03 July 2012
Italians Preserve Hope and Congenial Relations in the Aftermath of Regional Earthquakes
In honor of Italian National Day and the 66th anniversary of the Republic, the Embassy of Italy held a reception for Italian culture representatives in the DC area. Leaders from the public and private sector, diplomats, professors, and Italian Carabinieri (military police) attended in outstanding numbers. As in years previous, the event’s good company and authentic cuisine made for a memorable evening, and reflected Italians’ penchant for community celebrations.
But a solemn note underscored this year’s event. An earthquake that shook the Emilia Romagna region on May 29th—just four days before Italian National Day—left 350 people injured and at least sixteen killed. The earthquake’s damage to cultural heritage sites, such as the basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua and several local museums, also struck Italians deeply. Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero began the evening by bringing attendants’ attention to the flags flying at half mast, and informing them of the Italian government’s decision to observe a National Day of Remembrance in honor of the earthquake’s victims. After a moment of silence, Bisogniero expressed appreciation for U.S. support, illustrated not only during the recent earthquake, but also on a “daily basis by the depth of our political and economic cooperation and by the millions of visitors traveling between Italy and the United States.” Perhaps responding to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent statements on the U.S. and Italy’s “shared values that have bound our nations and peoples over the centuries,” Bisogniero thanked the U.S. guests in attendance for representing a “friendship...based on our regard for the values of freedom, liberty, family, and human dignity.”
After stating that the evening’s traditional festivities would be somewhat curtailed in light of the earthquake, Bisogniero affirmed, “We will celebrate, because the Republic must confirm its vitality, its strong democracy...and the resolve with which it meets its challenges.” This call to celebrate, bolstered by the Embassy’s sweeping architecture, display of Renaissance artwork, and crowd of some 1,500 jovial faces, was certainly answered. Vinitaly, an international wine and spirits exhibition based in Verona, offered guests samples from several regions. Gatherings of very accomplished people chatted over pesto, lasagna, and crostini, or over a dessert of the much-loved Lavazza coffee and Ferrero-Rocher chocolates.
Perhaps most significantly, the event offered a space for diplomats and other leaders in cross-cultural exchange to reunite and demonstrate, in real time, Bisogniero’s nod to international friendships. During a conversation with Dr. Camilla Bozzoli, instructor in the Professional Development Program of Georgetown University, I saw her embrace and chat in Italian with several passersby, friends she assured me she had not seen in years.
Professor Bozzoli, a native Italian who speaks six languages and has served as main translator for National Geographic magazine, now focuses primarily on interpreting and teaching. She told me she saw no need to choose between her Italian and American identities. Instead, she enjoys “the best of both worlds”—visiting family in Italy at least once a year and, in the meantime, appreciating the “special atmosphere” of America. She admits this atmosphere is hard to define but can best be characterized by an “optimistic outlook.” Given Bisogniero’s emphasis on overcoming strife and underlining cultural similarities, Bozzoli’s attitude toward both her home country and her adopted one particularly suited the evening.