Ragini Gupta, Consul General in Florence, tells us about her favourite places in the city
Our interview with the consul, who arrived in Florence in July 2020
“I still remember the exciting moment when my family and I were about to land in Florence, and we suddenly glimpsed the Dome of the Cathedral from the window of the plane. Amazing ... we were just a few meters from that world-famous symbol of the city. I give thanks every day for having the opportunity to experience this city’s richness, beauty and heritage“. The speaker is Ragini Gupta, United States Consul General stationed in Florence since July 2020. A New York lawyer, she joined the United States diplomatic service in 2002. She is married to a career diplomat and is the mother of two children aged 14 and 10. With great empathy and positivity, she opened the doors of the beautiful American Consulate, overlooking the Arno river.
Ms Gupta, what does being Consul General in Florence mean to you?
It means strengthening the already very close relations between us, between the American people, the United States of America and Tuscany. The priorities of my mandate are first and foremost the well-being and safety of American residents and also of the employees of the consulate. Another important objective, linked to the critical effects of the pandemic, is to promote and facilitate bilateral investments to stimulate the shared economic recovery. Another priority is to encourage the return of American students and tourists to Florence. In my opinion, our geostrategic partnership, already so important and fundamental, is based on a true and real friendship. This friendship is built on experiences, memories, relationships, tourism, study, cultural exchange, emigration, social and personal relationships between us.
Which Americans who have lived in Florence do you like to recall?
Being a diplomat, I remember the first American ambassador to Italy, George Marsh who was appointed to the post by President Abraham Lincoln. He lived in Florence at the time when it was the capital of the newly-founded Kingdom of Italy. Marsh loved both the city and the countryside - he was a great admirer of Vallombrosa, its woods and the ancient abbey. Something I also share - I love the city but also everything around us. I am captivated by the natural beauty that surrounds Florence, and each weekend I like to explore new places in the countryside. In short, I often feel as if I am walking in George Marsh’s footsteps.
Florence is currently hosting an exhibition of works by Jeff Koons, one most esteemed American contemporary artists in the world. What do you admire about his art and his personality?
I lived in New York in the 80s and 90s, years in which Koons became a star, a ‘name’ - as they say in Italy - mentioned everywhere. Since then I have always loved his style, his spirit and upbeat message. In these rather dark times caused by the pandemic, the joy, wonder, and amazement that his works express are very important, and they transport us to a world where we can dream and recover in order to move forward. I think the Jeff Koons exhibition came to Florence at the right time.
Perhaps it also helped bring Americans back to the city.
I believe so, along with American art, American students and tourists are also coming back - the revival is already palpable.
Which are your favourite places in the city?
For me, especially during lockdown, the city became a living museum. Every day, to lift my spirits and draw inspiration, I took wonderful walks. The places that moved me the most are the basilicas of San Miniato, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and the dome of the Cathedral. I walked from one church to another to appreciate their beauty, thank the city, and breathe in the genius that reigns everywhere here in Florence. But I also really like museums: the best known, such as the Uffizi and the Accademia, but also the San Marco Museum and the Medici Chapels. The works preserved in Florentine churches and museums are the masterpieces I studied many years ago when I was a student. Art is an inexhaustible source of inspiration and a stimulus to improve ourselves.
Which are the American Consul’s favourite dishes?
Definitely “bistecca alla Fiorentina”, which I find irresistible, and pasta with wild boar sauce. I had never eaten it before and it is delicious, the flavour is incredible. My family and I love traditional dishes, but we also appreciate innovation in food and wine, so the gourmet cuisine best expressed in your starred restaurants. In Florence and Tuscany there is a food and wine ecosystem of the highest order. You eat well everywhere, whether it’s a Florentine steak in a trattoria or an innovative dish in a starred restaurant.