Ciao Italia festival launches for first time to connect Italy with Christchurch

Wilma Laryn has organised the first Ciao Italia festival to strengthen the connection between Christchurch and Italy.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Wilma Laryn has organised the first Ciao Italia festival to strengthen the connection between Christchurch and Italy.

The organiser of a new Italian festival hopes it will encourage Christchurch residents to appreciate a long-standing connection with the European country.

When Wilma Laryn moved to Christchurch in 1996, there was little to remind her of her home country.

But she believes many in the city have a personal connection with or "a great passion" for Italy, spanning back decades.

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"There are strong connections. Some of them started with the war," Laryn said.

"A lot of New Zealanders went to Italy to fight and came back with lots of friends, and some even with an Italian wife."

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders fought their way through Italy during World War II. By 1951, more than 1000 Italian-born residents had made New Zealand home.

The 2013 census recorded nearly 3800 people identifying as Italian living in the country.

Laryn said the Canterbury earthquakes had built an even stronger connection.

"We've had Italians of every age and skill [level] actively working in the rebuild, from geologists to architects to tile layers."

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While small, the connection was part of the reason Laryn got behind the first Ciao Italia festival, being held on Wednesday.

She said the event, which would coincide with the opening of the Cinema Italiano Festival, was the first of its kind for Christchurch.

"I wanted to bring a bit of Italy with me. Moving to New Zealand, there wasn't much of Italy in Christchurch then.

"Almost unconsciously I've worked to bring as much as I could here, and I found a lot of response."

Ciao Italia had 26 vendors signed up to display their slice of Italian culture, from edible gold leaf and wild pig prosciutto stalls to classical music performances and Italian vehicle displays.

"I've missed the culture of texture that Italy has ... we have multiple layers of history, geography and food culture.

"Up to a certain point these are the things that Kiwis go in search of when they travel to Italy ... to a certain extent they can experience that here."

Laryn said her own connection to Italy was "possibly even stronger than it was when I was living there".

"It's so far away, and you realise how many wonderful things there are in Italy and you want to share them with your New Zealand friends."

She said she wanted to try and make sure the first Ciao Italia would not also be the last.

"There are really so many things that connect the two countries. If we have enough people this year it could really become a central event in town."

Ciao Italia is being held at The Colombo from 6pm on Wednesday. Entry is free. More information at ciaoitalianz.com

 - Stuff

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