By Linda Hutchison
When in Italy, do as the Italians do, enjoy a passeggiata. No, it’s not a new pasta or panini, but a centuries-old tradition: the evening stroll.
As the sun goes down, Italians take to their streets and piazzas, walk slowly arm-in-arm, greeting one another, seeing and being seen (and, in Italy, this means stylishly dressed, so if you’re a tourist and want to blend in, ditch the fanny pack and running shoes).
This tradition will meet another here in La Jolla on Saturday, Aug. 4, when Las Patronas hosts its annual Jewel Ball with the 2012 theme “Passeggiata!” Just as the Italian evening on the town includes family and friends, cocktails, dinner and dancing, so will the 66th Jewel Ball. For the evening, the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club will be transformed with Italian scenes right out of “Roman Holiday” or “La Dolce Vita.” And just as the sun is nestling into our own Mediterranean setting, guests at the passeggiata will be socializing at elegant bistros or hip ’60s night clubs among the Roman ruins, listening to opera, jazz, or dancing to rock and roll.
The theme of the evening stroll, the tradition of communities and families coming together was selected by Elaine Murphy, the 2012 Jewel Ball chair. It reflects her own Italian heritage, love of travel, history, and old movies, but also the mid-century, post-World War II exuberance in music and culture.
“The name passeggiata sounds like a dance,” Murphy said, “but we wanted to make it as authentic as possible.” In Italy, the passeggiata begins after the day’s work is finished, and for the 50 members of Las Patronas, the Jewel Ball takes place after a year of planning and hard work.
The first Jewel Ball was held in 1947 to raise money for the China Relief Fund. It attracted 200 guests, and raised $1,357. At that time, La Patronas included 14 members who contributed handmade decorations. Eventually the group acquired a warehouse for building, painting, and storing more elaborate décor, such as stage sets. “This year, approximately 850 guests are expected and the event is expected to raise approximately $1 million. It is the group’s main fund-raising event and a thank you to donors. We do everything ourselves and haven’t increased costs in six years. Our donations go directly to our causes,” Murphy said.
Las Patronas 2012 president Lisa Albanez added that, “except for some technical help, our members design and build everything. “And while working, they are also building relationships with one another. Our organization is made up of very diverse women from different professions, with different sets of talents and abilities — from artistic to fundraising. Yet we all come together and it is really a great thing. Fifty active women make it happen,” she said.
In addition to preparing for the ball, the members of Las Patronas work (as volunteers, there is no paid staff) all year to raise money and award grants to worthy non-profit organizations throughout San Diego County. The group also relies on the expertise of up to 300 past advisory members."
It’s been 66 years of work,” said Murphy. “We try to stay relevant, visit all beneficiaries. Not all are big, many are on shoestring budgets and we can make a difference. Once they receive a grant, it makes it easier for them to receive future ones.” This year’s major beneficiaries include Alpha Project for the Homeless, American Red Cross, Greater San Diego After-School All-Stars, La Jolla Historical Society, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Hospice, Senior Community Centers, and the Zoological Society of San Diego.
In addition, 14 groups were selected as minor beneficiaries. In recent years, modern technology has invaded the passeggiata, as younger Italians use Facebook and Twitter to plan ahead. Likewise, Las Patronas plans to carry on its tradition, but benefit from social networking. “Our goal is to raise the most money we can using all types of media,” said Albanez. “We want to forge new partnerships with corporate sponsors, expand on existing relationships, work more closely with beneficiaries, get the word out across the county. We are steeped in tradition, and we acknowledge and appreciate that, but we’re also looking to the future to reach out to all of San Diego.”
If you go
What: ‘Passeggiata!’ Las Patronas’ 66th annual Jewel Ball
When: 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 4
Where: La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, 2000 Spindrift Drive
Music: Side Effect, a Los Angeles band, and the house band from Anthology
Dinner: Campine Catering Information: