Remarks at Year of Italian Culture Event
Secretary of State
Giulio, thank you very, very much, and buon pomeriggio to everybody. Thank you for being patient. I apologize for being a little bit delayed. But as I think you all know, we were under the great leadership and tutelage of Giulio. We were doing important diplomatic work this morning, and I might say that I think the Foreign Minister organized a very important and effective meeting here today, and we thank Italy for that and we thank you personally, Giulio. I got to know him when he was Ambassador in Washington, and we’ve come to think of him as one of your Italian treasures. So if we take him back or something, it would be all right. We’ll keep you. (Laughter.)
My brother-in-law and great friend from college and through the years, David Thorne, is our Ambassador here, as you know, and he’s been very involved, his family’s been very involved for years, with the American Academy. And he never ceases to beat me up about the virtues of Italy and our relationship and how deep it goes, and he’s been a spectacular advocate for his now, I think, fully adopted country. And at some point, we’re going to steal him back, but I want to thank him for the good job he’s done here representing us and helping this. I’m not going to – (applause) – yeah, you should applaud. Yes. I’m not going to speak for very long. And back in Boston, when I would say that, it usually got a lot of applause. (Laughter.)
But this is my first trip to anywhere as the Secretary of State. And I really couldn’t be more pleased than to be here in Italy today. I started in London with meetings there and then went to Berlin and then to Paris, and now I’m here in Rome. And the reason for being in Europe and in Italy today is purposeful. It’s not an accident. It’s not just here for this meeting. I wanted to come here at the request of President Obama on his behalf to say to all of you that the European relationship could not be stronger, it could not be more important, that everything that we are doing with respect to not just culture, but with respect to diplomacy, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Libya, you name it, and Italy and Europe are partners in that endeavor. We share huge connections of history, of values, of aspirations, and of culture, obviously.
So it’s really special for me to be able to be here not to talk about the challenges that we face, but to talk about the relationship that we have and, frankly, the importance of this particular initiative, which I think is a brilliant one. And it may be that 2013 has been labeled the year of Italian culture, but every single one of you know that since 1492 and Cristoforo Colombo and then Amerigo Vespucci a few years later, it’s been the centuries of American and Italian culture. It really has been. And we have generations of people who have grown up, exchange students coming back and forth, Italian students coming to America, Americans coming here, people have grown up either looking at and learning from Galileo or listening to and dreaming from Verdi or laughing to Benigni. And it’s a wonderful kind of connection. As thanks to Giulio’s efforts, we now have Michelangelo’s David visiting us. And we’ll make you a deal. If we can keep David, you can keep George Clooney. (Laughter.) I think that works, doesn’t it?
But in truth, Italian culture is everywhere in our country. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t dance to it, laugh to it, sing it, think about it, look at it, feel it, and everybody I know dreams always of coming to Italy at some point. And they do. You have an amazing gene, I think it is, for style and quality and design and engineering and for the visual and the arts. And you walk around Rome, you just feel it. I mean, I’m stunned when I walk up the Michelangelo steps, or you go somewhere and you look at it and you sense the fullness of history. We’re not as old as you, obviously, but we’ve, I think, grown in our appreciation of so many different things, from the prosaic, like me, going to Maranello and driving a wonderful car, or the much more sort of visually pleasing like the Raphael that I had a chance to see in Villa Madama. And the other day, my first speech I gave as Secretary of State, I went to the University of Virginia, where there is a reproduction of The School of Athens, of Raphael’s School of Athens. It’s brilliant. So you’re connected, we’re connected in every single way possible.
So I said I wouldn’t talk long. I’m not going to. I want to just thank you for celebrating this very, very special important connection. While you’ve chosen to make it the year of Italian culture, obviously it’s so much more than just culture. It is those shared values and history. The history is just stunning. I mean, I – we used to have a senator, maybe some of you saw him, named Robert Byrd, a senator from West Virginia. He was the longest-serving senator in history, about 50 years. And I think he knew Caesar by heart, and he would go to the floor of the Senate, in the great old tradition of a Roman senator stentorian, and would read us of all the things that happened in Rome that he thought were relevant to what was happening in America now. And some senators would scratch their heads and say, “What?” But others saw the connection that we’re talking about and celebrating here today.
So I just come and say grazie from the bottom of my heart. On behalf of all Americans, let’s grow the future together and celebrate each other’s culture, and if we can be more like you and you’re like more like us, things are going to turn out pretty well. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
PRN: 2013/ T01-13