“The town of Baku struck us immediately”

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The life of a diplomatic spouse is anything but ordinary. Spouses of career diplomats must combine and perfectly harmonize family life, professional commitments, education and responsibilities.

At the new, September – December 2016 edition, we introduce the ‘Diplomatic Spouse’ section where we meet and discuss with the spouses of ambassadors in Baku to find out about interesting and important aspects of their lives, their experiences and thoughts.

Mrs. Elisabetta Cutillo

Spouse of the Italian Ambassador to Azerbaijan

Q. What does it feel like to be the spouse of a diplomat?

When I first met my husband, I hardly had any idea of what our life together would be and even less about my role in his professional life.

At that time, I had just graduated with highest marks in Law and I was totally focused on my future career as a magistrate in Italy. Then, so unexpectedly, on a quiet Roman evening, I stumbled into Love and my route in life changed so radically….

Today, twenty years later, I know that was the right route, the one which took me to “a real journey into new lands and gave me new eyes”, to put it with Proust.         

I feel it as a honor, for me and my family, to represent our Country as best as we can, being committed to establish bonds of peace and respect with the Peoples who are hosting us, also through a constant study and a deep humility.

Q. It’s said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How it manifests itself in your family?

I find it more appropriate to say that alongside a successful man, there’s always a successful woman; success meaning to me that our dignity and self-respect stays unchanged, for all the defeats we may experience in life.    

Q. Could you describe a day in your life as a couple, outside of political engagements, which probably take most of your time?

Leaving aside the very many professional engagements, we live a simple family life with our daughter Eloisa. As any good Italian family we love to share the joys of food and conversation, as well as to watch a movie -which we use to debate, sometimes even heatedly (Italian temper!)-, or to walk to museums and arts exhibitions, enjoy a good book and, of course, seeing friends. From that point of view, as we use to say, our home is a busy sea harbor!             

Q. How long have you been in Azerbaijan and what do you enjoy most about living here?

It’s already three years and time passed so quickly! Our stay in Baku has been wonderful. This town struck us immediately, both for its ancient beauties and the way they have been harmonized with stunning contemporary architectures, which broke away from the rigid Soviet past.

The peaceful and hospitable nature of the Azerbaijani people, and their spontaneous liking for us Italians, as well as, so many interesting and amazing experiences, including the First European Games and Baku’s Formula 1 Grand Prix, have all added up a unique and unforgettable touch to our stay here.

Q. What activities do you have in Baku?

I love to meet people, mingle as much as possible with the local society and make good friends.  

I also spend a good time reading, as this is a very important way to learn on most topics concerning the host Country. As a music lover, I have for instance “discovered” Azerbaijan’s traditional Mugham, acknowledged by UNESCO as a world oral and immaterial heritage. I can say the same about arts, and I try to attend local artists’ exhibitions as much as I can.

I love to meet people, mingle as much as possible with the local society and make good friends.  

I also spend a good time reading, as this is a very important way to learn on most topics concerning the host Country. As a music lover, I have for instance “discovered” Azerbaijan’s traditional Mugham, acknowledged by UNESCO as a world oral and immaterial heritage. I can say the same about arts, and I try to attend local artists’ exhibitions as much as I can.

Q. What was your opinion about Azerbaijan before being posted here and how has it evolved over the past three years?

Several years ago, by a lucky coincidence, I read that wonderful novel “Ali and Nino”, by Kurban Said (aka Lev Nussimbaum, or Essad Bey. He today lies in our beautiful Positano!).

The novel tells of the love story between Nino, a Georgian and Christian, and Ali, an Azerbaijani Muslim, which unfolds through a dramatic and decisive time, at the fall of the Tsarist Empire.

In my opinion, this book is a perfect portray of Azerbaijan’s soul, the meeting between East and Europe, the desert and the green mountains, passion and honor, the fierce awareness of one’s identity and the harmonious mix of different cultures. This is exactly what I have found here.

Q. How do you assess Azerbaijani women compared to European and Middle Eastern women?

General commonplaces are always tricky… Europe is so deeply diverse in its culture. Mediterranean Countries, for instance, have a well different imprint from Nordic ones.        

What I can say, however, is that most of the women I have met here, from different social backgrounds, have proved to be farsighted, brave and gifted, as well as very much aware of the way ahead of them and of their rights and opportunities. I believe it’s important to listen to their voices, to encourage their achievements and support them in their endeavors. 

The figure of the First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, is an outstanding example of active participation to the Country’s life and a model, not only for the women of Azerbaijan.      

Q. It’s said that there are similarities between Italian and Azeri men. Do you agree with this opinion?

Yes, I think so: they have the same sense of humor….

Q. In which countries and cities did you live over the years because of your husband’s career with the Italian Foreign Service as a diplomat? Which country did you like most and why?

Before moving to Baku, I have lived four years in each of the following Countries: Venezuela (Caracas), Pakistan (Islamabad) and India (Mumbai). All has been extremely precious to me. Each and every place has somehow inspired me with its humanity. I feel a profound and sincere gratitude.

Q. What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

Over the years there have been plenty of difficult and testing times.

The tragic floods which swept Caracas in 1999, as well as the insecurity and high crime affected our daily lives there. War in neighboring Afghanistan and a looming terrorist threat in Pakistan: Islamabad came to the world media’s spotlight after the 9/11 attacks in the US, and that meant to us getting used to constant security alerts and bomb attacks, which happened to hit also people we knew or places we used to go. And then the devastating earthquake of October 2005, which killed 70.000 people in Northern Pakistan, including in the capital, where we lost a good friend and Embassy’s colleague. Last but not least, India: for all its amazing charm and cultural richness, it is a land of extreme complexities and daily challenges.

Difficulties involve also our kids and their education: changing so many places, schools, friends, languages, habits, etc, may look romantic and exciting, but also deprives our children of stable roots, giving their parents the increased responsibility of guiding them though a very uncommon life. And then ageing and ailing parents, who are far from us right in the moment when they would need us most: this is sometimes a very sad and bitter experience.      

The good thing, however, is that in all situations we’ve always had the privilege of finding comfort and warmth in friendship. From that point of view, I like to think that we have acquired several “families” around the world, from many different cultures and religions.

Q. How hard is it to give up your career, since diplomats’ wives are not allowed to work for money outside the EU?

The beginning was hard indeed, as I had to completely change my plans and adjust to a new life. Then I realized how brilliant and stimulating an expat life can be and I started to make the most of it. I am a very curious person and feel enthusiastic when I see by close things which I had considered remote, only to start feeling as remote things which used to look so close.

Why not? All this roaming around unknown destinations gifts my life with always new horizons and that certain touch of mystery which makes me feel alive!

Q. I have seen some of your paintings and I must admit that you are really talented! However, you make art only as a hobby. Tell us a bit about your interest.

Thank you so much! Meeting my friend Turan Muxtarzade, a very talented artist, as well as the unique opportunity to join the art studio of the great maestro Sakit Mammadov, has reignited my first true passion. Art is the space for creativity and the most intimate freedom. You don’t necessarily need to find a sense to your work, having at the same time the chance of feeling the beauty in an all spontaneous way. This is food for the soul. At New York’s Guggenheim Centre, there’s a quote from Kandinsky: “a true work of art speaks immediately to the spectator. The spectator should immediately respond to the work of art”.

Thank you for the interview.

Thank you for the interview and best wishes for an always more peaceful and prosperous future for all people of Azerbaijan. Chok sahol!