Every July, in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, there’s a festival in Roseto, Pennsylvania called The Big Time. The summer of 2020 was also the summer of COVID, so the festival was cancelled. The summer of 2021 was a blow out- evidently all it took to revitalize the carnival, solemn procession and crowning of the Queen was to go for a summer without the time-honored tradition.
I’ve been thinking about tradition- and the creative life and how the two intersect to make a life rich and full.
My father’s people were from Roseto Val Fortore in Italy, his mother’s family was from the Veneto. (You may know all about my mother’s side from The Shoemaker’s Wife, Queen of the Big Time is about my dad’s side of the family). The slate quarries drew Italian immigrants who needed jobs. Soon, my ancestors needed a town of their own, as there was a great deal of bigotry against the Italian people- and so, Roseto was born. In the early 1960’s, it emerged as the town where no one died of heart attacks despite a full fat diet, stressful labor and smoking. You can read a bit about it in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” (he’s a fellow Bulletin contributor).
I was in the crowd with the revelers during the celebration weekend. A beautiful queen and her court (local high school seniors) graced the event; there was a carnival with our traditional food: sausage and pepper sandwiches made by the local volunteer fire company, Pizza Frite, fried dough with sugar, (a pastry shaped like an elephant ear). There was a Pasta Tent with spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs; and pastafazool (cue the Dean Martin song!), pizza, summer fare and wine- a beautiful array of Rosetan cuisine.
My favorite stop is the tent that has a kneeler, candles to light and a statue of the Blessed Lady. I post it here so you can enjoy the serenity. There’s so much to savor about an annual celebration, and of course, we lost sight of it until COVID. We wondered if the celebration was relevant- do people really want to process down main street and say the rosary in gratitude? The isolation of COVID taught us that we do. A creative life is a spiritual life- and I realize how much of my creativity is fueled by the mystical elements of the Big Time. The banners, hand-sewn with gold thread on fine Italian silk, the queen’s white gown, lace overlay with a glorious gold cape, the simple beauty of the statues, the church, the flowers that are blooming up and down Garibaldi Avenue. The artistry of the rosary, glistening beads, simple crucifixes. The Ferris wheel as it spins on a dark night. The colors, the emotions, the memories- all stoke the creative life. Makes me want to write about it again, to find a new story, to deepen my point of view on mortality, creativity and how to make good use of the time given.