By Sean Meyer
Have you ever wanted to sit on an authentic Italian piazza and just soak in the ethnic culture?
Well organizers of the annual Festa Italiana are once again going to make that possible for you. And instead of it costing you thousands of dollars and a flight across the ocean, it is an event that is once again free of charge.
Festa Italiana: A Taste of Italy in Downtown London, is set for Aug. 26-28 and once again takes place at the Covent Garden Market. The sights, sounds and tastes of the culture of Italy will be on display in an atmosphere organizers say is so authentic, people might just forget where they are.
“It is just like being in a real Italian piazza, it is the town square. Once the vendors are in, the stage is up, you can come in and it looks like an Italian town square,” said Claudio De Vincenzo, operations director. “When you come down on Saturday night, watching 5,000 or 6,000 people dancing and having fun, you would think you are in an Italian town square. The only difference of course is that we have to bring it all in.”
This year’s festival will feature, among many attractions, a youth opera singers competition, several fashion shows, cooking demonstrations, magic shows and — of course — a lot of music.
Angela Greco Wilson, event coordinator for Festa Italiana, said the event serves to bring together both Italians and those who have an affection for all the things the culture is known for.
“The numbers we boast about are 30-35,000. It is a definite mix of people. Half are Italian, the rest are people who just love all things Italian,” Greco Wilson said. “This festival has really brought a sense of identity to the younger kids in the community. But it isn’t just about us, it is about sharing that music, that food, that culture, which so many people love.”
This year the festival will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. That celebration is something Greco Wilson said is especially important to not only London residents, but also all those of Italian heritage living outside of the country.
“The people that are here in London are only a tiny part of the Italians that left Italy since the turn of the century. So these people who are here are the ones who held on to their culture,” Greco Wilson said. “They have a larger sense of nationalism than Italians themselves who remain so fractured, they have like 100 political parties. You have Italians who have hung on to their sense of being Italian more than those in Italy.”
For the past 10 years the Covent Garden Market has hosted a celebration of Italian culture. It is a celebration Greco Wilson said does a great deal for both the Italian community, but also those looking to experience just a taste of Italy in downtown London.
“The festival gives a venue to share those traditions. There will be music, food, there will be a real cross-section of Italian culture,” Greco Wilson said. “We are very quiet here as Italians. It isn’t like Toronto, where there are sections where people speak Italian. People will be here to share, to celebrate, demonstrate, display. It is so much fun.”
That fun is something De Vincenzo says helps make the festival such an ongoing sense. But also, another key is that organizers always make sure there is something to attract everyone from children to seniors.
“This is not an old person’s festival by any stretch of the imagination. There really is something for everyone from 2-92,” De Vincenzo said. “You will see a lot of younger people, especially during the three fashion shows, they can come and see their friends. We can attract families, the older people who come to enjoy the music, but also younger people in their 20s and 30s, who just want to come and enjoy themselves.”
Festa Italiana is also a fundraising event organized by the Italian Seniors’ Project, a charitable organization, providing affordable accommodations to Italian seniors and friends. The facility, which will feature 52 units at 1109 Hamilton Rd., is expected to be ready by December.