Says Jimmy Kimmel, chairman of the San Gennaro Foundation, "The feast isn't only about diving head-first into a stack of zeppoles, it is about coming together to celebrate Italian-American culture, and more importantly, making time for family and friends." This annual event, held as a benefit for local children and families in need, opened Thursday evening, September 25 ("Prima Notte") and runs through Sunday the 28th.
Not only is the Feast of San Gennaro a rollicking good time, but also the list of charities it supports is long and deserving: LAPD and LAFD Childrens' Support Group, Police Activities League, LAUSD Homeless, Good Shepherd Shelter, Meals on Wheels, Aviva Family and Childrens' Services, LA Youth Network, St. Peter's Homeless Feeding Program, Youthlink of America, Project Cuddle, My Friend's Place, and many more.
Admission is just five bucks per person (kids under 12 get in for free), and you buy chits to give the vendors of food and drink. What you get is fun, music, games, food, drink, raffles, demos for the kids, all with an Italian flavor. And on Saturday, the highlight of the feast--will be the San Gennaro procession on Hollywood Boulevard with Musica Antica at noon, followed by a mass on the main stage with Bishop Clark and Father Antonio Cacciaputo. (San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples.)
As if Georja needed another excuse to dress to kill and Gerald had to be encouraged to eat more pasta!
Georja: The feast is open to all, and all are encouraged to come over the weekend. We were lucky to go to the Prima Notte (first night) gala, a pricey affair thrown to raise lots of cash for the charities. Entry fees were $100 or $250 each. Jimmy Kimmel and his old sidekick Adam Carolla hosted a live auction, and there was silent auction as well. For example, a trip to Manhattan including stays at the Ritz Carlton and W hotels, with tickets to "Jersey Boys," went for $3,300. If you coughed up the $250 admission, you sat right down in front, which gave Carolla a perfect opportunity to take potshots at you if you didn't bid.
Gerald: When are you going to tell them about the pasta, the pizza, the sausage and peppers, the meatballs, the endless streams of Chianti, and the cannoli? Come to think of it, I never did find out what a zeppole is, much less had the opportunity to scarf a sack of them.
Georja: You could have. You ate everything else in sight!
Gerald: Are you talkin' to me?
Georja: As we strolled in, we were pleasantly greeted by Joe Vento's musical group, complete with Commedia del Arte impersonator Ciro Giorgio. Followed by the Precious Cheese mascot, who was giving out string-cheese samples.
Gerald: I guess we should mention that Precious Cheese is a sponsor but the event of course is far from cheesy.
Georja: We were also greeted by a first-century Roman couple, a lady giving out biscotti samples, and three moving statues. There were plenty of carnival booths run by friendly volunteers. In fact, the heart and soul of the festival is the open-hearted generosity of the many volunteers who run it.
Gerald: Rides for the kids, all that funhouse stuff, cotton candy and popcorn. That's on the midway, but there's also a chance to sit down and watch the shows on the main stage.
Georja: They will be having many different entertainers during the festival. I especially liked Cristina Fontanelli, who sang Italian favorites, starting with their national anthem. Forbes magazine described her voice as a cross between Maria Callas and Ethel Merman. Her voice had an ethereal quality when she sang, but her speaking voice was heavy Brooklyn.
Gerald: She had a great pair of lungs, and her voice wasn't bad either. Hey, what about Miss San Gennaro?
Georja: She had to get good grades and write an essay on what her Italian culture and heritage mean to her. She said she's going to study in Italy with her scholarship award.
Gerald: I think her looks didn't hurt either. What about that guy you were looking for and you didn't get to see?
Georja: Roberto Bonnani is one of my favorite local Italian singers. We've seen him before at restaurants and on the Santa Monica Promenade. He'll be singing Saturday and Sunday around 1 p.m. on the main stage, and I highly recommend him. Also on Saturday night will be Clito and the Cletones (the band from Jimmy Kimmel Live).
Gerald: I had no idea you were such a fan.
Georja: Live and learn. Did you know this? A little-known Italian inventor, Antonio Meucci, was honored. Evidently he was the real inventor of the telephone. Due to his poverty and lack of English skills, his invention was credited instead to Alexander Graham Bell. I think it's really cool the way they educate you on Italian-American culture while you're having a good time.
Gerald: Hey, Marconi got credit for inventing radio. You want it all? That's right, you're part Italian!
7th Annual Precious Cheese Italian Feast of San Gennaro
1651 N. Highland Ave.
$5 per person entry
children under 12 free
(food and drink tickets extra)
Saturday, Sept. 27 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 28 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Recommended parking in the Hollywood & Highland Mall
Georja Umano is an actress-comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.