Italians, Kids, Pols, Germans All Love Christopher Columbus!

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A traditional Apulian folk group (no, we don't know what that means, either) marches up Fifth Avenue. Photo: AP


Like nearly everything that succeeds in New York, the Columbus Day Parade satisfies several different constituencies — in this case, a powerful ethnic group, kids, cops, flag purveyors, and, of course, grown men who get to play dress-up for the day. But this event bears some distinctions worth mentioning. For one, the Columbus Day Parade features far more tracksuits per capita than, say, the Israel Day Parade. For another, the music is more high-toned than usual: Mostly Pavarotti or Caruso, with a dash of Sinatra from some of the more cutting-edge organizations.

Spectators were milling behind police barricades on Fifth Avenue this morning even before the parade was set to begin. Beleaguered attorney-general candidate Jeanine Pirro, wearing an eggplant pantsuit but without Al, strode by purposefully. Men with thick fingers embraced each other. On 47th Street, Hasidic Jews popped in and out of their diamond shops, seemingly oblivious to the goyishe floats lining up around them. A tall German couple stood at the corner Fifth and 46th watching the police direct pedestrian traffic; the husband carried an elaborate camera. "We're staying for the marching bands," he said. His wife nodded in agreement. "Germany has marching bands, but not like this." Apparently Manhattan out-oompahs Munich — who knew?

The bands and floats soon moved into formation. "Louie!" a woman shrieked as police officers of various stripes began marching by. A phalanx of Jersey cops plopped squarely on motorcycles crept along, revving their engines. "I try to come to the parade every year," said a Brooklyn woman wearing an "Italy" T-shirt. Her daughter had painted her white Nikes with red and green stripes. "I just like seeing everyone here enjoying their Italian heritage. I was looking for the mayor, but I didn't see him."

The crowds, now three and four deep, were approached by a campaign worker for Andrew Cuomo. "Will you hold a sign for Andrew?" one of them asked repeatedly. "We're trying to get it on TV." Two sanitation workers got a huge cheer as they pushed their garbage cans along the street. Two Eliot Spitzer campaigners stood a few yards behind the throng, regrouping. One of them was on her cell phone. "We were kicked out of the parade, so we're standing on the sidewalk," she said. "No one is paying attention to us here." Her co-worker picked up a Spitzer sticker lying on the ground, and they began to make their way through the crowd.

Doree Shafrir