Celebrating food, family, Frank

Bocce and grape-stomping also on the menu as Italian festival draws several thousand

September 25, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The brief afternoon downpour didn't deter the tuxedo-clad Frank Sinatra impersonators nor the kids who came out to squish wine grapes with their feet yesterday. And families had already enjoyed three pleasant hours of folk music, bocce and bouncing on inflatable moonwalks.

Ample food offerings, from calamari to meatballs to gelato, kept them satisfied.

"It's the biggest nonparochial, nonsectarian and all-encompassing Italian festival," said Francesco Luigi Legaluppi, head of the Consulate of Italy in Baltimore. "Italian culture is one of the largest components of American culture. That's what this festival celebrates."

For the third consecutive year, the Baltimore County Italian Festival took over Towson's Court House Square for the weekend - an event that raises half the money needed to stage Baltimore's 116-year-old Columbus Day parade, which will take place Oct. 8.

Several thousand people attended the Towson festival, a reincarnation of an event that had fizzled out some 13 years ago, organizers said.

"It's a way of meeting some wonderful people," said Loretta (Sancandi) Joyner, administrator for the Grand Lodge of Maryland's Order of the Sons of Italy. "Everyone is so warm and happy. It's something I've looked forward to for each of the past three years."

Joyner, 67, a Perry Hall resident, prepared pasta fritte (sugar-coated fried dough) with fellow members from the Sons of Italy Lodge on Belair Road. They were decked out in the green, white and red colors of the Italian flag.

Joyner's granddaughters, Samantha and Jami Mayo, 12 and 11, zestfully stomped grapes again this year.

"It feels like mud between your toes," Samantha said. "It's really squishy but fun."

Near the fried-dough stand, Samantha almost didn't recognize her grandmother's neighbor, Kenneth Paul Lacy. His Frank Sinatra get-up had her fooled.

"Oh, that's you," Samantha said.

In his debut performance as Sinatra, Lacy would perform Cole Porter's "Night and Day," which Sinatra sang in his first solo performance recorded in the early 1940s.

"I thought no one else would pick that," said Lacy, one of 10 Sinatra impersonators - and the only one to sing a cappella - yesterday.

Near the temporary court set up in front of the County Courts Building, middle-aged and elderly men were engrossed in the game of bocce. They said Baltimore County lacks a real bocce venue, but that could soon change. They said residents are asking county officials to build a court in Towson.

"What's not to love about bocce?" said Frank Platania, 69, who was born in Sicily. "It's a game you can play from age 3 to 90. I hope [the new court] will be inside, for the wintertime."

Near an authentic Venetian gondola there were displays of vintage Italian cars (Fiats and Maseratis) and Vespa scooters. Rock bands from Towson University and a traditional Italian band played on two separate stages.

Kids painted paper masks, called maschere, with the colors of the Baltimore Ravens and the Italian flag.

"Our focal point for this festival was just to share our Italian culture and fraternity - and emphasize the importance of family," said Tony Fusco, the festival's chairman.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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