Sunday, July 27, 2014

Surviving The Feast

Everyone in this picture is related to me. Probably.

It's a little known fact to some, but I happen to be half Italian. My whole life I've had to reiterate that point to thousands of people, mainly due to my darker complexion and last name. More on that in a second, or not, sometimes I start my articles with random diatribes.

Every year, a small town known as Shenandoah Pennsylvania hosts an Italian-tastic event known as The Feast, which brings in Sylvester Stallone and James Gandolfini look-alikes from across the region for the sole purpose of celebrating their shared boot shaped origins. It's here that I get to celebrate my Italian-ness amongst my brethren; where everyone accepts my racial origins with glee (well, almost everybody, apparently during The Feast's parade/procession people on the sidelines were calling me Bruno Mars...then again based on that whole Shenandoah documentary this isn't too surprising...though at least this bit of micro-racism is mildly flattering).

Let me summarize what The Feast is for anybody who doesn't already know: a bunch of Italians show up to Shenandoah, PA, go to mass, parade around town with religious symbols/statues, then go home and eat tons of good food with their families. This started exactly a century ago as a result of all the Catholic Italian immigrants that settled in that town. Hopefully that's enough exposition...on with the main event.

So let's start at the mass. I walked in and saw lots of family, or at least I think they were family (at one point during the day I gave up and just started hugging everyone regardless of whether I knew them for sure or not). I cheerfully greeted my first and second cousins and aunts and other close relatives and settled down for my first church ceremony in several years (yes I know I'm terrible but being in college takes away your Sundays).

Mass was pretty much like how I remembered it, except the words were changed around a bit (like instead of "and also with you" you said "and with your spirit" or something like that). Also, it was led by a Bishop, which made it all seem a bit more significant, or at least it would have if it didn't look like he had guzzled whiskey before the ceremony (I couldn't have been the only one who noticed his goofy grins and mistimed snickers). The Monsignor who gave the homily was brilliant and witty, I will say that. He reminded me of a theological version of one of my professors, which is generally a good thing. He had one of those voices that carries for miles without a microphone, which previously I'd only read about in books (St. Bernardino of Siena if you want to research a cool historical religious figure). In fact I'd even say his speaking abilities were comparable to my writing skills! See what I did there? Ha...!

After the mass I tried to shuffle away to the bathroom, only to find a line of elderly folks in front of the door. With a whimper, I left with a dejected expression on my face, bladder full to the brim. So there I was on the church steps, in the hot sun, eating a half melted protein bar, waiting around with my sister. Turns out we were waiting for nothing as all of my family had already trekked off to my great grandmother's house several minutes earlier.

From here, the day turned into a blur. What I do remember is that I had a lot of fun talking to cousins I hadn't interacted with in a while, and holding in my urine at various crucial moments during the day. Oh, and I remember starving a lot too. Which is a bit ironic considering it's called "The Feast," right? There was supposed to be food at my great grandmother's, but she's super popular in the town, so every Italian within a ten mile radius had already visited and picked off all the appetizers laid out. Luckily, having just graduated from college, I was used to going through hours of little to no food so it wasn't too bad.

Back to the day becoming a blur. I talked to my cool cousins (seriously they're all so cool and awesome, if you're reading this bravo because you blow me out of the water), walked around town in that procession, and took pictures touching poles (yes you read that right, apparently my family has a strange pole fetish that few beyond us can comprehend).

Cousins, processions, poles. This is quite the story! At around five o clock we finally went to go eat at my Aunt and Uncle's farm/grove/property/whatever it was called...I don't know since everyone gave it a different name. That part was brilliant. The food was spectacular, the scenery was gorgeous, and I was actually talkative (to a degree). I even had a conversation about the merits of coffee as a drink! I defended it of course. Suffice it to say, I had a good time. The guy manning the bar even asked me if I was 21. Point to me for not looking my age! One of the highlights here was talking to my great grandmother, who, at ninety nine years old, is more proficient with an iPhone than my mom is. She even knows what podcasts are! Just amazing. Oh and to top it all off, I was nearly thrown off a speeding golf cart driven by my 14 year old cousin. So much fun!

Unfortunately, this grand day of getting to live out my Italian heritage had to come to a close eventually. Full to bursting, tired, and mostly content, we all rode off into the night (in our case to a hotel).

But wait...there's more (insert Billy Mays here)! We came back into town an hour or so later to witness the final act of the day: the famous Feast fireworks! They were brilliant; thirty minutes of finale-style explosions that rocked my world and reminded me of all the Feasts I'd experienced as a youngin'.

After the fireworks I had some uber witty conversations with my cousins related to the iPhone's slow-mo video capturing capabilities (long story), went to the hotel, and plopped onto my bed. My Italian heritage affirmed, I went out like a light. Though this was the last Feast (for reasons too complicated to hash out here -- basically it has to do with Irish Catholics hating Italians -- or something else half-true like that), I'm happy that I was a part of it.

It was the last stand of the Italians, at least for Shenandoah Pennsylvania. The Feast may be gone for good, but what it truly represents, family, will live on. Or at least I hope so. I'll try, at the very least.

Buona Festa!

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