|Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Holds Open House|
|Written by Joy Lutes|
|Thursday, 14 May 2009|
The doors of the Italian embassy swung open on Saturday allowing visitors like my husband and I to experience a little “la dolce vita” without leaving Washington, D.C. The Embassy was open as part of an annual event known as Shortcut to Europe. For the event, the embassy and its staff welcome guests to view the property and offer treats from their country giving participants a full cultural experience without the long trip across the Atlantic.
After reading many online complaints about the lack of parking near the Italian Embassy, we got up early and prepared for the worst, scouring the internet the night before searching for nearby hotels who might have a pay-to-park lot and looking at Google satellite images to see which neighborhoods might allot on the street parking options.
I am happy to report that we experienced no such trouble. Though we did miss our exit off of Rock Creek Parkway, once we righted ourselves in the direction of the embassy, we had no difficulty finding a parking spot on a street less than two blocks from the embassy. As we walked along the sidewalks, one of which was about to be overturned by a tree root that was overtaking the earth below, my excitement built. When we passed a gentleman and his son and overheard him saying to his child in Italian, “Very good. We are going,” I walked a little faster.
When we made it to the corner and my husband mentioned there might be a line due to the popularity of Italy, I surveyed the nearby pedestrians and prepared for a foot race. By the time we had the green light to cross the street, I had selected the best shortcut through the outer grounds of another embassy that was not open and zipped across to the sidewalk beating many others to the gate that surrounds the embassy.
A slightly older couple in front of us who were embassy hopping as evidenced by their Ireland tote bags seemed to take forever as we followed the slight incline to the entrance gate. I have to say that as the ever warming sun beat down onto my black top covered back, I thought about passing them but quickly thought better of it.
The Italian Embassy is a sleek, modern building. Previously, the Embassy was housed in what was described as an ornate and historical but small building that could not hold the offices of the entire staff. This prompted the Italians to purchase a lot from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The new embassy building designed by Piero Sartogo Architetti was begun in 1996 and inaugurated in 2000. The 29,800 square foot building is located in the area known as Embassy Row for the plethora of embassies marking the neighbourhood. Among Italy’s neighbors are the Brazilian Embassy (whose lot I cut through) and the Naval Observatory.
After having ID checked at the gate, we were given a lanyard with a visitor pass that I proudly wore the rest of the day. Down the hill we went toward the main entrance, slowing outside briefly to watch others take photos of themselves next to the fire engine red Ferrari that was parked outside the building.
A quick pass through security and we were in the welcoming atrium. From the outside, the building appears to be two pieces. From the inside this design feature allows the space to feel immediately open and airy as visitors are treated to a bath in natural light coming from the windowed vaulted ceiling above.
The two stories appeared to be lined with meeting rooms and offices all circling the center atrium. We meandered among a few vendors offering everything from pasta and wine to books detailing the Italian influence on Washington, D.C. Glass cases featuring the sculptures of Paolo Staccioli were on display. Paintings hung on the walls showing beautiful images of Rome and some Roman gods alike.
On the far end of the atrium an open door revealed a gelateria/espresso bar. Just outside there was a courtyard café area to sit and enjoy your treats -- due cioccolato gelati and un cappucino for us -- as you looked onto the well-manicured grounds. A few Roman columns here and there spotted the grass, just enough to look expected without being excessive.
When the soon-to-be-afternoon sun made sitting outside a little uncomfortable we returned back into the building to wander briefly before stopping off for our tote bag and information on the embassy before bidding “arrivederci” to the staff.
A few more steps on the outside grounds past a sculpture and the entrance to an underground parking garage and we were at the exit gate. As I walked through the turnstile and was returned to the streets of Washington, I fought back the urge to rush back inside and say “mille grazie” to every member of the exceptionally friendly staff who allowed me to practice my Italian on them and gush through stories of my family coming from Guardia Lombardi.
The open house took place on what is known as Europe Day marking the kickoff of Europe Week, a celebration of European culture around the U.S. Twenty-six European countries as well as the European Commission Delegation took part in the Open House. In 2008, an estimated 50,000 visitors participated in the open house tours.
This free and educational event is something I am already putting on my calendar for next May. It is not to be missed by anyone with an interest in other countries and their cultures. Until then, I may have to travel to Italy to experience such a travel buzz again. But for anyone who for whatever reason cannot travel to Europe, the Shortcut to Europe program is nothing short of “fantastico”.
(May 10, 2009)
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 May 2009 )|
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