This blog entry is written byNancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State.
Tuesday, I greeted the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, at the White House for a meeting with President Bush. He has been President since May 15, 2006. He was joined by Italian Foreign Minister D'Alema and several members of his staff. The Ambassador to Italy, Ronald Spogli, and the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Giovanni Castellaneta, was present along with Deputy Secretary Negroponte, and of course, Secretary Rice. The meeting went very well and was followed by lunch in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House. That evening, a celebratory dinner was held at the lovely home of the Ambassador to Italy and many Italian Americans attended, including Mrs. Bush's Chief of Staff, Anita McBride. Another interesting person that was there was Astronaut Paolo Nespoli. It was fascinating listening to his stories about his most recent shuttle mission last month. This successful shuttle launch on October 23rd, 2007, which the European Spatial Agency-ESA called "Esperia Mission" (Esperia is the name which the Greek used to indicate Italy), and NASA called "STS-120 Mission," represented an important step for European scientific research and is a important benchmark in Italy's continuing collaboration with NASA.
During the quarantine, immediately before the launch from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, Ambassador Castellaneta had a telephone conversation with Paolo Nespoli, who was very touched by the call. The Ambassador wanted to convey to our astronaut his regards and the best wishes of the Italian Government for the complete success of the mission. Paolo Nespoli is the fifth Italian astronaut to go into space (after Malerba, Guidoni, Cheli, and Vittori) and the fourth to fly with the Shuttle (Vittori participated two times to the Soyuz missions). The chef at the Embassy prepared a very wonderful Italian menu. At the conclusion of dinner, there was a small chamber concert of Schubert. Lila Castellaneta, the Ambassador's wife, is admired for her charm and hospitality here in Washington and Tuesday night was a perfect example.
The relationship with Italy is very good and we are fortunate to have an Ambassador there who has embraced the culture so thoroughly; Ambassador Spogli speaks Italian fluently and has family ties to the country.
Yesterday morning, President Napolitano laid a wreath at Arlington Cemetery and our Deputy Chief of Protocol, Ray Martinez, greeted him and assisted with the ceremony.