This week, Romney is to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies in London and make stops in Israel and Poland. The trip offers him a platform to highlight his extensive travel as a salesman of American-centric beliefs, but it also serves as a reminder that the world has curved Romney’s trajectory.
Opening the door
Before Mitt Romney ventured out into the world, the world came to him. In 1959, the Romney family opened its Bloomfield Hills home to Attilio Cortella, an Italian exchange student who had won a scholarship from the American Field Service to study in the United States. Cortella had no idea who the Romneys were, and he was impressed at receiving a letter in Italy from Mitt’s mother, Lenore, saying that the only two families she knew in Italy were the Agnellis and Pininfarinas, the equivalent in America of the Kennedys or the Fords.
Soon enough, young Mitt was bidding Cortella farewell with “ciaos” and “arrivedercis” and serenading him with the “Volare” chorus of the then-popular “Nel blu dipinto di blu.” On a road trip, Cortella expressed astonishment at how much gas the relatively small American Ramblers swallowed compared with the tiny Fiat 600s. “With your full tank,” Cortella recalled saying, “we can last for a month!” Mitt, he said, found the notion of the tiny Italian car hysterical.
Romney participated in his prep school’s World Affairs Seminar and was a member of the American Field Service club, which promoted the program that had earlier brought Cortella into his home, and raised money to support a German student on campus.
Starting as a freshman at Stanford University in 1966, Romney received a series of deferments, including one for his role as a “minister of religion or divinity student,” that kept him out of Vietnam. His mission instead led him to France.
As a missionary, Romney had one free day a week. Preparation Day, or P Day, as the missionaries called it, fell on Mondays, and it allowed them a brief glimpse of the more traditional, if less wine-drenched, expat experience.
Romney went with friends in the seaside tourist town of Biarritz to take pictures of the Rocher de la Vierge, a rock outcropping that resembles the Virgin Mary, and then climbed a nearby hill to write “Mitt Loves Ann” in the wet sand. In Roman ruins outside Le Havre, a port city at the mouth of the Seine, he struck an authoritative pose next to a statue of Julius Caesar. In Paris, he ate couscous in the Latin Quarter.