By Ben Fractenberg
LITTLE ITALY — Sawdust filled the air beneath red, white and green banners on Mulberry Street Wednesday afternoon as street vendors began setting up shop in preparation for the San Gennaro festival.
The week-long festival kicks off Thursday afternoon with a cannoli-eating contest at 2 p.m. There will be a parade this Sunday and again on Saturday Sept. 25, when the Statue of San Gennaro, an Italian saint, is carried through Little Italy.
Tourists Angela Smits and Alejandro Torres, both 29, were walking around the city for the day when they stumbled across the preparations.
"First we thought it was Chinatown, but then we saw the green, white and red," said Smits, who lives in Madrid.
Nick Lombardi, 39, was busy assembling his piña colada booth with the help of a friend on Mulberry.
"It’s gonna be awesome, as long as we get good weather," said Lombardi, who was worried most people would prefer cappuccinos to the pineapple cocktails in case of rain.
John "Cha Cha" Ciarcia was preparing his Little Italy restaurant Cha Cha’s for a big rush. The restaurant owner and actor — he had a cameo in "Goodfellas" and appeared in several episodes in "The Sopranos" as Albie Cianflone — said he was going to set up a petting zoo on Mulberry stocked with baby lions, tigers and grizzly bears.
"I’m the mayor of Little Italy," said Ciarcia, who is 70, according to the Internet Movie Database.
However, the real mayor on Mulberry street this week is sure to be San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of Naples. The saint's statue is scheduled to make its 84th appearance in the city in front of thousands of adoring revelers.