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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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La Festa

By Salvatore Torricelli, '35

The Magpie, May 1935, p. 75.

On the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth days of July, Harlem's "Little Italy" makes Festa. The Old World, with the spirit of the carnivals of Venice and Naples, lives on the sidewalks of New York. This Festa is of religious origin, in honor of the Lady of Mount Carmel, patron saint of the physically ailing and spiritually downcast. Italians gather here each year not only to pray to and glorify the Madonna; but for the gaiety of the Festa!

On the day of the Festa work is cast aside, cares are forgotten and the streets and homes become gay with color. Though the villas and country homes of these Italians have been replaced by dingy tenements, and their gardens by dark, barren backyards, their hearts long for the Festa. It is because a song, a laugh, a smile and a prayer give the soul new strength and make life worthwhile that these people long for the colorful church service with its candles and music and, afterwards, the wine, "goodies" and gaiety of the Festa.

Thousands of brightly colored electric lights are hung over the streets of Little Italy to add to the jollity of the occasion. The carts and wooden stands of street vendors are adorned with fresh green leaves which have a refreshing effect and give a feeling of being in the middle of a Campagna in Sunny Italy. The carts and stands are laden with great varieties of foods, sweets and cakes, and the air about them is filled with a delicious aroma. The numerous vendors sing the praises of their wares with a happy song, and the combining of the many songs makes a musical pandemonium. The balloon vendors make a lucrative business selling the children flying gas balloons of all colors, shapes and varieties. The balloons often escape from careless children, and the sky is constantly filled with moving specks of green, red and blue. Each speck symbolizes a temporarily grieving child.

The activities of the crowd are scattered. The young people, those young chronologically or spiritually, frolic to the games and rollicking activities of the Carnival established for the duration of the Festa. Some are lured by the attractive prizes offered by some typical Coney Island game; others perch on the lofty heights of the Ferris wheel; others try to catch the brass ring on the merry-go-round, while others find themselves in perfect bliss devouring some luscious ice cream or Italian gelati. Some young people, tiring of the carnival, go about the crowded streets singing Italian folk songs and eating the foods and candies of the glorified carts.

The older people, besides eating spaghetti (this is cooked in the open streets) and drinking wine, like to listen to the music of a large orchestra assembled on a wooden platform in the street. As the beautiful music of the Italian masters is played, heads, ordinarily bent with cares and a feeling of inferiority brought about by the hard and abusive life of an immigrant, become erect and haughty. They are proud of the beautiful music that is their heritage as children of Rome, but are a little sad as the music brings reminiscence of the land that sheltered them and their fathers for ages unknown, a land that they loved but left, never to see again. This sad thought, like all others, is forgotten when they fill themselves with the bright red wine of the Festa and look at the brilliant fireworks which usually climax this perfect day.

The people of Little Italy are poor and perhaps tired with the hardships of the New World. Their homes as well as their clothes are not of the best, but they are all rich on the day of the Festa in song, in laughter and in smile. They ask no greater riches.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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