President Barack Obama on Tuesday held one of the largest state dinners of his tenure to celebrate the “enduring alliance” between the US and Italy.
The soiree for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was the 13th and final state dinner for Obama, who leaves office in January. “Bittersweet” was the word several guests chose to describe the evening.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said it’s “a little sad” that it’s Obama’s last state dinner. But to make the occasion even more memorable, he said, “For tonight only, I pronounce my name ‘Canoli,’ not ‘Connolly.”
Johnny Wright, who styles Michelle Obama’s hair, also described the moment as “bittersweet,” but he, too, was excited to have been invited.
Others sought to inject some levity into the evening.
“We’re Jews, but we identify as Italian,” joked comedian Jerry Seinfeld. By way of explaining why the Obamas may have invited him and his wife, Jessica, Seinfeld said they spend a lot of time traveling in Italy “and we almost exclusively go out for Italian food, but that’s as far as I can figure.”
Other guests of Italian heritage included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the highest-ranking Italian-American in U.S. politics; former race car driver Mario Andretti, who sported socks designed like a checkered racing flag; fashion designer Giorgio Armani; actor John Turturro; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; and actor-director Roberto Benigni.
Mrs. Obama wore a rose gold chainmail gown from Italian label Atelier Versace, the White House said. Other women also went Italian in their choice of attire, clothing themselves in designs by Valentino, Roberto Cavalli and others.
In his pre-dinner toast, Obama said American democracy had been graced by a touch of Italy. He noted that the Lincoln Memorial and the interior of the U.S. Capitol dome were done by Italians, and raised a glass to the two nations’ “enduring alliance.”
Obama has held 13 state dinners during nearly eight years in office — two more than President George W. Bush, but fewer than other recent predecessors, according to the White House Historical Association. President Bill Clinton far exceeded both of his successors with 28 dinners during his two terms in office.