Monday, August 11, 2008

Dissapointment in Aliquippa.

When I attended the Dance of the Giglio in Brooklyn last year, John Morris (who went with me to that festival) hipped me to the local feast of San Rocco in the modest town of Aliquippa, which lies twenty-some miles northwest of Pittsburgh. He told me that there was a culminating event that involved people wearing large costumes on their heads. This year he posted about it on the Digging Pitt blog, and that reminded me that I wanted to go see it. He even included a video clip portraying the spectacle, and I heartily recommend viewing it for yourself. Tell me that you aren't at least a little bit intrigued... I knew right away that I wanted to head out there to take some photos. So I did what I always do in such circumstances- I found the official website and the schedule.

It turns out that SanRocco.org is a fairly comprehensive site, detailing the history and media coverage of the festa throughout the years. I'm not going to get into a lengthy recap of its origins. I'll leave that to the official sponsors. But suffice it to say that I wanted to be sure to be present for the 2008 "Dance of the Baby Doll", which incorporates an 8-foot statue of an Italian lady doing the tarantella (tarantula). This is a traditional folk dance that depicts the story of a woman who is somehow bitten, and decides to spin around at an increasing speed in order to rid herself of the poisonous venom. Supposedly the only real cure for this unfortunate was "finding true love".

Representing the salvation of this afflicted lady are the fireworks that are attached to the long bar extensions coming off the statue's arms. This pyrotechnic display is certainly a crowd-pleaser, as demonstrated in the video clip provided in the above link. I don't know if it eclipses the awe inspired by Zambelli's various shows around town, but it seems a shame for the average local not to check out the San Rocco Feast at least once during a lifetime. Plus I discovered that Franki Capri was performing on the last evening of the festival, and I haven't seen him in years. That phenomena deserves an entirely separate post. Far be it for me to try to encapsulate Capri's act in a single paragraph.

The problem was that I had a going away party to attend during the afternoon (for local artist Tom Sarver). I knew that the celebration extended until 9PM, and Franki was supposed to go on at 6PM. As the day proceeded I found myself increasingly less compelled to make an early exit, and I resigned myself to missing Capri's act. My buddy and I agreed to make the drive out to Aliquippa around 9PM, so we could arrive just in time for the Traditional Italian Doll Dance. As we made our pilgrimage we were only moderately concerned with the intermittent precipitation that eventually threaten our fun. When we found Lefty Cepull field (where the proceedings are held), we were surprised at the scale of the event.

We arrived just in time... to hear the announcement that the Baby Doll Dance would be canceled due to the inclement weather and possibility of lightning strikes. Watching the faces of the gathered observers was illustrative of the importance of this annual ritual. People looked absolutely heart-broken. We were bummed too. Fortunately Franki Capri agreed to come on for another set to compensate for the loss. I took a few trippy photos, and then we strolled around looking for some authentic Italian food to distract us from our disappointment. The ride home was pleasant, and we resolved to return next year to see what we had missed. Maybe you'll come with us next summer?

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