Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The recession and St. Rocco's

Far from the luxurious corporate board rooms on Denver's 17th Street,
far from the locked and secure meeting rooms of Denver's biggest banks,
far from the sanitized air conditioned computer analysis rooms of local
economic think tanks, I noticed three important signals about how poorly
the recession is hitting our city. These examples are small signs that
people and institutions are hurting and not able to be as generous as in
previous times, but I thought you might enjoy them.

Every mid-August Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church in North Denver plays host
to an event which sets Denver apart from our suburban neighbors. I am
speaking of the annual procession of St. Rocco which starts at the
church at West 36th Avenue and Navajo. The procession, folks and
statue, parade around several tree-lined blocks around the church and
surrounding neighborhood. The march proceeds south on Navajo past the
old Coors Bar, the Arabian Bar and then turns west past where Little
Pepina's used to be. The marchers circumnavigate past the home of Ernie
and Eleanor Marranzino on 36th and Osage. Ernie served as Councilman for
that part of North Denver for years. The pilgrims then sing their way
past Cerrone's market remembered for it recipe exchange, and then past
Professional Union Printers, former home of The Colorado Leader, the
state's Italian newspaper founded by its publisher Frank Mancini. The
group then turns back to Navajo past the Bug Theatre and the art
galleries and Patsy's Inn Italian Restaurant. Then everyone drives over
to The Potenza Lodge, right across from Leprino Cheeze.

Before the procession and before the bid process, Potenza Lodge members
prepare the statue at the church of St. Rocco for the procession. A
liturgical alb like an ornate scarf is placed just below St. Rocco's
golden halo above his shoulders to which people fasten money as
offerings for illnesses or other human frailties confronted by
parishioners. In times past when many citizens of Italian extraction
lived in North Denver thousands of people, young and old, would line the
streets in front of the church eagerly anticipating the bidding ceremony
for the honor to carry St. Rocco through the streets of our city. This
year only several hundred people showed up at the church for the event,
but this is not the signal which told me the economy faces trouble. Many
parishioners have moved miles away from old North Denver, seeking less
complicated and more reticent lives in our suburbs. I know of no
processions in the suburbs.

The first signal that things were different from all other St. Rocco's
this year; there was no marching band. One of the lodge members told me
that this year the Potenza Lodge could not afford the band which
normally plays between bids and accompanies the parishioners along the
procession route. The band playing always increased tension and passion
between bidding families vying for the honor to carry the statue. So in
place of the orchestra, a car radio sound system played the national
anthem and various other melodies along the march.

The second sign that St. Rocco was in for a rough time this year; the
bids were low. Mickey Lava Clayton originally from Brooklyn, and who
never misses a procession got the bids started with a generous opening
bid of $500. After more radio music and lots of discussion other
families collaborated to bring the final bid up to what I think is
excellent given the economy, $2100. Those wishing to carry the papal
flag on this neighborhood pilgrimage bid $100, also lower than in years

The third sign that this St. Rocco's was different from other St.
Rocco's Days; no flower girls. Most of the residents near the church
now are of Hispanic origin. And these neighbors fully understand the
significance of the statue of a Saint carried past their home, blessing
the house, the family and the neighborhood. And they appreciated the
young kids handing out flowers to the mothers in the neighborhood. And
in times past young women smilingly brought flowers to other smiling
women who lived in homes along the procession route.

So I thought you might enjoy hearing about an event during which I smile
so much my face begins to hurt, and an event that celebrates the ethnic
roots of our neighborhood, and an event that makes Denver and the North
neighborhoods the truly special place it is. And I thought you might
like to hear about some of the smaller ways in which the recession has
affected our city. With St Rocco's help, let's hope the economy gets
better. On the other hand, perhaps we should contact St. Jude, the
patron of impossible cases.

No comments: