Viva Italia as festival kicks off
Those attending traded stories of what it was like to grow up Italian.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- "'Ben Venuti' to the Greater Youngstown Italian Fest," a banner over the stage at Canfield Fairgrounds proclaims.
There were plenty of sights, sounds and aromas of Italy as the 21st annual festival kicked off Friday.
State Rep. Ken Carano of Austintown, D-59th, was the guest speaker for the opening ceremonies. The festival continues through Sunday.
Carano and other local lawmakers and public officials honored Adelina Pacella and Judge Joseph Donofrio as 2006 Italian Woman and Man of the Year.
Pacella, 91, of Struthers, was nominated by her oldest granddaughter, Lisa McGiffin, because, according to the festival program, Grandma "taught them to keep the Italian traditions and encouraged them all to go to college. She says all her prayers in Italian and speaks most comfortably in Italian, but she loves being a modern woman."
At "911/2, she is a strong woman who is able to care for herself ... she still makes homemade pasta, bakes homemade bread, homemade cookies and keeps homemade gnocchi in the freezer at all times."
McGiffin spoke of her grandmother's life in Pacentro, Italy, where she worked with her brothers to grow enough crops to keep food on the table. During German occupation in World War II, the family fled to caves in the mountains when German soldiers took over the house. The older boys had to sneak back to get potatoes from the fruit cellar.
Judge Donofrio of Youngstown is a veteran of World War II, born in Pietrabbondante, Italy. He retired in 1993, having served the 7th District Court of Appeals for 20 years.
Among his accomplishments while on the Youngstown Municipal Court bench was establishment of a court honor class for rehabilitation of indigent alcoholic offenders. He served as coordinator of the D.W.I. Counter Attack Program.
He was also the organizer, past chairman and board member of the Committee for Homeless Alcoholics, which established the first halfway house for alcoholics in Youngstown.
State Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-61st, congratulated Pacella and Judge Donofrio on behalf of the Italian representatives present, including himself, Carano, and "honorary Italian Sylvester Pattonini," he said, jokingly referring to state Rep. Sylvester Patton Jr. of Youngstown, D-60th.
Judge Donofrio said he will be forever grateful for being able to come to the United States. He has continued the family tradition of baking bread and is the chief chef at family birthdays and Christmas dinner. He recalled his home in Italy, where his mother was constantly baking bread, and the 100-pound bag of flour she always kept on a wooden chair in the kitchen.
Carano's tales of growing up Italian hit home with most of the crowd gathered for the opening ceremonies.
"Italians taught Americans that you not only eat to live, you live to eat," he said. "Growing up in Italian neighborhoods in Youngstown, Campbell, wherever -- you didn't know you were poor, because everyone was in the same boat. We are better Americans because we know where we came from."
He said anyone who remembers wooden spoons or rolling pins as tools of discipline, or had "Uncle Angelo" pinch you on the cheek, ask how you are, and stick $1 in your pocket, is a first-generation Italian-American.
Amid the vendors offering everything from pizza to linguini alfredo, and cavatelli in garlic-bread bowls, boisterous men's voices can be heard shouting out numbers in Italian.
It's a morra tournament, a traditional game played by Italian men.
Greg DeAngelo of Youngstown, one of the tournament participants, patiently explained the game to this Irish-American reporter, clueless about the game.
Somewhat like the children's game Rock, Paper, Scissors, participants square off in two lines of five men each. The first pair in line quickly extend fingers on one hand, shouting out numbers in Italian. Each may put out one or more fingers and must try to guess the total number. If one man chooses five and the other four, for example, the winner would be the one who had shouted "Nine."
"It's fun," said Mick Tarnoci of New Castle. "I've played it for years, since the '70s. We're trying to keep the tradition going and get young people interested."
Vivian Cormell, sister of Frank Corso, president of the Youngstown Morra League, said the men are playing at the festival in honor of her brother, whose wife, Kathy, died Thursday.
"[Morra] is just something you have to grow up with to understand," Cormell said.
"My brother has done this some 20 years. It's a man's game. No women allowed. No, no women at all. You just have to have five fingers and a loud voice. They yell and scream. Sometimes they lose their voices. Sometimes they get mad, but then when they're done, they'll all go out together and have a drink."