I have some grievances to air with you, dear readers. Whyyyy did none of you tellll me when I was all hot to trot on moving to Mulberry Street that I was moving into they eye of the tiger of the hurricane that is the San Genario festival???
You all just sat there like cats that ate the proverbial canary, smiling knowingly (which I read as smiling supportively) while I babbled on about the wonders of Mulberry Street in the heart of divine Nolita. Nolita, the quiet tree lined oasis between Soho and the Bowery.
What's that you say? You didn't know about the San Genario festival either?
I don't believe you for a second. I still blame you for not saving me from my current situation.
But for the sake of clarity I'll go ahead and tell you a little bit about life on mulberry street in the last week of September in case you’re telling the truth....
The last week of September is a time each year - yes each year I will endure this - when hell surfaces and sets up a pop up shop for eleven days directly below my bedroom window.
I'm not exaggerating. I think the San Genario festival may actually be the earthly manifestation of hell.
The eleven days of the festival are an orgy of wastefulness and perversion thinly veiled as an Italian tradition of charity and honoring a patron saint. This orgy involves vendors cooking all manner of fried food, which is then sold to tourists who partially eat it and then quickly lose interest and discard it directly into the sidewalk. Not into the trashcans because they are already bursting. So then more tourists walk through the half eaten food and tamp it down, creating a damp, seething ground-cover of accidental composting that spans the entire length of the fair generating a moist, warm and putrid air quality that permeates absolutely everything.
Yes. So. This festival takes place from the hours of roughly eleven am to eleven pm every single day for eleven days and extends for almost the entirety of Mulberry Street... However as fate would have it, the epicenter of the madness is most definitely at the intersection of Spring and Mulberry.
And yes. I live in a first floor apartment at the corner of Spring and Mulberry. I realize that's pretty specific. Please don't come rob me.
So for eleven days, I attended this festival from open to close practically. Whether I liked it or not, I was there.
I tried to cook healthy Pinterest recipes for my husband and have stimulating dinner conversations over said lentil-based dinners. But as we attempted normalcy, our a/c unit piped in billowing heavy clouds of fried Oreo fumes comingling with the unmistakable aroma of sausage and onions laced with a touch of funnel cake all topped off with the perfume of just generally burning grease and fat.
After dinner, we would try to focus on our nightly TV watching ritual over the sounds of a man repeatedly yelling, "We have sangria! We have red wine! We have ice-cold beer! We have sangria! We have red wine! We have ice cold beer!" loud enough to be heard over the cacophony of every tourist ever screaming at each other and the musical cocktail of seven or eight neighboring food vendors all playing simultaneous and discordant music choices.
Elton John tried to out sing Pitt bull while Shakira had a musical duel with Bob Marley. Three little birds were shaking their hips that don't lie... so confusing.
We tried to go to sleep at a reasonable hour each night, pretending our pillows didn't smell like carnitas tacos and sweat. But the generator-powered floodlights used to illuminate the satanic grease-and-noise-worship late into the night made our bedroom as bright as daytime on the surface of the sun.
And when the lights did finally power down and the music finally really did turn down for what, guess what happened then...
Then booth maintenance workmen began repairs, reassembling, disassembling, general full scale construction projects that lasted well into the darkest hours of the morning involving the blaring of backup emergency beeping from tractors, nail guns, saws, drills, hammers, and the screaming of many expletives. They may have been working on the street below us, but at times it felt as though a man with a nail gun was working directly at my bedside, perhaps shooting said nails into my exhausted brain.
I'm sorry if this is confusing and a lot of information. That is just the nature of the situation. As my husband pointed out, the stimuli overload and ceaseless nature of the event was not that different from tactics used on prisoners of war.
Suddenly it all became clear. The happy discovery of our new apartment was maybe not such a miracle. Not such a steal of a good price for exactly what we wanted. No wonder this magical perfect apartment was available for us to fall in love with this past spring. The previous tenant is probably now off enjoying a year of prayerful solitude on a spiritual journey through Burma.
Just when we thought we couldn’t take it another moment and had our fingers hovering over the call button for 311 to report illegal bulldozing of giant wooden food stalls at three am inches from our windows, it ceased.
The noise and the trash and the tourists and the fumes all receded into nothingness like a horrible nightmare fading away.
Yes, the fair is over, fall has arrived, and we have overcome yet another hurtle NYC has thrown at us. And from this hurtle emerged something quite interesting.
I discovered her while I was storming through the festival, grimacing furiously, trying to part the sea of binge consumption. My Mansur Gavriel bag caught on her Celine bag and it was love at first tangle.
While apologizing and trying to reclaim my bag I noticed two things, one that she had the most adorable miniature dachshund, and two, that we already knew each other.
I had known Daphne when I was really little. Like three years old. To this day my mother insists that Daphne was a figment of my imagination. “The othergirl” as she often refers to her. I know she just thinks I was too much of a wall-flower, shy and sweet to really have a friend as vivacious and fond of rule breaking as Daphne was.
Daphne was a spirited and strikingly beautiful three-year-old, full of reckless ideas to stick metal things into light sockets and steal small objects from model homes. She could do the splits and she had interestingly bad handwriting. She had very long hair. But, quite possibly the most frustrating and intriguing thing about her was that she looked a little like me. But clearly much cuter. It was my first experience of comparison and resentment about my own image.
To this day I am not sure if I loved her or hated her. Toddler jealousy is a hard thing to express.
I hadn’t thought about her in such a long time. I’d almost forgotten about the othergirl after all those years. Imagine my shock when I spotted her in the midst of the hell that is San Genaro! It couldn't be anyone else.
When our bags became tangled and I looked into those bright blue eyes in that sea of smooth skin spread over lightly with caramel freckles beneth a sheeth of perfectly shiny dark hair, I knew for certain this was the same girl I’d idolized over twenty years ago.
If this had been a different story, we might have recognized each other mutually and become fast friends and started a line of organic granola together. But, this is my life so I awkwardly reclaimed my bag and kept on going through the throng of people while considering texting my mom GUESS WHO I RAN INTO but then thinking better of it because I was late to a wedding.
Before she slipped back into the crowd, holding a lemonade and calling her little dog after her, I made a conscious effort to notice and plan to buy everything she was wearing. She would be able to pull off a hat. And she would have the puppy I desperately wanted. And her jeans would have artful rips.
So typical. This was just like when her mother let her wear giant bows in her long luscious hair and my mother insisted that bows weren't our style and that I have a "french" bob of short, un-gender-identifiable curls, reminding me that Daphne's mother was new money.
This was just like that.
This was an interesting development. An interesting development indeed.
Daphne is back.