A man used to beauty, the Italian Consul General talks about the beauty of Philly

Andrea Canepari, the consul general of Italy in Philadelphia, studied law at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, and sought to be posted here.
Andrea Canepari, the consul general of Italy in Philadelphia, studied law at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, and sought to be posted here. (JENNIFER KERRIGAN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 22, 2016

The Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia would like to invite you for coffee, the invitation read.

The invitation arrived in November. It offered dates in February. The consul general is a busy man, I figured.

"Please come inside," Andrea Canepari said with a smile and the offer of an espresso when I arrived the other afternoon at his ornate office in the Public Ledger Building.

He wore a pin with the Italian and American flags fastened to the lapel of his dark-blue wool suit. He was exceedingly polite. He guided me toward leather armchairs arranged around a marble fireplace. He sat beneath an Italian flag. His window overlooks Independence Hall.

He got right to it. He had been reading my columns. He wanted to discuss our shared love of Philadelphia. How it's too often overlooked and underappreciated.

"I think Philadelphia is a top-class city in the world," he said, earnestly. "I am a passionate advocate of that. I think people here have to believe it as well.

"This is a great city," he said. "This was the first capital of the U.S. This is one of the most European cities in the U.S. that I have been."

Sure, the consul general is a diplomat. He's not going to trash us. But he sounded like a man speaking from conviction. He sounded excited.

And a big part of this column has always been about celebrating Philly for the city it's becoming - about how although we still have far to go, we've come a long way. About seeing ourselves a little differently - as a place we can be proud of.

Well, the consul general is on board. Fully.

That says something because he's a man accustomed to beauty. Raised in Pavia, a beautiful, medieval town in northern Italy, he studied at one of the top business schools in Milan.

Before accepting his post here in 2013, he worked at La Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri, the Italian White House, at a posting in Turkey, and at the Italian Embassy in Washington, as a liaison to Congress.

He's been around. And he knows Philly - how it was a different city even just a short time ago.

After business school and a law degree in Parma, he got a master's of law at Penn in 1999 and headed home to pursue politics.

But while at Penn, he threw himself into the culture of Philadelphia.

"I went to all the concerts," he said. "The opera. The orchestra. I attended the museums - all of the historical places in Philadelphia."

There was that wonderful night he saw famed Italian conductor Riccardo Muti at the Academy of Music. "The Great Muti," he called him.

The night was all the more special because the academy is modeled after Milan's historic Teatro alla Scala opera house. "I mean it was emotional," he said.

But the city felt different then, he said. As if it was on the verge of something.

"There was not that vibrancy that you're feeling right now," he said. "Now it is much more alive. You felt the potentiality, but you did not see it at the time."

Three years ago, he was offered to choose among postings in Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.

"I prefer Philadelphia," he said. "In Philadelphia, you feel a European atmosphere."

He found a changed city upon his return.

"You just feel it," he said. "You really see a vibe."

Canepari, 43, lives with his wife and their two children in the Naval Square area just south of Center City. He loves the new Schuylkill River Trail and the old-world-meets-millennials energy of Passyunk Avenue. He's a huge fan of the Philly Pops.

"I do believe the Philly Pops are another demonstration of the great level of sophistication of the city," he said.

He's doing his best to sell Philly to his fellow countrymen, he said.

But also to his fellow Philadelphians.

Italians know beauty, he said.

"There is a lot of beauty in Philadelphia."

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

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