Sheer Italian style

by Agneta de Bekassy
The habitation-Italian ambassador

by Agneta de Bekassy

Who goes to go to work in a Maserati, James Bond? Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible? No, the new Italian Ambassador to Thailand!

Italy has a new Ambassador in Thailand, Signor Lorenzo Galanti has arrived in Bangkok. On a November afternoon, photographer Daniel Herron and I went to meet the new Italian Ambassador to Thailand Signor Lorenzo Galanti and and his wife, Signora Francesca Andreini. A young and stylish couple who now live in the 100 years old residence in Silom. Today there are not too many old villas left unfortunately. It is early afternoon and Lorenzo has taken a couple of hours off from his busy schedule to meet us.

 Lorenzo has a striking presence, as he is very tall, slim and good looking. Born in Stuttgart, in Germany in 1968. He did his studies in Florence, where he also met his lovely wife Francesca, who was also a student in the same city. Lorenzo graduated in 1992 in political science and started his diplomatic career in 1993 at the Department of Cultural Affairs. He joined the National Military Service in the Air Force in 1994 and returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1995. He served as First Secretary at the Italian Embassy in Damascus from 1997 to 2001, mainly in the commercial section. In 2001 he and his family moved to Dakar, Senegal, and he worked at the Embassy, its competence stretching over a large chunk of West Africa, seven countries, from Mauritania to Guinee Conakry and from Mali to Cape Verde. He was Deputy Head of Mission there until 2005. The family moved back to Rome and Lorenzo was assigned to the Directorate General for Human Resources until 2007, when he was appointed Head of the Office of the Secretary General.

In 2010 they moved to Washington DC, and Lorenzo worked as First Counsellor for Economic Affairs, Science and Technology, a very challenging time in his career he fondly recalls. In 2014 it was time to go back to the Ministry in Italy again where Lorenzo became chief of staff to an Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, travelling to 56 countries in four years. That’s when he became keenly interested in SE Asia, which he visited numerous times. In 2018 he was appointed Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand.

Mr.Signor Lorenzo Galanti
Mr.Signor Lorenzo Galanti

Now we can talk about a straightforward career. Lorenzo had always dreamt of becoming a diplomat as he was always interested in international relations, economics and history. But he had to promise to his then girlfriend Francesca, who wasn’t very pleased with this perspective, that he just would try once to join the Foreign Service and should he fail, he would drop it.

Italian ambassador on-event
Signor Lorenzo Galanti-speech

Francesca tells us that she was not happy at all about him succeeding at his first try and I had to ask why? She looked at me in surprise and said;“ Well, I also wanted to have a career and that is rather difficult if you marry a diplomat”. She’s right of course, as the spouse of an Ambassador you have to put your own job to the side to follow and support your partner.

I asked Francesca what she did before marrying Lorenzo. She had been working for television and advertising in Rome, but she put that on ice as they left for Syria in 1997. Syria I said surprisingly? “Yes, at that time Syria was a beautiful place with just a few tourists and it was very peaceful.” Hard to believe when you see what’s happening in the country today. “We felt very safe and we could easily travel everywhere and visit its impressive archeological sites”, they both pointed out. At that time their first daughter was just one year old. After Syria they moved on to Dakar, Senegal and arrived “just two weeks before the 9/11 attacks in the US” Lorenzo recalls.

I was curious to hear their opinion about Dakar, as I have friends working there for the UN and they are not very pleased with their stay; Lorenzo and Francesca on the contrary loved it very much and it was here that their third child, a son, was born. The couple have three children; the second daughter was born in Florence.

“It was quite fun and charming, in Dakar and I was called “Madame Dakar” Francesca said. The locals made a big difference between the tourists and the expats who lived there. I could, without problem, walk around by myself without being anxious.”

Italian ambassador with-Family

When the family moved back to Rome in 2005, Francesca started working with movies. She was asked to write several screenplays and spent a couple of years on these projects. She admits, however, that she was very disappointed, as none of them were never finished due to lack of financial support. Here she says with pride that their first born daughter Ilaria, graduated last year in Cinematography from RUFA – the University of Fine Arts in Rome – and seems to have inherited her mother’s interest in moviemaking. She has already opened a studio with some colleagues, all men, and they are now producing documentaries, video clips, short movies and advertising projects.

The second daughter Erica has taken after her father; she is interested in international politics and is very serious about sustainability and climate change. She is now studying Political Science at LUISS University in Rome but Lorenzo quickly let us know that he has not influenced her at all. “I haven’t been forcing her, it’s her own choice,” he says seriously, you can sense how proud he is of her.

So what about the son Federico, the last born? “He attends the French International School here,” Lorenzo says, “as all three children have done everywhere we have lived before.”

 During their years in Washington DC, Francesca worked for a networking organisation and created activities for groups of Italian speaking people, and different cultural events including a book club. We were impressed when she told us she has even published two books – an historical novel in 2009, and a journal on her Washingtonian experience in 2014 – and has contributed for over ten years for a literary review on line, Zibaldoni e altre meraviglie. Her last years in Rome she has worked for a literary club creating events and keeping courses of creative writing which were a great success.

