I just got back from the funeral procession for Celia Cruz. They left the funeral home on 82nd street at 12:30pm and I figured I could wait a little while (since I'm on 55th street) before heading to Fifth Avenue to see her be carried to the mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. But when I heard on the news that there were 75 THOUSAND people following the procession down Fifth, I decided to just head over there to make sure I could at least get a glimpse of them passing by.
When I got to Fifth at 12:35, not much was happening. It was just your usual lunch rush. But less than 10 minutes later, more and more people started walking down. I moved a few blocks south to 52nd street and parked myself under the awning of the Versace store since it looked like it might rain.
At about 1:15 it started to rain HARD! Really hard! Thunder, sheets of rain, the works! Oddly enough, the crowd (which was now as big as the crowds for any of the major New York parades) seemed to get even more loud and more excited. Nobody left or complained about the rain.
Finally, the procession reached us at about 1:50. First came a ton of police cars and various unidentified people holding Cuban flags. Then came six of those flower cars and behind them came Celia's coffin in a glass carriage pulled by two white horses. As emotional as that moment was, the crowd seemed even more moved by the sight of her husband Pedro WALKING behind the horse-drawn carriage. No umbrella. He stood tall (my guess is at least 6 feet) and strong and walked behind his wife with his close family and friends and made it a point to wave at people. The crowd chanted "Pe-dro! Pe-dro!". It was really very moving. Behind them came about 30 limousines carrying celebrities that were attending the funeral. Among the ones who made a point of sticking their heads out the windows to greet people were Ruben Blades, Antonio Banderas and La India.
It was unbelievable how many people were there. And it seemed that rather than being sad, people were happy to be able to participate. I'm sure that's exactly what she wanted. Rest in peace, Celia.