It has been just over a year since Mauro Battocchi arrived in The City as the newly-appointed Consul General of Italy in San Francisco.
He had already paved the way for his grand entrance by posting a much-circulated YouTube video, in which he introduced himself by driving through the streets of Rome, explaining who he was, and what he was all about, while speaking in both Italian and in impeccable English. His social-media savvy also became evident quickly on Twitter and on his blog SanFranciscoItaly.com, and it was only a few days after taking his new post as Consul General that he made his first public appearances.
At the Italian Heritage Dinner, held at the Fairmont Hotel, he didn’t stand on protocol. He hit the dance floor and began to bust a few moves, even before the first course had been served. The next day at the 144th Annual Columbus Day Parade, he was seen with his head popping out through the sun roof of a Fiat 500, wildly waving il Tricolore in both hands, and sharing his gregarious smile with thousands of cheering onlookers. The new public face of Italy had arrived, and San Francisco would never be the same.
Within days, Battocchi was showing up at every Italian club, organization, business, and dinner to introduce himself. He quickly connected with the leadership of the Italian-American Community in the Bay Area, and by December, had managed to gather nearly one hundred of those Italian business and civic leaders on the grand staircase of San Francisco’s City Hall, for a group photograph with the Mayor of San Francisco and an impressive collection of dignitaries. It was there that he and Mayor Edwin Lee conducted a joint press conference, where he announced that 2013 would henceforth and forevermore be known as the “Year of Italian Culture in the United States.”
In the months that followed—months that are usually relatively quiet in the Italian Community—Battocchi’s pace did not let up. The fact that the Year of Italian Culture coincided with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi provided the perfect opportunity to show the San Francisco Bay Area what Italian culture was all about, and Battocchi accepted the challenge with the leadership skills of a Giuseppe Garibaldi, and with the warm, embracing humor of a Roberto Benigni. The entire Community was caught up into Mauro Battocchi’s whirlpool of italianità.
When VOR70 Maserati broke the world record for sailing around Cape Horn from New York to San Francisco, Battocchi was there to extol the virtues of Italy, and of course, to promote the Year of Italian Culture. He was there at Italian Day in Golden Gate Park, having his picture taken in front of the statue of Giuseppe Verdi, which had been donated by the Italian Community one hundred years earlier, in honor of the centenary of the Maestro’s birth. Again, Battocchi used the occasion to promote the Year of Italian Culture. The Festa della Repubblica Italiana gave him the opportunity to bring together Italians, Italian-Americans, and Italophiles at the Saint Francis Yacht Club, where Battocchi hosted a celebration bigger and better than any of his predecessors ever had. Once again, the theme was the Year of Italian Culture.
Later that same month, it was Viva Italia!—a black-tie event to benefit what would be the jewel in the crown of the Year of Italian Culture: the joint performance of the San Francisco Opera and Naples’ Teatro di San Carlo, presenting Verdi’s Requiem. It seemed that no matter where one went in the Italian Community—whether to a formal affair, or to a sausage and polenta dinner in the basement of Saint Peter and Paul’s Italian Church—Battocchi was there, promoting the Year of Italian Culture, and the much-anticipated culmination to come.
Earlier this month, the annual Italian Heritage celebrations again caused exuberance and pride in the Italian Community. For ten days—from the Madonna del Lume festivities to the Columbus Day celebrations—Battocchi was there, working tirelessly, yet appearing to do so effortlessly. And just when the Italian Community was ready to pause and take a breath, as is customary after Columbus Day, Battocchi began to beat his drum again, whipping up a frenzy in the Community as the final days were counted down to the Big Event.
Pasquale Esposito performed a benefit concert to help defray the costs of bringing Teatro di San Carlo to San Francisco, and a special dinner called Napoli che canta e incanta was held at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, under the auspices of Compagna Felix and the Leonardo DaVinci Society. Italian Community Services held their annual dinner as well, at which Maestro Nicola Luisotti was honored.
Com.It.Es. served as the umbrella organization through which everything flowed. And then there were the press conferences, and the receptions, and the photo opportunities. Accords were signed between Naples and San Francisco, involving human rights, technology and the arts. Luigi De Magistris, the Mayor of Naples, flew in for the celebrations and to sign the accords. And through it all, without a hint of being overbearing or repetitive, Mauro Battocchi kept beating his drum of the Year of Italian Culture.
The Verdi Requiem was historical in the truest sense of the word, and perhaps the most amazing presentation of Italian Culture (with a capitol “C”) that has ever been seen in San Francisco. Not since the post-1906 earthquake reconstruction of North Beach and all of San Francisco (done mainly by Italians), has the Italian Community worked together so diligently and so fervently toward a common goal. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when such a thing would have been thought unimaginable.
Italians and Italian organizations have always tried to work together in our Community, with varying degrees of success. We have also seen a long line of Consuls General of Italy come and go, also with mixed results. But this time, everything came together in a way that made us all feel proud of who we are as Italians, and what we can accomplish when we work together.
The Year of Italian Culture has been about more than just learning the many aspects of our heritage, though few would dispute that we have indeed learned more about the culture of our ancestral homeland this year than we have at any time before. Certainly there were many people in our Community who deserve credit for instilling in us this rush of pride and sense of accomplishment that we are all feeling after this incredible ride. But nobody deserves more credit than our Consul General Mauro Battocchi.
He would, of course, humbly give credit to everyone but himself, but that too is part of his charm. He is, without a doubt, the best thing that we as a Community have been blessed with in some time. He is the “Face of Italy” in our Italian Community, and with his example and continued leadership, we can all be assured that the Year of Italian Culture is only the beginning, and that the best is yet to come.