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Monumental Movement in Brooklyn

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Capo di tutti Capo
(Michael Bocchieri)
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"Welcome to the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel!" shouts an announcer greeting the crowd gathered to watch the moving of the Giglio.

Giglio Lift 2007
(Gawanus Lounge)

"Well, we're here, we're just about ready to lift. The band is getting onto the bandstand now. There's about 150 lifters here--we're all getting crazy and psyched up for it. Grand Central is a little crazy at rush hour. This is nothing like that. This is chaos, love, enjoyment," says Joseph Speruta, who has been a lifter at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festa for 17 years. "Every year we have the feast, we have a 68-foot tall structure called the Giglio, which means 'lily' in Italian. A lifter is one of 100 men who go underneath the structure, and we carry it on our shoulders to an Italian festival band, and we dance it around the streets in honor of Saint Paolino of Nola, Italy."

Legend has it that St. Paolino was a nobleman and bishop who secured the release of Nola's men and children, who had been captured by the invading North Africans in the waning days of the Roman Empire. Paolino himself was made a slave by the Huns for a period of time, and when he returned to Nola with his fellow captives, he was welcomed by a crowd of joyous townspeople carrying lilies. To this day, the town of Nola celebrates the occasion with a recreation of Paolino's return.

Danny Vecchiano is an apprentice Capo. "There are musical cues, then they know when to lift at the same time, they know when to do certain dances at the same time, and they are led by a Capo," is how Vecchiano explains the process of moving the statue, and the role of the person directing the men who move it.

"He's the choreographer sometimes for the day," is how Joseph Peluso explains the role of Capo.

"The styles of Capo are really how you treat the event. I mean some people are very, very serious, some people are having a great time and dancing," says Vecchiano, who then says of Peluso, "Oh, Joe is a showboat, that's for sure."

"You know, I might be shuffling around in a circle, and doing some of the moves that I have become more or less famous for," Peluso explains. "I do a cha-cha with the structure. Being in front of the structure is an experience--it's very hard to describe. The exhilaration that we get. The adrenaline that flows when we're making a lift."

Peluso's family has four living Capos, including Phillip Manna, who became the Capo Peranza in 2007. Peluso describes the Capo Peranza as, "The leader of the lifters, the leader of all the men. Number one Capo. The Capo...di tutti Capo."

"It's an honor that all these men respect. And when you walk around, especially in the neighborhood for two years, everybody's going, 'There's a Capo, he's a Capo,' all the old people, all the young kids," Manna says.

"It's all about heart. It's not about strength. Heart is what raises that Giglio. You have a heart, and that thing will fly." says Joey Zawacki, a lifter.

"You're in front of that structure for the first lift of the day and you got these thousands of people standing there," Peluso adds.

"You listen for the commands. And you listen to a Capo screaming at you, screaming these commands in Italian. I tense up, and I know that every fiber of my being and every bit of my strength is going to lift that Giglio," Zawacki says.

"And all of a sudden the music gets to that crescendo in the song that tells the men it's time to lift," Peluso says.

Zawacki continues, "And you look at the guy in front of you. And you look at the guy next to you, you grab each other's hands. You dig your shoulders in as hard as you can."

"And the Giglio just goes up in the air. Four or five, six inches off the ground," Peluso says.

"It's very warm, it's very compact," says Speruta, "everybody is pressed back to front with a huge structure on your shoulders...and everybody knows everybody there."

"Some men are praying, some men are saying names. Some men are crying," Zawacki says of the lifters' reactions while moving the statue.

Says Speruta, "You can see a hundred sets of feet just walking in unison: shifting, moving, turning at the same time. And everybody becomes one living creature, rather than 100 men under a statue."

Comments

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  • By Nick Mavro

    From Brooklyn, NY, 07/31/2008

    The band sounds great! I wonder if they are available for local Italian festivals.

    By Joanna Lawless

    From Holyoke, MA, 07/23/2008

    Great cultural snapshot, and excellently reported. I'd love to see more such representations of the rich and varied traditions surrounding us, as sensitively and humorously described!

    By John Dalessandro

    07/21/2008

    This story is what I was talking about.

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