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Thousands of Americans and Italians turned out to celebrate America’s Independence Day at La Sagra Americana, a two-day celebration in Vicenza, Italy.
Thousands of Americans and Italians turned out to celebrate America’s Independence Day at La Sagra Americana, a two-day celebration in Vicenza, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Thousands of Americans and Italians turned out to celebrate America’s Independence Day at La Sagra Americana, a two-day celebration in Vicenza, Italy.
Thousands of Americans and Italians turned out to celebrate America’s Independence Day at La Sagra Americana, a two-day celebration in Vicenza, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Nadine Malouf sings a song while the other students from the Franklin School for Performing Arts - otherwise known as Electric Youth - perform Sunday.
Nadine Malouf sings a song while the other students from the Franklin School for Performing Arts - otherwise known as Electric Youth - perform Sunday. (Kent Harris / S&S)
An Italian poses behind a cutout of the Statue of Liberty while her friend takes a picture with her cell phone.
An Italian poses behind a cutout of the Statue of Liberty while her friend takes a picture with her cell phone. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Fabricio Mirisolo cooks hamburgers and hot dogs Sunday for a lot of hungry people at La Sagra Americana.
Fabricio Mirisolo cooks hamburgers and hot dogs Sunday for a lot of hungry people at La Sagra Americana. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Alexander Savusa, left, mightily tries to finish his pie, but he’s not quick enough to top Florin Afene, who won the contest.
Alexander Savusa, left, mightily tries to finish his pie, but he’s not quick enough to top Florin Afene, who won the contest. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VICENZA, Italy — It was a time to celebrate American culture — even if you weren’t an American.

Thousands of Italians helped Americans stationed at Caserma Ederle celebrate the American day of independence in a two-day festival that started Sunday called La Sagra Americana.

“It’s a tradition for Italian people to come here,” said Stefano Gramola, attending with family and friends.

What was the main reason for him to come on base — a place he can’t go about 363 days during the year?

“Eat,” he said, pointing to an empty plate.

Indeed, the main attraction appeared to be food. A handful of organizations around the base manned booths serving a variety of ethnic foods. Those hawking Greek, Tex-Mex and Southern fare vied for the longest line.

Maj. Leon Kircher, chaplain for the 22nd Area Support Group, was in full cooking mode, serving up barbecued ribs. Good thing he took the time to become a certified grill master while living in Memphis, Tenn.

“At least a couple hundred pounds,” he said, estimating the amount of food he had cooked — with still several hours to go.

But there were a variety of other reasons for Italians — and Americans — to venture on base.

Louis Bonamego, whose mother Rita works on base, won the hot dog eating contest. He polished off 3½ in two minutes. Not satisfied with that, he finished off the one he hadn’t eaten after the contest. And then scarfed down two more.

“Drink a lot of water before the contest,” he said of his secret.

A while later, he joined those having dinner from one of the booths. Still not sated — food and competition-wise — he wanted to enter the pie-eating contest a few hours later. No, officials said, let someone else win.

That someone turned out to be 14-year-old Florin Afene, who defeated five other competitors by cleaning up a plate of strawberries and whipped cream — without using his hands.

Youth were served elsewhere as well, with a group of more than a dozen teens from the Franklin School for the Performing Arts from Massachusetts performing on the main stage. Many of the songs that “Electric Youth” sang were older than they were.

That suited Robert and Franca Ross just fine. Canadians who live in Vicenza, they sang along.

“My throat is sore,” Franca Ross said with a smile.

Raye Lynn Mercer, director of the school and one of those playing music, said the group was finishing up a three-week tour of Austria and Italy. It was the third straight year they performed in Vicenza. Another show was set for Aviano on Monday.

“Being a part of the celebration for the military has become an important part of the tour,” Mercer said.

Those who liked to dance had to wait a few hours. But Hot Guns, a country-western cover band composed of Italians from greater Vicenza, had toes tapping during their sets. A group of Italian line dancers joined the festivities — many sporting American-style cowboy hats — in front of the stage.

Using up all that energy, it was no wonder the food was going quickly. But organizers said they had plenty left, not only for the rest of Sunday, but Monday as well. A good thing, because Monday looked to be “Groundhog Day” as well as Independence Day.

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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