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London 2012 - Hospitality Houses: Italy House (Casa Italia) @ The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

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by David Dragonetti (subscribe)
I love politics (I do realize that there aren't many people like me) and a history buff who also likes nothing better than watching a live comedy.
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Yes, undoubtedly we are a scruffy bunch. When we dress down, we certainly go for it. Waiting patiently for the Men's Cycle Road Race to come hurtling through Richmond Park that sunny Saturday afternoon, there was ample time for me to look across the road at the other mostly English spectators and their uncoordinated, mismatched attire.

Indeed, after an earlier visit to Casa Italia, I could not help but notice this British fashion fiasco opposite. It seems if we aren't sprucing ourselves up for a night out or ironing a work shirt ready for Monday morning, it's really a case of just anything goes when the English chill out. Crumpled jackets, baggy shorts, favourite T shirts that are frayed and a bit worn, Shoes that are colour co-ordinated with the toilet and old trousers that would be rejected by Oxfam. It was a pretty grim sight.

I'm half Italian myself and thus when it comes to fashion and style, I should know better. Yet I might as well have been wearing a bin liner as I entered that temporary little Italian enclave near Westminster Abbey. I instantly just felt self conscious because I hadn't bothered. I was an Italian who hadn't bothered with his appearance. I'd simply let the side down. I didn't stay long and decided to head for the road race. I'd come back to little Italy the next day.

One of nineteen such hospitality centre's or "houses" round London that have been set up by competing countries. I returned on Sunday to be confronted by a smouldering Italian guard who'd have no problem auditioning to be in a Bond girl. "Bag search X-Ray". she said. My bay was not searched the day before, but I didn't mind, Italians are so lovely and warm you allow them such staggering blunders.

Again, I then entered a rather Spartan reception area before I followed the crowd to where all the stands with Italian produce, wines, chocolate spread and the like that were situated on two floors with a third having a photographic exhibition and information boards that had interesting insights on social change in Italy.

But there was nothing to eat. No free food anywhere, how can that be? Up and down the stairs a few times looking for free food, I repeatedly saw a number of stands with an environmental agenda. Being someone who had himself been arrested numerous times on Eco protests, I was impressed at how Italy wanted to move itself into the future.

After then watching an Italian team shoot, up the medal winning table on a TV screen. I wanted to move to the exit and home to see if England was going to get at least one medal during these games, however I then came across a large auditorium full of Italians who were now residents in England. A chair-person was inviting people up to air their views on what it was like to live in England. Despite England's chav culture, binge drink culture, obesity culture and numerous other negative cultures, the opinions were surprisingly positive. One woman though said she was really excited at seeing the Olympic torch pass by and started shouting and screaming until the English told her to calm down. "They just clap here and wave a flag - there's no emotion sometimes with them" she added laughingly.

Italia House like the Italians themselves had warmth about it. Even if you have no connection to Italy at all, it takes a sad or dead soul not like something about the Italian temperament. So many English people settle in Italy, so many Italians come to live in England. Two such very different nations in character, it is indeed a case of opposites attract.

Casa Italia is open daily to the public during the games and situated in the Queen Elizabeth Conference centre opposite Westminster Abbey.
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Why? Visit the Italian National House during the London 2012 games.
When: 27th July 2012 until 12th August 2012
Where: Broad Sanctuary, City of Westminster, London SW1P 3EE
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