Photos by Lauren Thomas
After four decades of existence, it takes more than a cloudburst to put a dent into the annual Festa at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in New Paltz. The skies opened up around 6:30 p.m. on the final evening of the three-day event, with lightning putting on a fireworks display. But by 8 o’clock or so the rain had stopped, the midway was filling up with fairgoers and a lively band, the Chain Gang, was once again churning out classic rock hits.
When it comes to keeping a crowd from dispersing, it helps when you’ve got an air-conditioned cafeteria handy, noted Tyler McClintock, one of the volunteer youths helping to run the dunking booth. “Everybody went downstairs; it was just packed.” And being already wet from the dunk tank on a steamy summer evening, McClintock and his crew didn’t mind getting a little additional soaking. “It rained; we’re all set.”
As the clouds parted, Pete Lopez pointed out the sickle Moon hanging over the Shawangunk Ridge, with brilliant Venus perched just above it, to his visiting five-year-old granddaughter, Temulen Jadamba. Festively decked out for the fair with a flower in her hair and sparkly-toed ballet slippers, Temulen said that her favorite thing about Festa was the fried dough. “I like the way that everything is really fun,” she said shyly, heading for one of the many children’s games on offer.
Another young Festa fan, Claire Higgins of Bolton, Massachusetts, seemed to have the winning strategies for all the games figured out: Prizes — eleven of them in all, mostly stuffed animals — were overflowing out of her tote bag. “We used to live here for ten years,” said her mother, Teri Higgins. “We came back for Festa and to visit friends. It’s our favorite thing.” “And we get to play good games,” added Claire.
There were casino-style gambling games to keep the over-21 crowd happy as well, along with live music from a different band each evening, beer and lots of traditional fair food, from hot dogs and burgers to pizza and heroes, ice cream, fries, corn-on-the-cob and of course those deep-fried, sugar-dusted zeppoles. There was a big raffle with lots of enticing prizes: a dinner out, a round of golf, a basket of wine, tickets to a Renegades game, even an overnight stay at Mohonk Mountain House or a week at Snapology Camp.
One especially interesting booth held a display of artifacts from the US space program, including items that had been to the Moon and back: part of the collection amassed by Louis Cariola of New Paltz during a long career at Grumman Aerospace. “I was responsible for all the materials that went into the lunar module,” Cariola explained as he showed a fragment of aluminized film from a spacecraft’s thermal shield.
Craft vendors were set up inside the cafeteria, including an impressive display of Antonio’s handsome granite cheeseboards. On the opposite side of the room was a long table laden with Italian pastries for sale, provided by La Deliciosa in Poughkeepsie. Parish volunteer Jeanine Stoddard pointed out the mind-boggling array of different choices of sweet treats: lobster claws, Black Forest tarts, cream puffs, pastichote, rhum baba, marzipan tarts and many more — and of course, that Festa favorite, cannoli. With a pastry in one hand and a cup of espresso in the other, a summer thunderstorm just seems like part of the show.