Covering the G7 in Taormina, Sicily

The central piazza in Taormina. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 28, 2017

The central piazza in Taormina, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 28, 2017

Dear Blog Readers,

I am sitting in the airport waiting area in Catania, Sicily trying to take advantage of the sugar high from yet-another cannolo to get started on a post about the past six days in Sicily working on AP coverage of the G7 summit in Taormina. Thanks to a well-timed Alitalia strike at the end of the summit, I had an extra day in Taormina to play tourist.

The view out towards the sea and across to Mt. Etna from the Greek Theater in Taormina. Photo by Trisha Thomas, Sunday, May 28, 2017

The view out towards the sea and across to Mt. Etna from the Greek Theater in Taormina. Photo by Trisha Thomas, Sunday, May 28, 2017

If you haven’t been there blog readers, you must go. Taormina is spectacular little town perched high on a rocky outcropping which plunges down to the sea. According to a booklet provided for journalists covering the summit, the town was founded by the Greeks 2500 years ago and named Tauromenion or “bull-shaped hill.”

A panoramic view of the ancient greek theater in Taormina. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 28, 2017

A panoramic view of the ancient greek theater in Taormina. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 28, 2017

On top of that bull-shaped hill the Greeks built a magnificent open air theater with views out towards the turquoise sea and up the green slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano which was gently puffing out white smoke the entire time I was there. Taormina’s walls and buildings are draped with deep pink bougainvillea and pale pink oleander.  Palm trees, lemon trees, and cactuses dot the hillsides.

The courtyard of the San Domenico Palace where the G7 leaders met. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 28, 2017

The courtyard of the San Domenico Palace in Taormina, Sicily where the G7 leaders met. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 28, 2017

Italy chose the location for the G7 summit, as Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni repeated throughout, to draw attention to the island’s location in the Mediterranean and role at the center of Europe’s migrant crisis.  In the end, the migrant crisis was barely touched.

Associated Press descended on Sicily with a team of 19 people –from television, print and photos– to cover the leaders of Italy, France, Germany, the UK, the United States, Japan and Canada for their two days of discussions on world issues from terrorism to climate change.

Hakan Kaplan, Trisha Thomas and our Satellite Truck UKI 991 at Capotaormina preparing for Live coverage of the G7 Summit. May 26, 1017 - Selfie by Hakan Kaplan

AP Television satellite engineer and live video-journalist, Hakan Kaplan with Trisha Thomas and our Satellite Truck UKI 991 at Capotaormina preparing for Live coverage of the G7 Summit. May 26, 1017 – Selfie by Hakan Kaplan

By now you already have heard about the results of the summit. As predicted, US President Donald J. Trump was the elephant in the room, squashing any agreement on climate change and making matters difficult on questions of free trade. The only strong conclusion they came to was an agreement to forcefully combat terrorism with a focus on cracking down on internet companies and social media that allow the spread of radical terrorism on line.

G7 leaders listen as US President Donald Trump appears to be telling a joke as they stop at a lookout point in Taormina during the G7 Summit. May 26, 2017. Freeze frame of video shot by Associated Press Television Video-Journalist Helena Alves.

G7 leaders listen as US President Donald Trump appears to be telling a joke as they stop at a lookout point in Taormina during the G7 Summit. May 26, 2017. Freeze frame of video shot by Associated Press Television Video-Journalist Helena Alves.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel began showing signs of weariness with Trump during the summit and as soon as she returned home she declared the United States is no longer reliable and that, “we Europeans have to take our destiny into our own hands.”

Many people pointed out that Trump is clearly more comfortable with autocratic leaders like Erdogan in Turkey, al-Sisi in Egypt than with the democratically elected leaders who share the same values and traditions as the United States.

So we all walked away from the Summit wondering what is going to happen with the Paris Climate Accord. Trump asked for more time to think on that, and it is unclear if the United States will be getting into trade wars with all its former friends.

US President Donald Trump looks off in the distance as behind him newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron looks the other way. May 26, 2017. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Helena Alves.

US President Donald Trump looks off in the distance as behind him newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron looks the other way. May 26, 2017. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Helena Alves.

But that is not what this blog post is about. The post is about some of the behind-the-scenes moments with the Associated Press.

