As we left St. Patrick’s Cathedral and made our way over to 44th and 5th where our gondola was, it became apparent that this was no ordinary day in Manhattan. Sure, the streets were blocked off and there were lots of policemen around, but it was the people: some were in costumes for the parade, others were just spectators looking for a good spot to watch the imminent spectacle from, there were very few people walking around who looked “normal”. Nobody was walking to work in a suit or just wearing nondescript street clothes. There were lots of jerseys for the Italian soccer team that won the World Cup recently, there were tourist grade T-shirts from all over Italy, and even a few “kiss me, I’m Italian” buttons.
As we walked along 5th Avenue, the parade entrants were tucked up into each side street. There were marching bands, parade floats, Maserati’s with important people in them, and folks in all types of traditional dress representing people from Sicily to the Dolomites. As we reached our gondola, I noticed a “bagpipe band” full of some of the toughest looking guys I’ve ever seen in kilts. I don’t really know their story except to say that they played a mean bagpipe and looked like they could take on the Hells Angels if they wanted to.
The parade began to move and our gondola moved with it. Everyone ended up on the gondola and the gondoliers each held an oar vertically. As we pulled out of our side street and onto 5th Avenue, I was amazed that there were so many people who had come to see it all. For miles and miles we saw them, waving and cheering. John and I had fun yelling “Buon Giorno” to some of the more crowded spots and hearing them yell back. A few times we all sang “O Sole Mio” and received applause from the folks in the audience.
Some news crews were there and took turns interviewing each of the gondoliers. At one point a reporter asked me if I’d ever thought that I’d be in a parade down 5th Avenue in New York City. My answer was that I’d dreamed of it as a kid but thought that I’d need to become an astronaut to part of such an event. Luckily I was able to get there by simply rowing a boat.
The city of New York is just filled with Italians. People with backgrounds from different parts of Italy were making their statements by wearing different types of costumes and waving either the Italian flag or a flag from a specific region of Italy. I even saw one woman waving a Palermo soccer team scarf.
The parade was an amazing experience and I speak for all of us when I say that I’m sure we’d all like to do it again.
Tomorrow we’ll load the gondola into her truck and send her off to California. I’ve executed this type of load-in a dozen times or more, but still we need to take great care to do it right.