Departing Italian ambassador notes Seoul’s transformation

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Departing Italian ambassador notes Seoul’s transformation


For the Italian Ambassor to Korea, Francesco Rausi, one of his last missions in Korea was to properly celebrate Italian National Day with a bang before departing the country in eight weeks.
Last Friday, the ambassador hosted an annual reception at his residence inside the UN Village in Hannam-dong, which was attended by 500 plus invitation-only guests, including Chun Young-woo, the South Korean chief delegate to the six-party talks, and Kim Sun-uk, Minister of Legislation, as well as many ambassadors from EU countries. They feasted on Italian cuisine in the garden while being entertained by an Alfa Romeo car show and a live performance by Officina Zoe, a folk music band flown in from Selento, south of Italy. The general public was also invited free of charge to an all-day selection of Italian music, opera, dance and food at an Italy Day event on Nami Island, Gangwon province on Sunday.
The globe-trotting diplomat who started his career in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1972 and came to Korea in March 2002 via New York, Colombia, Brazil and Bejing sees links between Italy and Korea. “[Italy’s] cultural potential has been neglected in the past. The cultural sector is linked to the economy and furthermore, to history,” said Mr. Rausi, sinking into a leather couch in his office. “Like Korea, Italy also in certain ways forgot its past during its push toward the future.”
Looking back at his time in Korea, he recalled several cultural events as his major accomplishments. The ambassador has a love of the fine arts, and first mentioned the exhibition “Pittura in Sicilia” held last winter at the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, which showcased four contemporary painters from Sicily ― Guido Baragli, Carla Horat, Anna Kennel and Croce Taravella. Mr. Rausi also cited an exhibition of ancient artifacts from the Roman Empire at the Seoul Museum of History, including sculptures, coins and pottery among other objects, most flown in from the Musee National des Antiquites in Firenze. He also recalled the luxury Italian fashion show “Seoul under the Stars,” held in October 2004, which was the highlight of the three-day celebration of Seoul Citizens Day. The show was an exhibit of Italian fashion on a grand scale and featured high-end Italian brands including Versace, Etro, Enrico Coveri and Gianfranco Ferre.
Mr. Rausi said that over the past years, he has seen a great transformation in Seoul. “These days, Seoul looks much like a modern Italian city with newly-made squares where people can walk. When I first arrived, people worked on Saturdays. Now on Saturday, everybody enjoys their leisure time and all the companies are closed,” he said. Pointing to an ever increasing number of Italian restaurants and the presence of two major cooking schools ― Il Cuoco and the International Culinary Institute for Foreigners ― in Seoul, he said, “The level of a city is connected to the number of Italian restaurants in it.”
But Mr. Rausi emphasized that culture is not all that makes Italy today. Proudly stating that Italy is second only to Germany in technology, he said, “We have had great success selling Italian machines [to Korea]. We are one of the main suppliers of machines used for raw materials, spare parts and robots used to operate [other] machines.”
The trade-savvy ambassador broke into a broad smile at the mention of the Italian car Alfa Romeo, which will soon start selling on the Korean market alongside Ferrari and Maserati automobiles.
Before heading back to Rome in July, Mr. Rausi will be busy packing. The rooms, shelves and walls at the official residence are now filled with his personal art collection, making the home resemble a museum. As an avid collector of Asian art and artifacts, Mr. Rausi’s home in Korea holds a vast collection of paintings, contemporary sculptural pieces, antique furniture and china. One 1972 collage by Baek Nam-june, he had even before he came to Korea. With both Eastern and Western influences, and with pieces from up-and-coming artists as well as antiques, his electic taste was apparent as he talked about the Korean artists he likes.
“The artists do not need to be well-known for me to like,” he said. “I am interested in the art of Park Soo-in, Cha So-lim and Lee Sang-min, among others.” A glass sculpture by Lee Sang-min that he bought at the Heyri festival sat near a massive collage by three Western contemporary artists. There were rare medieval Korean tiger paintings next to strong, abstract pieces, and neatly arranged Chinese vases next to an apothecary table. “I am planning on showing my personal collection in Naples when I go back to Italy,” he added.
When asked which country he would like to go to after his term ends this July, Mr. Rausi gave a diplomatic response: “I like Asia and I hope to come back.”
Mr. Rausi’s curiosity is obviously well-suited to the job of a career diplomat. “I like doing things that will compel me to change,” he said. “I was afraid of immobility. And I succeeded.”

by Ines Cho, Cho Jae-eun
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