San Gennaro

16 September 2007 | Permalink
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Every September, Little Italy — which over the past decades has shrunk to the point where it's a Very Little Italy — expands dramatically again to take in the Feast of San Gennaro. The streets fill up with carnival side stalls, stands selling food, and slow-moving crowds of curious tourists and locals.

I was most interested by the sideshows, which represent a tradition that could well be as old as the Feast itself — certainly older than its American incarnation. Today the prizes are Homer Simpson dolls and muppets, the 'tests of marksmanship' may involve pressurized water rather than projectiles and the attraction may be run by a pretty teenager with a headset rather than a leather-lunged barker ... but the idea is the same. Walking through the fair made me realize to what extent it's an evolving and, to some appearances, thriving industry.

The commonest type of side stall consisted of a game where you could squirt water at a target to win a prize. It didn't seem to require any great skill, but I'm guessing that the economics are based on giving away one cheap cuddly toy to the 'winner', while taking in enough from the other players to cover your costs. There were also a few balloon-popping dart toss stalls, various lucky dips, a punching ball, a hoop toss, a kind of racetrack game that didn't seem very well-attended, and other attractions such as a modest-sized Ferris wheel, a 'flight simulator' and a merry-go-round. There were also two 'big chairs', outsize furniture for quirky photographs (outsize beer bottles were also available to complete the illusion). The different types of side stall presumably all have their own names, lore and particular techniques for getting money out of punters' pockets. Not all of their operators were eager to have them photographed.