The receiving line at the party thrown this weekend by the National Italian American Foundation told a tale of what can happen to Italians who cross the Atlantic.

At one time or another, the line snaking around the pillars of the Corcoran Gallery held a frozen pizza magnate, a U.S. senator (Pete Domenici of New Mexico), a recipient of the Horatio Alger award and a mother who recently sent her successful-Washington-lawyer son to Rome to study for the priesthood. Italian-Americans, all of them.

The person the line was receiving is a bona fide Italian born in a walled village he says is "more ancient" than Rome herself. That man is Rinaldo Petrignani, the new Italian ambassador to the United States, and he seemed perfectly at home among his transported brethren.

"The most important thing to us is the strong friendship which unites Italy with the United States," Petrignani said. "This friendship does not only represent the political line of one government or one party in Italy but it represents the strong feeling of the entire people."

Of course, Petrignani is no rookie, having served as consul-general for 10 years in the United States. He was also deputy secretary-general of NATO and a representative to the United Nations in Geneva. He comments that the "mission of friendship" upon which he has embarked is reinforced by the Italian government's decision to deploy U.S. cruise missiles in Sicily.

U.S. Ambassador to Italy Maxwell Rabb mentioned cruise missiles and our "real friendship" with Italy in the same breath, as he stood next in line to Petrignani.

Other guests at the party talked about less momentous matters. Gimilu Mason, an Italian-American sculptor from Alexandria who moved back to the old sod to find a cheaper supply of marble, gave a version of the Italian view of United States which was borne out by many guests at the party.

"Italians think America is a country where you come to make money and then go back to live life," she said