This Valentine's weekend, do as the Romans do: Sip wine with your sweetie, stroll through an Italian hamlet, and stomp on some juicy grapes. It should make for a memorable weekend — purple phalanges and all — as LIADO's seventh annual San Gennaro Festa gets under way at the Safety Harbor Marina Park, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane.
"We find Safety Harbor to be such a perfect setting," said Julie Calabrese, president of the club, also known as the Italian-American Women of Today. "There's a historic quaintness there, similar to the small towns in Italy where these types of festivals happen."
The fest honors San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, who is said to protect the Italian city from disasters like earthquakes and plagues.
A procession with a statue of the saint begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Also on Saturday, a collection of 40 fast and sleek Italian sports cars such as Alfa Romeos, Ferraris and Maseratis will be on display.
The fountain plaza at the park will be transformed into a piazza, with scenes of Italy as backdrops, strolling musicians and a cafe-like setting with tables and chairs.
There, one can enjoy a glass of wine or a cappuccino, a meatball sandwich, a cup of pasta fagioli (bean soup), calamari, sausage and peppers, pizza, zeppoli (Italian fritters with powdered sugar) and other ethnic specialties.
"If it's Italian, it will be there," Calabrese said.
American food will also be offered.
LIADO members will demonstrate how to make homemade pasta and pizzelles, which are flat wafer cookies with floral designs.
Bring home a T-shirt and bragging rights by scarfing down the most cannoli or meatballs. Those contests are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
You can trace your Italian heritage at the genealogy booth.
Not a problem.
"They will help you find information on your family no matter what your heritage," Calabrese said.
Headlining the event are Joey Dee and the Starliters on Saturday at 8 p.m. You may remember them for their '60s hits, Peppermint Twist and Shout.
The Steve Santo Band takes the stage Sunday at 4 p.m.
There will also be Tarantella dancers, puppeteers and street performers. Look for children's crafts and games, too.
Festivalgoers may even try their hand at bocce ball and laser tag.
Admission is $4 with children under 12 admitted free.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the St. Joseph Children's Hospital cancer center, the Paul B. Stevens Exceptional Student Education Center, the Safety Harbor Public Library and other organizations.
LIADO, an organization with 130 members in the bay area, also gives out scholarships: $70,000 worth in their 16 years of existence, Calabrese said.
So stomp those grapes for a good cause and a good time.
"Be sure to bring your sweetheart," Calabrese said.