Q & A with spouse of the Italian Ambassador to Azerbaijan
M.D. Maria Enrica Stajano describes the last 27 years supporting the family while her husband, Ambassador Claudio Taffuri, developed Italy’s foreign policy. She recounts the exciting destinations she has lived, but more interestingly, the challenging times they experienced during their appointments. Not only does she comment on Italian culture, but also recommends following the work of a Russian author who was a prominent writer of French literature in the second half of the 20th century. This accomplished spouse manages to simultaneously balance the care for her family during international postings, but also as a Medical Director whenever she’s back in Rome.
BY KELLY CHAIB DE MARES
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Could you tell our readers about your background?
Answer: I was born in Gallipoli, a beautiful walled city on the Ionian Sea of the Puglia region, much like Baku’s Old City. It’s a small old island town with a circular planimetry connected to the mainland by a 16th century bridge, with imposing walls of fortification – originally built to protect against enemy aggressions – and narrow, winding alleys to protect from the strong winds, with beautiful, Baroque-style noble palaces among small houses, opening directly onto the street. Not only is the architecture very similar in both cities, as in Gallipoli, people are charming and welcoming here. In addition, the delicious Mediterranean cuisine offered in modern Baku makes me feel at home here!
I never thought to live abroad. When I was a teenager in Italy, students were sent to different middle schools according to the foreign languages they would need in their careers. As English was the working language, most boys were sent to them, and the girls were sent to French school to learn a more romantic language. Of course, I wanted to study English to enjoy spending summers in London practicing it, but instead, my second language is French.
So as planned, I studied medicine in Rome and achieved my degree as an endocrinologist specialist. Then, when I was working as a general medical doctor in a private clinic, I met Claudio [Ed. Note: Claudio Taffuri, Ambassador of Italy to Azerbaijan], and that is how our life around the world began.
I must say that I was able to accept this challenge of supporting Claudio in his diplomatic career because my profession gives me the independence that I need in my life. That is why, when we return to Italy, I work as a Medical Director for the Public Health Service, especially in the Fragility and Handicap Service.
Q.: Have you tried working in your appointment countries?
A.: No, I only develop my professional career when we are back in Italy. It is tough to move to a different country, all the logistics implied, rebuild our home, support the children setting up their lives again; we do not need more pressure.
Precisely, what I love about my life is that I can combine being a housewife, and dedicate myself to my family when we are abroad, then resume my professional development when we are back home. Every time we go back to Italy, my director welcomes me to decide my own choices in my job, because good doctors are never enough. Being able to continue with my professional career has been very important to me; therefore I value the independence I have in my marriage!
Q.: What life experiences have the different postings left you?
A.: Each place has built a part of the person I am now. We have been able to enjoy each country and overcome the difficulties in each destination.
Our first posting was in Mozambique; in 1995, we settled down with our three month-old girl. I carried with us all the vaccines and carried out her early-years vaccination program. We arrived after the Civil War, so we witnessed the reconstruction period; everything was restarting, so we lived there through a period of bustling but positive activity.
The next posting abroad was in Serbia / Kosovo. I arrived in Belgrade, with our three year-old daughter in June 1999 right after the end of the war. Claudio was already in the Embassy since January, and remained in Belgrade during the war. However, the most challenging part for our family was the last two years because I stayed with our daughter in Belgrade, Serbia, while Claudio was in Pristina, Kosovo, but he travelled every weekend to see us. Life was rewarding though with the good Ambassador we were working with. Since he was appointed there alone, I helped with the Embassy’s protocol and cultural activity; I learned a lot during this period, about hospitality, grande maestro.
Later in Rome, our baby boy was born. Then in 2007, following our Ambassador from Serbia, we ended up in Geneva. In the beginning it was difficult for me to settle down, as it was cold and grey, however I found an excellent Italian community in this cosmopolitan posting. Then we moved back to Rome again, living the typical family life, with a full-time job and each one fulfilling their own commitments with different schedules, stressful times.
Finally, the time to relax with the grown kids was in Ottawa; Claudio’s first appointment as an Ambassador. However, during the hard stage of the Covid 19 outbreak, I was forced to discover sports, so we spent a lot of time canoeing, skiing and trekking.
