TAORMINA, Italy—The gelato makers at the Fanaberia ice cream shop on the main street of this gorgeous Sicilian city take the upcoming Group of 7 summit meeting very seriously. They are perfecting the prototype for the “Coppa Trump,” or Trump Cup, a specialty ice cream they plan to serve ahead of the world leaders’ arrival on May 26.
These normally are very diplomatically correct events, but U.S. President Donald Trump’s first foray abroad is already turning it into something of a circus, and even Mother Nature is providing background noise.
The Trump Cup’s gelato will be the colors of the American flag, likely with strawberry, milk cream, and dark blue wild fruit ice cream arranged in the right order, and it will be topped with an orange swirl of cotton candy to pay homage to the American president’s “tuft,” says Fanaberia owner Pippo Perdichizzi. That may sound like parody, but in fact, Perdichizzi’s a fan: a local lawyer who is the leader of Taormina’s far-right faction supporting the Trump-loving Northern League leader Matteo Salvini.
“It is a great honor for Taormina to be hosting this event,” the Trump Cup maker told The Daily Beast from behind the glass counter of his shop. “We hope everyone will put their differences aside and come together here, and we hope that Mt. Etna cooperates.”
That last bit remains to be seen. Of late, Sicily’s angry and very active volcano, which dominates the skyline over Taormina, has been in a particularity grumpy phase, closing the closest airport and nearly killing a BBC crew filming there.
But the volcano is just one of the organizers’ worries. Security concerns have been hampered by a late start and internal fighting among contractors who still haven’t started installing some 700 security cameras necessary to monitor the city during the event. Protesters and the press will be cordoned off in nearby Giardini Naxos, a tiny resort town on the eastern coast of Sicily miles from where the leaders meet, and only those traveling with the various leaders will be let anywhere near the mountaintop village.
The G7 will give Trump a second chance to shake Angela Merkel’s hand after the debacle of their first encounter when she visited Washington in March.
The meeting will also reunite the American leader with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he famously did hold hands with after admitting his fear of stairs when she visited the White House in January.
May might be less cozy with the controversial American president this time. She will be less than two weeks away from snap elections to garner support for Brexit plans and likely reminded of the anti-Trump petition by British voters that led Trump to curtail plans to visit the U.K.
Assuming French elections give a clear result on May 7, it will also be the global debut for the new president of France, whoever that may be, and a chance for Italy’s caretaker prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, to show off before he leaves his post when Italy goes to the polls sometime next year.
G7 organizers in Italy have been struggling over the draft of what they hope will be a groundbreaking decree coming out of the meeting, but the United States has reportedly been reluctant to sign off on a number of measures, including those dealing with foreign policy and climate change. It may come down to the wire before a draft can be finalized, if it is finalized.
Still, the show will go on. On Easter weekend, Trump’s medical team, led by Dr. Benjamin Barlow, toured the emergency facilities in Taormina in the event the American president has a medical emergency during his visit. “The hospital is very nice,” he told reporters who had gathered. Had it not been adequate, the United States would have considered stationing an off-shore military vessel to act as a floating hospital.
And construction crews in Taormina were busy finalizing the bomb-proof helicopter pads that will be used when the leaders are choppered to and from the various airports, since the winding roads to the city are impossible to secure. Trump is expected to fly in to the nearby Sigonella NATO base, which has a U.S. Navy installation, rather than Catania’s airport, which has been closed sporadically all spring because of Etna’s ash clouds. A special larger pad had to be constructed to accommodate the helicopter that will ferry the American president.
Trump is scheduled to attend NATO meetings in Brussels on May 25 and had been rumored to prefer to fly back to Washington before coming to Sicily on the 27th for the leaders’ main meeting. Apparently with no Trump hotel in the region, he prefers to sleep on the plane, although he will likely overnight at the palatial San Domenico palace, a former monastery on the hillside overlooking the sea where the leaders will each have massive suites. From there, the leaders will be ferried to and from events nearby in souped-up golf carts, which should offer a familiar comfort to the American president.
Italy has not always had an easy time hosting the G7 meetings. In 2001, under Silvio Berlusconi’s leadership, the G7 meeting attracted the largest-ever anti-global protest to the city of Genoa in northern Italy. A protester was killed in violent clashes with police. It marked a change in strategy for the event organizers, who have since essentially exiled protesters to remote locations.
In 2009, again under Berlusconi, Italy held the event in L’Aquila in central Italy, after a devastating earthquake killed more than 300 people there. At the time, Berlusconi buddy Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pitched his Bedouin tents in the countryside and held court as the G7 leaders wondered why he was there at all.
But perhaps the most explosive encounter for the American president will be an audience with Pope Francis, which is now in the works. The pope rarely makes invitations to leaders; instead protocol dictates that they must seek the audience first. Both the White House and Vatican have confirmed that Trump will seek such an audience.
“We will be reaching out to the Vatican to see if an audience with the pope can be accommodated,” Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman said on Wednesday. “We would be honored to have an audience with His Holiness.” This was on the same day, as it happened, that the now-former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly shook the pope’s hand during a rope-line opportunity at his weekly audience.
Maybe Pope Francis wasn’t focused on the sleaze surrounding O’Reilly, but he’s never minced words about Trump, whom he called non-Christian before the election—provoking at Trump tweet calling the popular pontiff’s remarks “disgraceful.”
The two leaders disagree on capitalism, climate change, and immigration, but share common ground on limiting women’s reproductive rights.
Given the pope’s popularity and the many controversies surrounding the thrice-married, sexual-assaulting president, the meeting could mark a new turning point for the better in Trump’s image, or a new low, in this his highly anticipated global debut.