This family is quite involved with literature and music. When I asked about the son and what he liked about moving to Bangkok, I’m answered that before leaving he had told his parents, “If we move there, I absolutely want two things. To continue playing the piano and soccer, and to follow my football team on TV.” Lorenzo proudly says that his son is very fond of classic, jazz and blues music. What about you, I asked? “Well, I play the guitar and I have a passion for Elvis Presley” Lorenzo says with a laugh. Francesca points out that he is quite good at singing and playing. The Ambassador even admits he has performed in public as a teenager. Here we have a talented family and who knows, if we are lucky we might get to hear an Italian Elvis someday… Both Lorenzo and Francesca are early birds. They start every morning at 6.30am with the “Five Tibetans.” I confess, I didn’t know that it is a kind of yoga. “After this exercise we have a good, healthy breakfast and I usually fast walk on the treadmill for a while” Lorenzo tells me.

Italian-pasta-dinner

He arrives at the Embassy around 8.45am in his beautiful Maserati. You can say whatever you want, but the Italians certainly have class, be it in car design, wines or garments, in my opinion they are the leaders in style.

I asked the question what he, during his time in Bangkok, would like to focus on.

“I aim to further improve relations between Italy and Thailand; there is a lot of potential. Italy can be of help when it comes to infrastructure, building highways, railways, advanced manufacturing, the creative industry. I also aim to promote Italian products and to attract more Thai investments to Italy. Central Group e.g. acquired the well-known brand La Rinascente, whose department stores are located in the historic city centres of Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence, etc. The La Rinascente malls are a much sought destination for tourists – also Thais – who enjoy some luxury shopping.” Last year 265,000 Italian tourists came to Thailand and the number is increasing month by month in 2018. About 40,000 Thai tourists per year visit Italy, many of them high spenders, keen to purchase luxury and interested in Italian style. “We have just opened an office for tourism promotion at the Embassy to encourage more Thais to come and visit.” Recently an Italian airline, AirItaly, started four direct flights a week between Milan-Bangkok, which add up to the direct connections by Thai Airways to Milan and Rome.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and Thailand and the Embassy has celebrated the anniversary with a vast programme of cultural events – branded as Italian Festival in Thailand – that includes movies, concerts, exhibits, culinary events, lectures, etc.

Italians really are blessed and excel in arts and culture!

Italy and Thailand also have a student exchange programme and this is something Lorenzo would like to improve on too.

The Italian Embassy in Bangkok is a middle size Embassy with about thirty employees, a mixture of locals and expats. The consular department accounts for most of the work. Today at least 5,000 Italians are living here, but probably more, as not everyone is registered with the Embassy Lorenzo explains. As the family only has been here a few months, you can’t expect them to know much Thai. They learned to speak Arabic while living in the Middle East and they will start with Thai lessons soon. I’m convinced that they will pick up at least, what I call Tuk Tuk Thai, quickly.

Whilst Lorenzo follows his ambassadorial duties, his wife will take part in SHOM activities. She also gives lectures at the Chulalongkorn University in Western literature, and Italian culture. As if this and the many events and functions she attends in Thailand wouldn’t be enough to keep her busy, she is also producing tutorials on creative writing based on the last workshop she held in Rome, whose aim was to teach how to overcome the writer’s block.

Mr. Signora Galanti at Central Worlds

To me it sounds like none of them will be bored. Like all Italians they like good food. Francesca confesses that she has problems eating ‘too spicy’ Thai food, but Lorenzo says he can and actually he enjoys it. We talk about restaurants in Bangkok and how many excellent Italian restaurants you can find here, amongst other cuisines. The diplomat that Lorenzo is, he didn’t want to name any special restaurant. Daniel and I knew that Lorenzo had to hurry back to the office, so despite it being a cosy afternoon and we could have stayed much longer, I quickly asked my last and favorite question.

If you would have the possibility to choose one person to dine in privacy with, who would you care for Lorenzo? I saw that he wanted to say “Francesca”, but begged him to think of someone else and he said “an Italian citizen in a hundred years from now”, an unique and interesting choice!

Francesca immediately mentioned Daisaku Ikeda, someone I’d never heard of, and who she thinks should win the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the head of the Soka Gakkai (a Japanese Buddhist religious movement based on the teachings of the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren as taught by its first three presidents Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, Jōsei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. The organisation promotes its goals as supporting “peace, culture, and education” and nowadays counts approximately 12 million practitioners in 192 countries, Wikipedia says.)

Well, I just learned something new… After our interesting talk, the photographer Daniel and I took a few photos in the villa and then moved out into the greenish garden with its inviting swimming pool. It’s a real beautiful and very cosy residence for an international family.

We were very lucky to get a lift to the MRT in the Ambassador’s Maserati, all together another feeling than going by tuk tuk or taxi, pure luxury.

Thank you Lorenzo and Francesca Galanti. We wish you a very happy stay in Bangkok and feel sure that you are the perfect replacement to take over from Francesco Saverio Nisio.

Thank you Lorenzo and Francesca Galanti. We wish you a very happy stay in Bangkok and feel sure that you are the perfect replacement to take over from Francesco Saverio Nisio.

The architecture-boat
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