Bridging Italian, Vietnamese cultures

May 30, 2006


Nguyen Huu Hung is a cultural ambassador – this year he is organising a festival that treats Italians to a little taste of Vietnamese culture. My Ha reports.

For one month from June 16 to July 16, The Dragon and Butterfly Festival treats audiences in Rome to a feast of food, fashion, film screenings and art exhibitions. Helping to make it happen is Nguyen Huu Hung, who has lived in Italy for 24 years. Hungactivities range from promoting Vietnamese trade to culture, education to sport and tourism to the arts. Awarded the Knighthood by the President of Italy for his work on promoting the relationship between Viet Nam and Italy, Hung spoke about the sweet and elegant Vietnamese "invasion" of Rome’s Spring festival.

Inner Sanctum: What is the weather like in Rome in June?

It will be very nice with temperatures at 25oC, while June is the hottest month in Ha Noi.

Inner Sanctum: How did you come up with the idea for such a big cultural event for Viet Nam?

Well, it is actually a two-sided story. First, journalist Corrado Ruggeri fell in love with Viet Nam. He also has a good relationship with the Roma Province government. Second, the Italian Embassy in Ha Noi is giving tourist visas to participants for free and I added my personal lobby efforts to this as well. It took one year for all our efforts to finally come together. The festival is called Dragon and Butterflies representing the country (dragon) and the ao dai (butterflies), as Ruggeri visualises.

Inner Sanctum: Besides the war with the US, what impression do Italians have of Viet Nam?

Italians don’t know Viet Nam well at all. During the war in Viet Nam, Italy as a country with a non-communist government sided with the Vietnamese people. In Italy, the Communist Party was very strong at that time for a non-communist country. I once saw a photo of a demonstration in 1968 in Rome, where I saw so many yellow starred and blue and red flags.

The students who took to the streets to protest against the war in Viet Nam were then called the sessantotini (the sixtiers). They are now in their sixties and many of them have had successful careers. They had lived with Viet Nam during the most beautiful years of their youth and now they would be delighted to visit the country in person. Many of them want to go to Viet Nam, but they still don’t know how.

Our company once participated in a tourism exhibition and many Italians were very surprised to see our booth. They asked when had Viet Nam opened to international tourists. They wanted to know if it’s safe to travel in Viet Nam and whether they could find bread to eat.

For all these reasons, we are very enthusiastic to prepare for this event.

Inner Sanctum: Besides the cultural activities, what tourism activities are you looking at?

There will be seminars on economic trends and tourism and investment opportunities in Viet Nam. Those who have some interest in Viet Nam were very delighted to hear General Giap’s speech during the 10th Congress of the Communist Party in Ha Noi. His call for rejuvenating the leadership and proceeding with further reforms received considerable approval among the sessantotini.

Inner Sanctum: The Roma Spring Festival attracts about three million tourists. What do you hope to achieve at the festival?

We hope to leave a positive image of Viet Nam not only with Italian people but also international tourists who visit Rome during this time. We also hope that Vietnamese artists get a chance to display their works in the heart of the world of art, and will therefore be more confident with their works.

With the food presentation at the Theatro della Cucina (Cooking Theatre) in the Citta del gusto (City of tastes), we hope that Vietnamese food will be tasted by Italy’s best food critics, who could recommend Italian wines to accompany the dishes.

I think at this series of events, many Italians will find out that Italy and Viet Nam has a lot in common. One of the ingredients used in ancient cooking called gacum comprises of anchovy and salt and it tastes exactly like nuoc mam, or the fish sauce of Viet Nam.

Inner Sanctum: What can you tell me about the films that will be shown during the festival?

The films are the last things we add to the programme. As you can see they are mostly directed by overseas Vietnamese directors. We want to include films made by directors who live in the country, but the films did not have English subtitles, so we could not show them. It is a pity.

Inner Sanctum: The former Italian ambassador once said that archaeologists have found in the Hong (Red) River Delta an ancient coin of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. What do you think of that comment in correlation with today’s "invasion"?

It’s like getting into the cave to catch the tiger. (Hung quotes a popular Vietnamese saying).

Inner Sanctum: What do you think of the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans"?

Well, it is true. But for one month, you can do as Vietnamese do. — VNS

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