The festival that took place in Cook Park over the weekend honored explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, but Antonietta Mazzariello of Troy was also celebrating the anniversary of her own voyage.
“I came 40 years ago, on Christopher Columbus Day, I came — October 12, 1972,” the short, dark-haired Italian immigrant recounted, as she stood in the kitchen at Cook Park on Sunday, surrounded by steaming serving pans of ziti and meatballs, pasta fagioli and sausage and peppers.
Columbus Day is today.
Mazzariello headed a portion of the food prep at the festival, which took place Saturday and Sunday. She and other volunteers from the Italian Community Center in Troy worked for a week to fashion 1,000 meatballs, cook 600 pounds of sausage and concoct 25 gallons of pasta fagioli. Fifty pounds of ziti were boiled for Sunday alone, and despite gray skies and cool temperatures, Mazzariello was hoping what most Italians hope after they toil long and hard in the kitchen — that lots of people would show up and that they would eat, and then eat some more.
But beyond filling stomachs, Mazzariello’s aim was to help keep the heritage of her homeland alive.
“It’s to keep the Italian tradition and our culture going and to be amongst our friends so we can share the good, old-fashioned recipes,” she explained.
“Do you want to try something?” she asked expectantly, surveying the wealth of food in the kitchen.
Across the room, 1-year-old Jack Lockart of Colonie was coloring a map of Italy in the children’s corner. The red-haired toddler is part Italian in ancestry and 100 percent Italian food lover. Although he doesn’t know many words yet, the ones he can say refer to foods typically covered in tomato sauce.
“He knows ‘pizza’ and ‘spaghetti,’ ” his father, John Lockart, reported. “That’s about it though. He’s got to work on the rest.”
Standing nearby, surveying his surroundings, was Christopher Columbus. Well, it was actually Edward Konow, a gentleman of German descent who for three years has dressed up as the festival’s namesake. Garbed in a burgundy, crushed velvet tunic, a knee-length tan vest, matching knickers and black shoes with shiny gold buckles, he certainly looked the part.
“It’s like the Santa Claus bag —you know — it’s, ‘Hey Christopher Columbus!’ And they don’t know if it’s real or not, but I give them the story: ‘Now look, Christopher Columbus died a long time ago, but we have to keep his spirit alive, so I’m participating at this festival and doing my part,’ ” the bright-eyed impersonator explained.
As if on cue, a voice exclaimed: “Hey look! It’s Christopher Columbus!” It wasn’t the typical wonder-struck child, but instead a chuckling 21-year-old — Brent Lecuyer of Colonie.
“Don’t laugh at Christopher Columbus. Be serious! Come on, get your picture taken, wise guy, come on,” Konow called to Lecuyer, who grinned good-naturedly, but kept his distance.
“I’m a huckster. I’ve got to hustle these people,” Konow explained as he continued to coerce Lecuyer to have his picture taken beside him. “Step right in here. Come onto the bridge,” he said, opening the lattice gate on the white fence that hemmed in the bow of his imaginary ship. Lecuyer complied. He smiled for the camera, gave Konow a donation for the Alzheimer’s Association, and in return received two gold-colored coins and a paper detailing the history of Columbus’ first voyage.
Music and food
Outside the building where Columbus’ “ship” was docked, Italian music mingled with the smell of Italian food. Volunteers beneath white tents shook powdered sugar onto pizza fritta and poured Italian wine into plastic cups. Vendors displayed wares ranging from cooking gadgets to T-shirts. There were rides for the kids, a face painter, a clown, and later in the afternoon, traditional Italian dancers were scheduled to entertain the crowd.
Event coordinator Biagio Isgro Jr. said the festival was all about promoting a positive image for Italian Americans and keeping Italian traditions alive.
“Italian Americans are a huge part of what’s happened here in the United States, in both architecture, the languages, construction, mathematics, finances. Italian Americans have built a large portion of this country and we want to make sure people understand that,” he said.
Isgro worries that third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Italian Americans are losing touch with their heritage and sees the festival as one way to help reunite them with it.
“We want to just keep that in their inner minds and keep bolstering that, to make sure they understand where they came from,” he said.