MY MENTORS. Patrizia di Carrobio: Passionate Curiosity
Before transferring from China to New York I thought that everything would be much easier: no problems with the language, no big adjustments to a different culture. I was wrong. New York was tough, much tougher than I’d ever imagined. Even though when I first arrived in Beijing I could barely express myself with my very limited Chinese and I did not know how to move around the city, after a short while I got used to my new world.
My Chinese improved, and I discovered a universal language consisting of gestures and smiles.
In New York, on the contrary, I realized that knowing the language was not enough to communicate with people. It took me some time to settle in the city and begin to find my way.
One person was instrumental in this process and gradually, spontaneously showed me how to approach New York by opening my mind to the infinite opportunities all around me.
A natural curiosity for anything unknown.
A few months after my arrival I was invited to a dinner where Patrizia was among the guests. A precious stones dealer, Patrizia started her career at Christie’s, where she became the first woman auctioneer in the jewelry department. Now she is an entrepreneur in the business.
She was born in Canada to Italian parents, lived for many years in Brussels and, after marrying, moved to New York where she has lived for almost her entire life. Ever since leaving China, I could not stop talking about it, and that night was no exception, as Patrizia was genuinely curious about my experiences there. I look back on that night as the first time that I felt at ease since I had arrived in New York. It was a very pleasant evening. There was an instant connection between the two of us. That is how Patrizia and I became friends.
What struck me most about Patrizia, from the very first time I met her, was her natural curiosity for unknown situations and her friendly, straight-forward attitude, traits that have fascinated and influenced me very deeply. I remember that after some time in New York, my Chinese friend Vickie Kan was visiting and had invited me to a party organized by her renowned sister Yue Sai. Given Patrizia’s curiosity about China, I thought she would have loved to get to know my Beijing friend, and I invited her to come along to the party.
She accepted right away even though she did not know the host or what kind of guests were attending. Nonetheless she was open to diversity as only a true citizen of the world can be. I was impressed by Patrizia’s open-mindedness. I brought her into a truly Chinese world that she had never experienced before and she loved it just as much as I have always loved it. That night indelibly marked the beginning of our friendship.
Reiscovering an Italian dimension
For many years Patrizia has not had much contact with the Italian community of New York. She has never lived for long periods of time in Italy and her world has gravitated around a rather international community. I gradually introduced Patrizia to a more Italian dimension, and she was very pleased about getting to know it. It was as if she had suddenly felt the need to reconnect with her roots, which she has never completely pulled up; she spends all her summers in Sicily. At the same time, Patrizia spontaneously became my point of reference and guided me through the many situations I was faced with in New York. Thanks to her I broadened my perspective and adopted a much more open-minded philosophy toward life. She inspired me to grow by helping me look inside myself and recognize my mistakes.
Patrizia is a highly sophisticated yet at the same time unpretentious woman, a contrast I love. Despite being a “lady of the diamonds,” she rarely wears precious stones herself. She only wears a very peculiar, nearly unnoticeable square diamond on her little finger to contrast the colored Swatch watch on her wrist. Diamonds and precious stones should not only be considered a form of investment. Rather they should help us feel better and more beautiful. Every object, regardless of its value, can have the same effect. That’s her theory.
Every day she walks from the Upper East Side where she lives down to her office in Midtown. She is always very elegant in her simplicity, sporting one of her numerous, variously colored pairs of Toms’ shoes and toting her usual light backpack. When it rains you will find her wearing a baseball cap and a Uniqlo’s coat. Under these layers she is always impeccably dressed. Her style defines her true essence.
Supporting young talents
Patrizia loves to organize events and concerts at her place. Her home is a harbor, a place of interesting and incredible encounters. Music is at the center of her life and the frequent presence of marvelous pianist and friend Mark Markham makes her evenings even more special. She gets pure satisfaction in assisting young artists and talented people who need advice and support. She is a generous mentor for everybody in need. Despite traveling a lot for work, she is extremely efficient and plans everything weeks in advance.
Over the years I have come to know when she’ll be in New York and how to arrange our meetings. When she was in town we often walked together down Madison Avenue and had breakfast at the little coffee shop Bel Ami close to the Italian Consulate. During our morning sessions we would share our thoughts and discuss our projects. It came naturally for me to want to share my experiences with her and involve her in my job, such as the time when we planned the auction for the Gala of Scuola d’Italia. Her approach is professional, and she is detail and goal oriented in the personal realm as well.
Life may serve us difficulties and obstacles but it is up to us to face them. She has always faced her life with courage and grace, turning pages and reinventing herself as a writer and a new person. Her example has inspired me tremendously. When I read her book “Conoscere i gioielli” (Knowing Jewels), I knew immediately it would make the perfect addition to Grazia D’Annunzio’s fantastic presentation series AdDressing style at Casa Zerilli-Marimò, so I introduced Patrizia to the Casa’s director, Stefano Albertini, and after few months Stefano asked Grazia to present Patrizia’s book. Surprisingly, Grazia had already read it, and said that she would love to meet Patrizia! It was an incredible coincidence and the beginning of a new, beautiful friendship.
I had a lot of fun with Patrizia, and my experience in New York would not be the same without her. We shared projects and friends and our lives intersected for four years, almost becoming one. Year after year, our group of friends and missions- in-common grew. I remember very vividly when she called me one night to tell me that she had seen the designer Antonio Pio Saracino. I met him once at her home. She was enthusiastic about his beautiful project “The Guardians”, two contemporary statues to be placed in Bryant Park, one of which was inspired by Michelangelo’s David. The idea had come about as part of the Year of Italian Culture in the United States.
Nevertheless, Antonio needed to find a sponsor and Patrizia urged me to help him. I was skeptical about what I could do, but I assured her that I would try my best to help him. I started to talk about the project to anyone I thought might be interested in it, but it was not an easy task. Then I met Stefano Lucchini, former head of communication for the Italian oil company Eni. I talked to him about the statue and, in one of life’s odd coincidences, it turned out he knew the designer. Saracino had already worked for Eni. Fate? I don’t know, but had Patrizia not urged me to take action, I would never have mentioned Antonio’s project to Stefano. That was one of Patrizia’s many great lessons: be curious and believe in yourself.
My friends are now Patrizia’s friends, and they continue to see each other. Patrizia continues to be the link between our two worlds and I am happy that she is now so deeply involved and committed to the Italian Community. I am proud that after the passing of the beloved Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, Patrizia decided to make a contribution to her and take the lead in one of the most important Italian cultural centers in New York—the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò of NYU.
Patrizia’s passionate curiosity has been and continues to be an extraordinary source
of inspiration to me. She opened my eyes and my mind immensely and I will remain forever grateful to her.
Grazie Patrizia, ti voglio bene!
* Former Vice Consul in New York