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The story for last night’s “Sopranos” episode, “The Ride” (number eight in a season of only twelve–the countdown until the end begins already) was set against the backdrop of the Feast of St. Elzear–which any New Yorker would recognize as an adapted version of the Festival of San Gennaro, where I’m guessing they filmed the episode. The annual festival of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street, in the heart of New York City’s Little Italy, is held each year in September over a span of 11 days– including September 19th, when a religious procession led by the statue of this Patron Saint of Naples (the statue itself is removed from the Most Precious Blood Church on Mulberry Street, the National Shrine of San Gennaro). Last night’s “Sopranos” included the familiar red, white, and green lit archways over the street and various street vendors for all things edible-Italian, as well as other famous marks of the popular celebration, such as a cannoli-eating contest.

Most interesting of all about last night’s storyline for the Festival of St. Elzear was that it related to Paulie–the only character apart from Tony who is prone to religious visions and superstitions. The festival is Paulie’s responsibility as far as mob business is concerned. After a dispute with the parish priest about a golden hat that the statue is supposed to wear on its head during the festival, Paulie allows the saint procession to go forward without the traditional accoutrement. This causes great dismay among the crowds and a good deal of superstition about potential–and some realized–bad luck, which hangs over this year’s festival and Paulie’s sense of guilt and responsibility.

Is God punishing Paulie? This seems to be what Paulie is wondering. After the festival begins and he winds his way through the street vendors and rides, he learns he might have cancer; a ride breaks and children are hurt (and he gets called for the blame); and the aunt who raised him is left in tears after heartless comments by the little mobster with the grey-haired wings.

The show ends with a mysterious and brief vision of the Virgin Mary by Paulie in, of all places, The Bing. Paulie, haunted and guilt-ridden, retreats to his aunt’s home, for some forgiveness–at least on a human level. Divine forgiveness for this mobster seems to be another issue altogether, and whether he gets it remains to be seen.

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