Q.: Just coming from Canada, how do you describe your experience settling down in Baku?
A.: Personally, I prefer city life, just like Baku. With the strong winter, Canada is more about enjoying the beautiful nature. Baku is a lovely, welcoming, warm and unique city. We feel the history and the perfect integration of cultures that is evident in the architecture, people, restaurants, fashion, in everything. With secularism, religion is not mandatory; it is just an option, an opportunity. It is a friendly way to live.
Q.: What do you consider to be the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the life of a diplomat’s family?
A.: I try my best for the family, and then I see how it goes. It is a very stressful situation since I look over my family in all aspects and as a doctor, especially their health. The main disadvantage is that with each move you lose around six months of your life trying to understand where you are, adding a grade of complexity when the children are teenagers, who obviously do not like the situation and need extra support restarting their lives.
Nevertheless, being a diplomat’s spouse is an enriching journey of self-discovery; it is like a stimulant. You have the opportunity to build a new home and set new ways of life each time. It is also very convenient for the couple, considering there is no room for monotony, and the children eventually understand how lucky they are.
Q.: How do you plan to take advantage of what Azerbaijan offers to develop your projects?
A.: I do not plan much; I generally rely on my feelings and my capability to take advantage of the situation. So far, as in the previous postings, the first project I dedicate myself to is building our home. We need to make the new place our own. We cannot live four years in someone else’s house. In Baku, we have decided to expand the residence and move the Embassy to a different location to give the office more independence. So I have been immersed in the rebuilding and modernization work.
This is our first appointment without the children, which means I will have more time for myself. Maybe I would find a spot where I can contribute more to the bilateral relations between Italy and Azerbaijan and focus my efforts on supporting my husband directly in diplomacy development.
Q.: Do you consider yourself a model to follow, by women in your host country? What message do you have for young Azerbaijani women?
A.: I haven’t met many Azerbaijani women yet. What I can see in the streets, restaurants or the supermarkets, are free women. I also see groups of women spending time together with their children. But I am not aware of the actual condition of the women in Azerbaijan. In Italy, the women are free as well, and beautiful and well dressed, but we know that we still need to use the “Pink Quotas” to get important jobs in the workplace. For example, we still have problems understanding the meaning of women’s rights.
Q.: Italy is a famous country. Do you have any interesting facts the public wouldn’t know about?
A.: It is incredible how famous my country is; there have been times when I felt embarrassed with people knowing more specific details about Italy than I do.
Q.: What kind of art or culture lover are you?
A.: Everything with words, since I cannot feel the music, I pay all my attention to lyrics and librettos. It is tough for me to enjoy a concert; I need to do something while listening to music; for me, music is movement. I like theatre, and I love opera, indeed, it is about choreography, colours and scripts.
Q.: Do you have a must-read book recommendation?
A.: Our books always follow us, and I feel the need to return to them once in a while. Ten days ago, we built a bookshelf that the residence was missing. Lately, I have been reading Stephen King, considering him a must-read, but I’m not sure I really love him.
What I do recommend is the complete works of Romain Gary, who was born in the Russian Empire and is a major writer of French literature of the 20th century. I feel the need to share his books. I have no words to describe him; he was a brave man, capable of living and telling stories with irony and modesty. For similar reasons, I would recommend Oriana Fallaci and Italo Calvino.
I admire Oriana Fallaci since her values are the foundation of a free spirit. She was born into an anti-fascist family and was part of the resistance denouncing the dictatorship’s violence and speaking out for the people who were subjugated. With her books, she fought against Islamic fundamentalism, but also against the mediocre western rules based on preconceptions and the restraints of politically correct language.
I also love thrillers, and the number one on my podium, remains Jo Nesbo.
Q.: Do you fit into any Italian stereotype? Are you a soccer fanatic? Maybe design amateur? Or are you obsessed with coffee?
A.: I can say that part of me is a typical Italian. I like to design, not as a professional, but I love to spend my time understanding if “a candle is good there or better in another place”; I love cooking and even better if it is Italian food; and I do think all opera is bellissima. However, I do not follow football other than the World Cup when Italy is playing; I just have a cup of coffee in the mornings, and I prefer a Martini Cocktail to a Prosecco.