Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fun at Festa Italiana

Portland's 17th annual Festa Italiana just came to a close. A grand Mass and a bocce tournament preceded the transformation of Pioneer Courthouse Square into a "Piazza Italia". For the past four days, it was the center to celebrate the Italian culture and all its contributions to the world.

I was reminded of my going to Las Vegas' own San Gennaro Feast some time ago but that was a rather windy and overpriced experience. I was determined to have this be a more enjoyable time. With free admission, it was already looking good as I wanted to see the many events scheduled for the weekend. Naturally, the items at the food court, wine garden, and merchandise booths had to be paid for but I stayed away from those areas but the smells and sights of the food were tempting! Raffles were also being sold to help support the "festa" with the lure of a trip for two to Italy or a Vespa motor scooter.

A concert was held by the Portland State University's Opera Department. While at times it felt like sitting through a school recital, it was still quite impressive that they've dedicated themselves to singing that particular style, which does not look to be easy with the voice control and everything else that goes into it. A few students managed to stand out for me because they did more than sing but actually seemed to give an actual performance. One of them even got a scholarship from the Festa Italiana Association which I thought was nice.

There were a lot of accordionist acts, a few singers, and an eight-piece band from Ohio called the Eurorhythms who really got the crowd going. I liked seeing how the music affected the crowd in different ways. I did my fair share of hand clapping and foot tapping but somehow always managed to miss the beat. There was an old man in particular who seemed to be a performance in his own right with his arm gestures like he was orchestrating the whole affair. All the acts included "That's Amore" in their setlists.

When the band played songs that asked the audience to join and dance in a circle, I wished I could be as free and uninhibited as they were. The high energy of the place also reminded me of the fiestas in the Philippines- or just about any large parties there- which had mostly everyone participating and caught up in the moment.

Another crowd pleaser seemed to be the Italian folk dancers. Although they were rather anemic in number with only six out of their regular fourteen members able to make it from Sacramento, I appreciated the effort they put in to their dancing. Their moves involved a lot of finger snapping, hand clapping and occasional tambourine playing choreography. One of their final numbers was the chicken dance.

Other events included a pizza toss and grape stomp. There was even a street artist flown from Italy. I also watched a marionette show put on by a family from Seattle who runs their own puppet theater company. This was not held in the constructed center stage like the other performances but at the Square's echo chamber. It was quite a charming production of an Italian-style "Cinderella" called "Cenerentola". There were some slight noise issues from the busy traffic and the sound system but overall it was still highly entertaining and professionally put on.

I'm glad the weather held for most of the celebrations- only raining during the final hours of the event- and I'm sure the many people who went had as much fun as I did and perhaps learned a little about the Italian culture in the process.

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