A Williamsburg tradition since 1903, the Giglio Feast is going on now through Sunday, July 21st on the streets around Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Havemeyer Street. All the familiar Italian street fair sights and smells are here: zeppoles, cigars, bracciole, beer, sausage & peppers, sucker games, clams, creaky rides, Manhattan Coffee Soda, fake tattoos, the works.
But what sets this feast apart from all the others is the wild spectacle of four ritualized "Giglio Lifts" which retell, in symbolic fashion, an encounter between Bishop Paolino and a Turkish Sultan in 410 AD in the Italian town of Nola. The story is more complicated than that, but you don't have to know every detail to appreciate the craziness of the event, with the capos shouting instructions and the lifters screaming and the bands playing and the huge crowds surging and the NYPD yelling at everyone to "get back get back move move move MOVE BACK."
Yesterday was the biggest of the four lifts, on Giglio Sunday, and thousands of people packed into this usually pretty quiet section of Williamsburg. The afternoon goes like this: the Giglio tower, holding Bishop Paolino, starts at one end of Havemeyer, the Turk's boat at the other, and over the course of about 90 minutes the two massive structures are hauled and rotated and bounced up and down the block until they finally meet in front of the church steps. And just in case the 80-foot-tall, four-ton Giglio isn't heavy enough for the squadron who carry it on their shoulders, there's a whole freaking band up there jumping around as well. Not that the smaller squadron tasked with the Turk's boat get off easy, there's a band up there too, and kids throwing confetti all over the place.
There was a well-publicized call for volunteers this year, as the usual pool has shrunk, but there was still concern that they wouldn't have enough bodies out there to handle the weight. Obviously, it all happened—and in fact, the lifts were longer, and covered more ground than in recent years—with no appreciable difference in either size nor the makeup of the crews.
There are two more lifts before the Giglio Feast ends: the Night Lift this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., and the Old Timer's Lift on Sunday the 21st at 1 p.m.