“Buona Fiesta from the Other Side”

First published in the Gloucester Daily Times in 2007

Buona Fiesta!  Ten years ago my involvement with St. Peter’s Fiesta was maybe walking through the carnival on Friday night, avoiding the traffic on Rogers St., and spending time far away from the downtown area. As a non- Italian, non-Catholic, the Fiesta was not a big part of my own childhood or adult life. I didn’t attend Mass unless it was for a wedding or funeral. I didn’t understand the Novena. There was no craving for a huge sausage sandwich. I didn’t get it!

But then around 1998, I’m not sure how it happened, but I got it. I wanted to capture some of the festivities as a photographer. Little did I know this would transform me into an honorary Italian. At first I felt like an outsider looking in on foreign traditions and cultures.  I think that year I just took photos of the parade on Sunday and the greasy pole.

I remember exactly when I got it, though. I was waiting for the parade standing under the arch of balloons outside the St. Peter’s Club when it was on Main St. The street was packed with hundreds of people. The statue of St. Peter was hoisted high into the air as the red and green balloons were released. Confetti was tossed from the roofs of the nearby buildings. Band music filled the air as someone called “Come siamo tutti muti?” and the crowd responded with “Viva San Pietro!”  The emotion and passion were overwhelming. I fought back the tears. And from that time on, I knew that even though I had no Italian relatives, I was Italian at heart.

In the years that have followed, I’ve had the honor and privilege of photographing all the Fiesta events. From seine boat practices, the Novena, the St. Peter’s Committee Reception, opening night, all the boat races, the greasy pole contests, the kids’ games,  the parade, Sunday Mass, the Blessing of the Fleet, the walk through the Fort, and everything in between, I have met the most amazing people.

Of course, there’s Joe Novello, but there’s also his new baby granddaughter, Sofia Rose, Tim Oakes, seine boat scuttler, and his four girls, Joey Palmisano who organizes the kids’ games on Saturday, Santo and Lea Militello celebrating over 50 years of marriage, little Marissa Numerosi, Sara Favazza, who loves to have her photo taken, Joe Frontiero, Joe Marino, Lenny Biondo, Lenny Billante, the names go on and on and they’re all part of the history of Fiesta.

I’ve felt the elation of the Morrisseys, Phil Francis, and Tim Oakes, the love between Joe Balbo and his son, the disappointment in the eyes of Gina Lampassi, the pride in Tony Testaverde as he carried the statue for barely a minute on Sunday, the sadness of those who have lost loved ones this year, my own sadness in losing my best friend, Tony Barbara, and the kindness of the crowd down the fort as they stuffed dollar bills into the jar to help J.J.

If I hadn’t gotten it, I would have missed out on this incredible opportunity to meet these wonderful people and experience the passion, joy, and love that is St. Peter’s Fiesta.

Viva San Pietro! And where’s Ambie with my sausage?


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