The long goodbye

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Giorgio Guglielmino - The Philippine Star

Is there an ideal way to leave a city you lived in for four years? I would say no, too many variants intersect, depending on the situations that have been experienced and the people you have met.

The excitement of a new adventure that is about to begin is always associated with a streak of melancholy about the city and the people you are about to leave. A small number of people I will meet again in the years to come, but most I will never see again.

How to overcome melancholy and sadness? Once I thought that a solution could be to organize a farewell dinner not with the closest people, not with the friends, not with the most interesting people I have met in recent years, but just the opposite. A farewell dinner with the most unpleasant people whom I have met in four years. Seeing them all together around a table it would be easy and natural to think “Luckily I’m leaving!” With no regrets! But obviously it is unthinkable to organize such a dinner.

What to do then? This time the pandemic solved the problem for me. No receptions, no dinners, no invitations. Just a few friends who live in the same compound I greeted briefly (Luis, Margarit), a burger delivered at home and shared (Marcel), a coffee in the embassy with two of the people (Isa and Rachel) I will remain friends with who passed by for a document. Also some of my best friends are not in Manila right now but abroad (Ben in New York, Cher also in New York and my dear friend Hugo newly-dad in London) so I wouldn’t have been able to say hello in any case.

The last few days, therefore, instead of organizing dinners, menus and placements at the table have been dedicated to retracing what good I have perhaps been able to do in these four years in Manila.

The most beautiful project I managed to carry out was undoubtedly the exhibition “Arte Povera. Italian landscape” curated by Danilo Eccher which opened at the beginning of February 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila, thanks also to the lovely collaboration of its director Tina Colayco. The exhibition should have opened a year earlier at the MCAD space in Manila but the whims and excesses of its director Joselina Cruz caused the collaboration to skip. But it is important that in the end the exhibition was done. It was the most important exhibition of Italian contemporary art ever presented in Asia and it made possible to show works of such an artistic and historical level that the MOMA in New York or the Tate Modern in London would have been more than happy to host.

The embassy offices have been moved from an old Makati building to new modern spaces on McKinley Hill providing a more professional, contemporary and dynamic image of Italy. This is perfectly in line with the idea I have always had about presenting my country abroad. I am not interested in promoting the Renaissance or the Italian cinema of neorealism, classical cuisine or the beauties of Pompeii. I take it for granted that these things are known. I always wanted to show a new moving Italy which does not sit on its laurels. This is the Ambassador’s job, otherwise it would be enough to send some nice brochures and a couple of videos on the beauty of the landscape. The visits of cultural personalities, the participation in Art Fair Philippines, the weeks of the “new” Italian cuisine have therefore been part of this line of thought.

I also thought about the “Portfolio 2020” initiative set up together with Hugo Bunzl to reward selected Filipino artists with an important financial help as well as the “7000 islands” portfolio dedicated to the Philippines consisting of lithographic works by three Italian artists who questioned themselves on the physical and metaphorical subject matter of the island. Italy is a living country and I hope I have been able to show this over the years.

On leaving Manila I’ll think about all this. And with me leaves Ailene too, partner of a lifetime.

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Giorgio Guglielmino ends his tour of duty as Italian ambassador to the Philippines.

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