I got to Sicily two days ahead of the summit with AP cameraman Gianfranco Stara only to find the whole area completely sealed off. We were not allowed to go up into Taormina to film our preview story and were stuck wandering around the perimeter, filming in the town of Giardini Naxos below. The security was intense with thousands of police and soldiers everywhere on the streets, coast guard and military boats patrolling the coastlines and lots of helicopters buzzing overhead.

Salvatore and Carmelo Cannizzaro play briscola, a popular Italian card game, in front of a coffee bar along the beach in Giardino Naxos. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 25, 2017

Salvatore and Carmelo Cannizzaro play briscola, a popular Italian card game, in front of a coffee bar along the beach in Giardini Naxos. Photo by Trisha Thomas, May 25, 2017

The streets were mostly deserted but Gianfranco and I found cousins Salvatore and Carmelo Cannizzaro playing Brisciola, a popular Italian card game, at a coffee bar along the shore. I asked them if they were concerned about the invasion of their town with 7,000 police and soldiers and an expected 2,000 journalists on top of all the delegations.

Italian soldier blocks the road that leads up to the town of Taormina. April 25, 2017 - Photo by Trisha Thomas

Italian soldier blocks the road that leads up to the town of Taormina, Sicily. April 25, 2017 – Photo by Trisha Thomas

Carmelo gave me a gigantic toothless smile and said they should do it every year because finally someone has cleaned up all the trash and the roads have been repaved.

I was worried that Italy might not be able to pull off a complicated operation in a little jewel of a town like Taormina. They had placed the TV Broadcast center in a 5-star hotel on a peninsula at the base of Taormina and the press center in the Hotel Hilton in Giardini Naxos, a 15 minute ride down the hill and along the beach. There were supposed to be regular shuttle buses between those locations and the Catania airport, a 45-minute drive away. But in the days ahead of the summit nothing was working too well and my colleague Helena Alves who flew in from Lisbon declared it was the “tipico casino Italiano” – the usual Italian mess. But as she pointed out herself, the Italians always pull it off in the end and everything is beautiful, and everyone eats well and drinks wine and is happy. So that is more or less how it went.

The Italian Air Force acrobatic team, known as the "Frecce Tricolori" - the three colored arrows - performs for the leaders of the G7 Summit in the skies above Taormina. Photo by Trisha Thomas. May 26, 2017

The Italian Air Force acrobatic team, known as the “Frecce Tricolori” – the three colored arrows – performs for the leaders of the G7 Summit in the skies above Taormina, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas. May 26, 2017

I had to coordinate our TV team of 11 in the midst of all this. One of the complications in this “tipico casino italiano” was that there were 12 pools in which camerapersons and photographers were allowed to go up into Taormina and film the leaders at various events. But they had to leave on buses three hours before the event so I would lose a cameraperson (video-journalist) for 5 hours sometimes. Then there were all sorts of side-bar events popping up, for example the French President Emmanuel Macron held one-on-one meetings with almost all of the other leaders. The spouses had their own separate schedule of events that needed covering too. Demonstrators protested outside and clashed with police, and that needed covering.  Donald Trump made a speech to US troops and their families at the nearby military base in Sigonella, Sicily and that needed covering.

Associated Press Television VJ's and Cameramen in Taormina- Nic Dumitrache, Pietro De Cristofaro, Gianfranco Stara and Paolo Santalucia. Selfie by Paolo Santalucia, May 28, 2017

Associated Press Television VJs and Cameramen in Taormina- Nic Dumitrache, Pietro De Cristofaro, Gianfranco Stara and Paolo Santalucia. Selfie by Paolo Santalucia, May 28, 2017

In the end, I spent a lot of time in our tiny workspace in the broadcaster center with AP Television’s Senior Producer from Greece, Theodora Tongas.  There we had access to all the Host Broadcaster material of events and could quickly turn around edits and write scripts.  We could also slip out on the balcony and enjoy the fabulous view.  Here is Ted in a slow moment when we are waiting for the final communique from the summit.

