The Charmed Life of a Foreign Correspondent in Italy

Is there a journalist alive who doesn’t—at least in some small way—envy Gregory Peck’s dashing character in Roman Holiday? And it’s not just about spending 24 hours with a classy, beautiful brunette like Audrey Hepburn. What would it be like to live on Via Margutta, zip around late-1950s Rome on a Vespa, spend your evenings playing poker with the international crowd, and dash off the odd article to your paper back home?

 Freeze from of  Roman Holiday  [Source]

Freeze from of Roman Holiday [Source]

Ah, the life of a foreign correspondent.

Well, a foreign correspondent in Italy, that is. I imagine the life of a foreign correspondent in, say, Libya or Iran (at least these days) might be slightly more dangerous and slightly less picturesque. But in Italy, can you think of a more fantastic lifestyle? Ok, ok, I’m sure it involves a good deal of work, but, oh, the payoff...

 Freeze from of  Roman Holiday  [Source]

Freeze from of Roman Holiday [Source]

...well, you get the idea.

100 years ago, 14 foreign journalists living and working in Rome, got together in their usual haunt, Gran Caffè Faraglia in Piazza Venezia, and decided it was high time they had an official association to represent them. The Foreign Press Association was born. Today its members are numbered at 443, and hail from over 50 different countries around the world. American correspondents are outnumbered only by their German counterparts, and include one of my very favorite expat bloggers, Patricia Thomas, (Rome’s own Mozzarella Mamma herself!)

Italy as Seen by the World, a new exhibit at the Ara Pacis opened last week, celebrating this important 100-year milestone. It was thrilling to see snippets of articles, headlines and magazine covers from around the world, all with the same subject: il belpaese. Some articles dated back nearly a century; others covered news stories I can well remember since my own arrival here eight years ago. 100 years of top news stories, archeological discoveries, culinary culture, destination pieces, social commentary: it’s all covered in this fascinating exhibit, the first big opening of the season.

Here are a few images from the exhibition:

 Historic Archive of the first headquarters of the association

Historic Archive of the first headquarters of the association

 Association members in an audience with Pope John XXIII

Association members in an audience with Pope John XXIII

 Hitler and Mussolini, Newsweek, 1936

Hitler and Mussolini, Newsweek, 1936

  Il Conchiglione  (The Big Shell) in the conference hall of the Foreign Press Association © Chris Warde-Jones

Il Conchiglione (The Big Shell) in the conference hall of the Foreign Press Association © Chris Warde-Jones

 An article on terrorism in Italy, Der Spiegel, 1977

An article on terrorism in Italy, Der Spiegel, 1977

 The death of Pope John Paul II, Paris Match, 2005

The death of Pope John Paul II, Paris Match, 2005

 President and Mrs. Obama in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI (my photo of a photo)

President and Mrs. Obama in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI (my photo of a photo)

I imagine it’s fascinating for Italians to witness how their country and culture is portrayed to the world at large by the pen-armed foreigners who’ve made their home here, but who nevertheless bring along their own perspective, culture and experiences. As an expat I have learned so much about my own country, simply by getting an outside look at it. This is not always pleasant. In fact, I was surprised that the inauguration was packed with Italians. I would have expected the majority of those in attendance to be the very same foreign correspondents being celebrated in the exhibit, but I rarely picked up on a foreign language or accent, although there were a few international journalistic legends (whom I would never have recognized had the Maritino not pointed them out to me).

 Mayor Gianni Alemanno, Ara Pacis,  ©  Tiffany Parks

Mayor Gianni Alemanno, Ara Pacis, © Tiffany Parks

The mayor himself was also in attendance, and I don’t mean to be mean, but this was the first time I had ever seen him live and I couldn’t stop myself humming that line from Annie (the Broadway musical, eh, NOT the film!), “What other town has the Empire State and a mayor five-foot-two?” Now, I didn’t get out my tape measure, but even standing up on the podium of the Ara Pacis, he didn’t look a hair taller than me. Rome may not have the Empire State Building, but a Fiorello Laguardia-look-alike we do have!

 Freeze frame from  Roman Holiday  [Source]

Freeze frame from Roman Holiday [Source]

I learned during the press conference that the "extras" in the last scene of Roman Holiday were the actual members of Italy's Foreign Press Association in 1959! (A shocking dearth of women...) This exhibit is on for less than a month, so don’t miss it!

PS After months of sporatic posting, I'm aiming to go two-for-two with a post about the new Vermeer exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale tomorrow, so stop by!

Photos provided courtesy of Zetema Ufficio Stampa unless otherwise noted.