was the Toga Band, which played samples of Animal House (toga!) – a movie I never dug – in-between 80s songs, although within that narrow definition everything from Our Lips are Sealed to American Girl got a run through. They were good, even though I hate 80s music as a general principal. I was able to forgive myself in the morning. Other bands included Total Soul, which played R&B, Disco, that sort of thing – Disco Inferno, Billy Jean – the Cameos focused on 50s doo wop, although they did a nifty Suspicious Minds. The bands are professional, human juke boxes, sounding good on a summer night.

Lots of people dancing.


A friend of mine, born and bred Jersey City – Italian – she came to The Feast with her mother, who is elderly. She has never known a mid-August where she wasn’t on Sixth Street with friends, family and neighbors, eating food, gabbing and laughing and dancing to the music.

She reunited with a childhood friend of hers who was part of the white flight of the 1970s – went to suburbs in the 20th century version of the 40 acres and a mule promise. The women grew up where I grew up, in Paramus. We’re the same age but I had never met her before. My mother has a reputation for always wearing purple. She also has this habit of insisting on sitting in the same pew at Sunday mass. Turns out, she and her family sits with my mother every Sunday. The purple lady! She understands that this is my mother’s spot – it’s the end of the pew – and they always leave room for mom. It’s a very strange habit about going to church – you always sit in the same spot.

The point of this anecdote is the Jersey City generated cross-pollination of New Jersey. Growing up in the suburbs, about half of my town was from Jersey City. They all believed it was the going to hell in a hand basket city, the closest example of urban decay. Yet, Jersey City was talked about all the time. My buddy Tonyvisited his grandparents every Sunday. His cousin, Patrick, gained a devotionto a lost statue of Holy Rosary, yet he grew up in another New Jersey suburb. Now Jersey City is a hipster magnet, the new Williamsburg, all that developer bs. Thechildren of the post-white flight children are coming to live in Jersey City, alongside everyone who did not leave. Who are the ones bucking a trend now?

What they all have in common is the adopting The Feast as something to call their own.

I go to a lot of these Italian Street Fairs and this is the best one said a friend of mine.

Northern New Jersey suburbs have been populated by a Jersey City diaspora. Patrick came to The Feast, and I had the chance to talk to a few of his associates and friends, almost all of whom did not live in town, came in for The Feast. They came here when they were kids. Roots in Jersey City, the vines twist through the other counties, populating former farmlands. They had a dream of a better life, somehow a city was hampering that American ideal. The dream wasn’t a lie, but the final turn out was not all that it was hoped for. Veiled in nostalgia, disguised by unreasonable expectations, the progeny return to these streets, here was an authenticity of experience and emotion that we think we remember. Or we remember the people we used to know, who used to be here with us and coming together with others who are here, we feel better when we think about those who couldn’t make it. Just because they’re not here tonight doesn’t mean they’re gone.

Sure there’s the Sauce not Gravy T-shirts, the red, white and green color themes but somehow the Italianess of The Feast is just a familiar reason to get together. My buddy Darren came by with his kids, as he has donefor the third year now, part of a new generation of New Jersey creating collective memories here on Sixth Street.

There’s something about everybody coming to The Feast. That’s why, the more often you go the more you get out of it. You see a lot of people that at one time you saw a lot and became friends but this, that and the other lifewise meant a move to another neighborhood or a drastic shift in schedules and The Feast becomes one of the few times you get to see that acquaintance. Made it through another year.

Saturday was the peak of The Feast. I heard police estimates were 5,000, the highest recorded. People were having a good time, nobody seemed overly drunk or rowdy.









Brunswick Street is always a work in progress. The rides and bouncy houses and slides are there for the young kids. A few booths from the new experiment this year – Not Yo Moma Arts & Crafts – the local, 21st version of hipster shakers with handmade goods and objects. I thought there might be more booths, somebody selling glass enclosed Jelly Fish. A vintage clothing booth. Some general knick-knacks.

A guy who has had a few asks about the Embankment at the Save the Embankment table. We should have saved those trellises that used to be around here, for the freight trains. That’s the embankment, there’s still here. Where? On six streets, right there. I knew they used to be around here. Too bad they didn’t save that. It’s not gone yet, it’s that corner.
A zumba demonstration featured a woman in her 6thmonth of pregnancy.

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