AP Television's Senior Producer from Greece, Ted Tongas, stands on terrace at the ATA Capotaormina Hotel as we wait for the final communique from the G7 Summit in Taormina. May 27, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

AP Television’s Senior Producer from Greece, Ted Tongas, stands on terrace at the ATA Capotaormina Hotel as we wait for the final communique from the G7 Summit in Taormina. May 27, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Here are some amusing moments:

French President Emmanuel Macron was making his debut on the world stage and was clearly thinking about his approach to his fellow world leaders.  In a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump many people noticed the two leaders seemed to be momentarily stuck in a jaw-clenching handshake.  No fishy handshakes from these alpha men.

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron in a jaw-clenching handshake at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily. Freeze frame from Host Broadcaster pool footage. May 26, 2017

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron in a jaw-clenching handshake at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily. Freeze frame from Host Broadcaster pool footage. May 26, 2017

The spouses got to have a trip in a helicopter from Taormina over Mount Etna and down to the town of Catania where they had a luncheon followed by a visit to a Benedictine monastery and a Roman theater. Everyone was eager to see the interaction between Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump.

The new French First Lady Brigitte Macron looking casual and comfortable at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily. May 26, 2017

The new French First Lady Brigitte Macron looking casual and comfortable at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily. May 26, 2017

The first lady of France has made waves on social media because she is 24 years older than her husband whereas no one seemed too bothered that Melania Trump is 23 years younger than her husband. Anyway, for their first event Brigitte, sporting a bright red t-shirt and comfortable looking white slacks and espadrilles, was quite happy to don some big headsets and get into a military helicopter. Melania chose a different route arriving in an armored jeep at the Piazza degli Elefanti in Catania for the event. My print colleague Colleen Barry scored a mini-scoop when she reported that the elaborate coat that Melania was wearing was a floral applique jacket made by Sicilian designer Dolce & Gabbana and costs $51,000.

Melania Trump makes her entrance at the Piazza degli Elefanti like a true Diva wearing at $51,000 Dolce & Gabbana applique jacket. Freeze frame of video shot by APTN video-journalist Fabio Platania. May 26, 2017.

Melania Trump makes her entrance at the Piazza degli Elefanti like a true Diva wearing at $51,000 Dolce & Gabbana applique jacket. Freeze frame of video shot by APTN video-journalist Fabio Platania. May 26, 2017.

ENDLESS CANNOLIS

One of the most delicious pastries you can find in Italy is the Sicilian Cannolo – a tube of pastry stuffed with a sweet ricotta cream and drizzled with chopped pistachio nuts or perhaps some chocolate or candied fruit. It is impossible to describe how scrumptious they are, but I am a total addict…and I am not the only one.

During the summit, we were provided with great meals in the dining area at the ATA Hotel Capotaormina, where the TV Broadcast center was located. We loaded our plates sky high with gamberoni, pasta alla norma, melanzane parmigiana, cous cous alla Siciliana, caponata, mozzarella, etc.

On the second day we found giant silver trays laden with cannoli.

We brought a plateful over to our table by the French doors that looked out towards the sea. An Italian soldier carrying an automatic rifle paced up and down the balcony outside ostensibly looking for terrorists, but clearly keeping on eye on the cannoli inside. I dove into my cannolo getting my fingers all gooey with ricotta. My Greek colleague, the beautiful and tutto di un pezzo, Theodora Tongas, was not convinced she wanted a cannolo and was looking on curiously. Suddenly Paolo Santalucia, who was eating his cannolo beside me, started reenacting the most famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” He began make loud, gasping and groaning noises “Uh, uh, Oh, oh….this is so good, Yes! Yes! Yes” as he bit into his messy cannolo.

Teodora, slowly lowered her dark sunglasses over her eyes. The soldier on the balcony peered through the French doors curiously. People at the other tables began to turn their heads. I gobbled my cannolo down quickly before Paolo could get his hands on it. AP’s chief photographer Domenico Stinellis looked on slightly perplexed.

Paolo’s cannolo performance became a memorable moment of the summit and as we recounted the story to AP’s Frankfurt Business Writer, Dave McHugh, while exploring Taormina the day after the summit, he reminded us of a famous film line about Cannoli from “The Godfather” – a line which I can’t help but agree with wholeheartedly.

“Leave the Gun, take the Cannoli.”   This line is said by a henchman to a hitman after they have shot their driver– a purported rat– in the back of the head. The cannoli were on the seat of the car.

"Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli" - freeze frame of the famous scene from "The Godfather".

“Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli” – freeze frame of the famous scene from “The Godfather”.

Well, I am back in Rome now.  No more cannoli for me for the moment…and it is a good thing too because if I kept on going at that rate I wouldn’t fit through my front door.

A FEW MORE PHOTOS OF THE AP TELEVISION TEAM:

AP Television women - Ted Tongas (Athens bureau), Trisha Thomas (Rome Bureau) and Helena Alves (Lisbon Bureau) at work in the APTN workspace at the G7 Summit. May 27, 2017 - selfie stick photo by Trisha Thomas

AP Television women – Ted Tongas (Athens bureau), Trisha Thomas (Rome Bureau) and Helena Alves (Lisbon Bureau) at work in the APTN workspace at the G7 Summit. May 27, 2017 – selfie stick photo by Trisha Thomas

Gianfranco Stara, Srdjan Nedeljkovic and Hakan Kaplan blowing a kiss to AP Television Senior Producer Maria Grazia Murru at a restaurant in Giardini Naxos. May 25, 2017 - Photo by Trisha Thomas

Gianfranco Stara, Srdjan Nedeljkovic and Hakan Kaplan blowing a kiss to AP Television Senior Producer Maria Grazia Murru at a restaurant in Giardini Naxos. May 25, 2017 – Photo by Trisha Thomas

AP Television Camera Crew Gino Maceli and Fabio Platania with AP Rome Chief Photographer Domenico Stinellis waiting for the G7 Spouses in Catania, Sicily. May 26, 2017

AP Television Camera Crew Gino Maceli and Fabio Platania with AP Rome Chief Photographer Domenico Stinellis waiting for the G7 Spouses in Catania, Sicily. May 26, 2017

AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara filming US President Donald Trump speaking to the troops at the Sigonella Air Base.  May 27, 2017. Photo by Paolo Santalucia

AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara filming US President Donald Trump speaking to the troops at the Sigonella Air Base. May 27, 2017. Photo by Paolo Santalucia

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

6 Comments

  1. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/06/01

    Interesting as always. It’s good that you could enjoy the beauty after the work. I have been to Taormina on my first tour of Sicily probably in the late 80’s. I remember the beauty and that we were able to join a walk up Etna if we wanted. I remember I started out at the front of the group and was bringing up the tail end at the finish. But I have my close-up photo of the smoking crater framed on a wall.
    Had read about and seen photos of “the handshake” and the expensive jacket but had not read that she traveled to her event in private car. Kind of interesting because I read somewhere that her husband instead of strolling to his event with the rest of the group came separately behind riding in a golf cart. Ah well!
    I always enjoy your stories of journalists at work even fortified with cannoli. Must agree about their deliciousness!
    A presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/06/01

      Hi Joan —
      Oh, so you have been up Etna. I went up once when it was erupting with a cameraman an a mountain guide. He took us part way in a jeep and then closer walking. There were huge orange lave eruptions and I remember looking up and thinking this orange lava the size of a couch was about to coming crashing down on me. It was so exciting but very scary and I suggested perhaps we had come up too close, but the guide reassured me that the wind was blowing the other way and it was fine. Glad I made it out of there. It was one of the most amazing stories I ever covered. Yes, I saw the Trump golf cart thing as well but did not mention it in the post. There were some other funny moments…Merkel made some interesting faces sometimes while Trump was speaking. It was fun watching how the leaders great each other. The Europeans tend to go with kisses on one or both cheeks, Trump strictly handshakes, and Trudeau hugs.

      Reply
  2. Alan
    2017/06/01

    What an enjoyable report to read, Trisha. As for the subjects – the so-called G7, they are, without Russia and China, basically becoming irrelevant.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/06/01

      Thanks Alan — kind of agree on the irrelevant part. But the cannoli were awesome!!

      Reply
  3. Cyndy
    2017/06/05

    Lovely photos! I would love to visit Italy and Greece! Thanks for sharing…. Cannolis sounds so yummy !

    It will be an interesting term….. 3.5 years and counting…..

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/06/06

      Yes, it is definitely an interesting term.

      Reply

Leave a Reply