Italian Festival and Bocce Tournament

The sounds, smells and sights of Italy will take over Finlay Park on Saturday for the Italian Festival and Bocce Tournament sponsored by Columbia's Sons of Italy lodge.

We caught up with Trisha Pizzuti-Bockus, a first-generation Italian-American, who is helping to organize the festival.

"Italians by nature are hams. We love to have a good time, we love to dance, we love to talk. We're gregarious," she said. "You don't have to be Italian and we'll do that with you, too."

Here is some of her advice on what not to miss at the festival:

The food. A highlight of any Italian gathering is the food. While Pizzuti-Bockus points out Italians "aren't all about pasta and pizza," she adds, "Who doesn't love a plate of spaghetti and meatballs?" The menu features meatball and Italian sausage subs, lasagna and pizza. Desserts include Amaretto bread pudding, cannoli, tiramisu, and several flavors of gelato. Italian beer and wine, too.

Dancing. Sons of Italy lodge members have spent months practicing the tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance - and they're ready to teach the rest of us. Seven couples will perform for the crowd, and then teach the lively dance to festival-goers.

Games. There is an entry fee for the bocce tournament, and competitors must sign up at the festival by 11 a.m. Organizers are expecting 32 two-person teams, with cash prizes for winners.

For the less competitive, there are two Italian games. "They're kind of ridiculous, but they are so much fun," she said.

There's the "salami hit," where participants throw a potato at a salami dangling from a string about 20 feet away. (Winners get to take home a piece of salami - although it's not the same piece from the game)

Or you can try to splatter an egg with a bocce ball at the "egg crush." An egg is placed on a tree stump while people toss heavy bocce balls and try to smash the egg.

The fresh market. Italian fruits, vegetables and breads will be for sale, along with the lodge's cookbook, "Bella Cucina Italiana," which features recipes from members. Also, many of the members are making their own sweet treats, which will be sold packaged to take home, "even though most people just open the package and start eating it right there," Pizzuti-Bockus said. Among the items for sale are Italian cookies, which are not overly sweet, and are perfect for dunking in coffee, milk hot tea - even red wine.

The arts. Students from the USC Conservatory of Dance will be performing the classical ballet Serenella, the Italian adaptation of "The Little Mermaid." Musical performers include the Dick Goodwin Quintet and Belle Arti Enterprises featuring Anna Dragoni and Shawn Logan. The story of Pinocchio will be performed by the Columbia Children's Theatre. There also will be dancing in the park with the Second Nature band.

A gondola. Really. Pizzuti-Bockus was hoping to find a gondola (the traditional, flat-bottomed rowing boat) to set up with a backdrop so festival-goers could have pictures taken in a Venice-like setting. No luck. So her brother, Nick Pizzuti, built a boat for the festival - just like one of those made famous in the Venice canals. And they may even have a "good-looking gondolier" in traditional black, white and red, to pose for pictures, too.