GIUSEPPE (Pino) Gagliardi discovered America from the railing of the SS Cristoforo Colombo, which sailed into New York Harbor 20 years ago this month. ``When I was come with the boat,'' he recalls, ``it was early in the morning. It was a beautiful, hot day, very clear, I remember so well. I feel so great. Like I say, it was just like a dream to come to America.''
Tonight Mr. Gagliardi will relive the dream along with some 300 other immigrants who will become US citizens on Ellis Island as part of a star-spangled spectacular.
Soon-to-be-citizen Gagliardi will have arrived via an exotic route: a career as a chef in Rome; Copenhagen; Juan les Pins, France; Cody, Wyo.; and the Persian Embassy in Washington.
Born in the small Italian town of Roio-Del-Somgro on the Adriatic Sea, he was eight years old when World War II ended. ``There was everything destroyed,'' he says, ``not like you see in the movies.'' Pino, as he was nicknamed, was the baby of the family, the only boy, with two older sisters. His father was a farmer.
``But I never liked to work on the farm,'' he says, so he galloped off to Rome to learn how to become a chef. Three years later, when a cousin took a job as chef at the American Embassy in Copenhagen, he asked Pino to become his assistant. He worked for American ambassador Robert Coe, eventually at his ranch in Cody, Wyo. When Ambassador Coe returned to Juan Les Pins, Pino decided not to. ``I asked him to help me stay in America, since he was a diplomat, and he did help me.''
Eventually, Pino and his brother-in-law Tonizzo, then a chef at the British Embassy in Washington, and two other partners who are no longer with them, were able to buy a closed-down restaurant in Arlington, Va. It was called The Frankenstein. ``True story,'' Pino says. ``We changed the name immediately.''
Now their Alpine Restaurant, which specializes in northern Italian Alps cuisine, is such a success that Pino's well-known political clientele may have had something to do with his being one of only two Virginians chosen for today's ceremony. Gagliardi says he doesn't know why he was chosen or who proposed him.
When he's through with his 18-hour days at the Alpine, he goes home to his Spanish-born wife Africa, (already a US citizen), and their American-born children: Ivano, 15; Christian, 14; and Corinne, 13. For him, the most important thing about becoming a citizen is that ``It's a country of so many possibilities for the people, especially if you are ambitious to do something.... We have our business and we have a nice family. I don't think you can ask for anything more.''