An Espresso with the Consul-General – Giuseppe Pastorelli
Giuseppe Pastorelli is a busy man. As the Consul-General of Italy in Toronto, he’s the man responsible for integrating the Italian culture into this mosaic of a city and ensuring that the Italian-Canadian love affair never ends. Sitting in his sunlit office at the Italian Consulate of Toronto, he sips a freshly made espresso — his cup emblazoned with l’emblema della Repubblica Italiana — and shares his well-traveled life story and his big, bold plans for Italian-Canadian culture in the Greater Toronto Area.
City Life: Tell me the story of how you made your way to this role, as Toronto’s Italian Consul-General.
Giuseppe Pastorelli: I was born and raised in Rome. I spent my whole life living not only in the same city, but in the same house. I went to the University of Rome to get my law degree, but studying law was never my real passion. I was looking at possible alternatives, and one of them was joining the Foreign Service. So I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the age of 24 and was posted abroad for the first time when I was 26. And from that very moment, actually, my life has changed a lot [laughs].
CL: What drew you to that opportunity? Was it something about going abroad?
GP: It was a mix of elements. My father was a university professor of political science and worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years as the head of the history department, so he was always supporting me in this opportunity. My mother was fiercely against it, since every mother doesn’t want her child to ever leave Rome and Italy [laughs]. But I took the public exam, it went well — and I never looked back.
CL: And ever since you’ve been posted in cities all over the world.
GP: I was posted on my first assignment in Turkey for four years. Then, after that, I was in Hungary. The system works so that after eight consecutive years abroad, you go back to the Ministry for a number of years — for me it was three. While I was back in Rome, I was dealing with Eastern Africa, a completely different kind of experience. So it was an interesting period of time. [Then] I applied for a position in Boston. We had just had our first boy, he was born in Rome — he was three months old when we moved to Boston. Then this position opened up in Toronto, unexpectedly, and here we are.
CL: You’ve lived in and worked with so many different cultures. Was it easy to feel at home here in Toronto because of its multiculturalism?
GP: In Toronto you feel at home because it’s a very multicultural city. I’m so happy that my son has the opportunity to be exposed to such a multicultural city — an opportunity that I didn’t have when growing up in Rome. He has the opportunity to meet with people from different walks of life, coming from different countries. It’s a big plus.
“Canada allows Italians to remain Italians, to be proud Canadians but to continue to feel close to Italy”
CL: Define the relationship between Italy and Canada, and what that means for the Italian-Canadian identity.
GP: We have to be grateful to Canada. It’s a country that gave an opportunity to so many Italians to find their way and also to find economic success. But most importantly, Canada allows Italians to remain Italians, to be proud Canadians, but to nurture their heritage and language and continue to feel close to Italy. That connection is very strong and alive.
CL: You’re known and loved for not just sitting behind a desk, but being out there in the community and integrating the Italian culture. Can you tell me what inspired that passion in you?
GP: There are two ways to do this job. You can sit behind a desk — and that’s also an important part of the work — but you must be very active outside of the office. And our priorities are promoting Italy in terms of language, in terms of culture, in terms of economic and scientific relations with Canada. If you are passionate about what you do, and you are passionate about promoting Italy, in Toronto you will find very fertile ground, not only because of the amount of Italians that are living here, but also because of the passion and the love that many Canadians have for Italy, its culture, fashion, food and lifestyle.
CL: You’ve also been praised for creating a more user-friendly experience here at the consulate. How have you made life easier for those coming through these doors?
GP: We have a community of more than 70,000 people holding an Italian passport. Having such big numbers, with limited resources, you have to set up priorities. We definitely want to give the best service possible. We enhanced the telephone service with someone responding from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every working day and we have a dedicated line for emergencies during holidays and the weekends. You can write an e-mail to us and within 24 hours you will get a response. We have been much more active in our communication strategy, so we send information to Italians who live here to tell them about news they may be interested in. We keep our website always updated and we’ve been much more active on social media in order to get the message out. We did upgrades to the waiting room — finally you can watch Rai Italia — and in 2017 we’ll continue and set up an area for kids while their parents wait.
CL: Speaking of kids, you have two of your own?
GP: Yes, six and two. My youngest, my daughter, was actually born in Toronto!
CL: How did you and your wife meet?
GP: My wife is Hungarian. We met when I was serving in Budapest, so we married in Hungary, then moved together to Italy. We had our first son and then we went to Boston. She helps me a lot in terms of when I plan and execute ideas to promote Italy, and she also takes care of our family — so she has sort of a double job [laughs]. She’s the most important asset I have and the love of my life!
CL: Your four-year term in Toronto began in 2013. Where will you be going after Toronto?
GP: Since my eight consecutive years abroad will be up by the summer of 2018, I’ll go back to Italy.
CL: What’s an average day like for you?
GP: Well, you know, from Monday to Friday, waking up at 7 a.m., preparing breakfast for the kids, then bringing my son to school. From there I go to the office for a day of meetings or writing reports or working on new initiatives. Then I go back home and by 7:30 p.m. I have dinner with my family. On those nights when I have to go out for work reasons, I always try to go with my wife as well, so at least we can have some time together. During the weekends I just relax, or during the busier seasons I make it out to the many Italian functions going on in our area, especially in Vaughan.
CL: What’s next for the consulate this year?
GP: In 2017 we’re continuing a number of series that we started to showcase Italy. We organize them in close collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute and the Italian Trade Commission. We are flying in top chefs from Italy to spend a day with George Brown College students of the Italian Culinary Program and to prepare a charity dinner at Buca, with proceeds going towards scholarships. The next dinner, with three-star Michelin chef Heinz Beck, will be on March 21. Mark your calendar! We also have a series about science and innovation with the University of Toronto called “Italy Inspires Canada,” where we invite top figures from Italy to talk about topics of common interest. For example, we had the first Italian female astronaut in 2015. Then we have another series with Jazz FM where we fly in young Italian jazz pianists — the next one will play on February 7 at Jazz Bistro. We are also prepping up for Italian National Day in June at Casa Loma with over 5,000 participants. We do it together with the major Italian and Italian-Canadian organizations, and this year we will showcase Italian-Canadian artists to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. We also follow very closely an interesting initiative in the community, spearheaded by Corrado Paina and Justice Frank Iacobucci, to talk about the future of the Italian-Canadian identity.
CL: Wow, busy year!
GP: We try! Otherwise we get bored, no? [Laughs]
Photos by Jesse Milns