For Greve in Chianti, Italy Mayor Alberto Bencista, a trip to Rehoboth Beach was a chance to mix business and pleasure.
“He enjoyed the trip. He had a bath in the ocean. He took some sun. He had some lobster,” Bencista said through his interpreter Alessandra Molletti. “Over everything, he has a very important relationship with the administration, with the sister city association. He’s very happy with the relationship.”
The centerpiece of Bencista’s visit was the formal dedication of the Garden of the Navigators in Cranberry Park at the corner of Olive Avenue and Third Street.
Besides unveiling the garden, Bencista also presented Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper with a gift: a key to the city of Greve. During his trip in 2011, Cooper awarded Bencista a key to Rehoboth.
“This is a glorious day for the city of Rehoboth Beach and our friends in Greve,” Cooper said. “Words are not enough to express the gratitude to accept such a gift.”
The relationship between Greve and Rehoboth began when a monument to Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, a native of Greve, was placed at the Boardwalk and Olive Avenue in 2008 by the Delaware Commission on Italian Heritage and Culture.
Two years later, Rehoboth and Greve signed a sister cities agreement to foster cultural exchange, with Bencista and the Greve delegation coming to Rehoboth in 2011. It was Bencista who suggested the idea of a garden exchange between the cities; Greve unveiled its garden in 2012.
The $66,000 garden was paid for by Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association and donated as a gift to the city.
Ray Zebrowski of RPZ Designs designed both gardens after being recommended for the job by Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association.
“Our tribute to our friends in Greve has been a labor of love,” he said.
The focal point of the garden is the compass rose in the center; the Italian navigators Verrazzano and Amerigo Vespucci used the wind to guide them, Zebrowski said, adding the eight points on the compass signify the eight winds known to the navigators. On the compass and the walkway are pinpoint lights, which Zebrowski said are intended to guide visitors at night, much like the stars guided the navigators.
Among the plantings are irises sent by Greve-based olive oil-maker Gionni Pruneti and planted by Bencista himself. Zebrowski said the irises are meant to reflect the Italian landscape. The garden also includes a plaque detailing the friendship between Greve and Rehoboth.
Following the dedication, the scene moved over to Bad Hair Day for a party that also celebrated the salon’s 20th anniversary. Bad Hair Day owner Drexel Davidson and a bubble machine greeted guests as they walked across Olive Avenue. A smaller party was later held at Eden Restaurant on Baltimore Avenue where Bencista was presented with gifts from the Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association.
Bencista said while his first trip to Rehoboth was about cementing the relationship, this trip was about proposing a joint project to celebrate the 490th anniversary of Verrazzano’s mapping of the Delaware coast in 1524. Bencista said he is also hoping to foster more student exchange between Rehoboth and Greve; last year, 10 students from Greve spent part of the summer in Rehoboth. Bencista said it is important for the sister cities to develop an exchange of culture, music and art.
“We hope it is the start of something that can grow,” Bencista said. ‘We have to learn something from American people.”
Rehoboth is Greve’s second sister city in America, with the first being Sonoma, Calif., north of San Francisco. Additional sister cities are in Germany, France, Croatia, Norway and Denmark.
Joking about all his town’s sister cities, Bencista said, “Might be a few too many.”
In addition to the garden unveiling, Bencista took part in the Rehoboth Art League’s 75th anniversary celebration and a clambake on the beach. The nine-person delegation, which included Bencista’s wife, Merri, flew home on June 26.