Obama hosts final state dinner of his presidency, jokes 'it ain't over till it's over'

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A wistful Barack Obama welcomed Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to the White House for the last official state dinner of his presidency Tuesday night, lamenting that after eight years in office, he's no longer "the young guy."

Obama and his wife, Michelle, greeted Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini, on a red carpet outside the White House as photographers' flashbulbs clicked away like old-fashioned typewriters.

(Because you have to when the red carpet rolls out, The Associated Press observed: "Once again, Mrs. Obama didn't disappoint, dazzling by wearing what the White House described as a rose gold chainmail gown by Italian designer Versace.")

Toasting his guests on the South Lawn, the president noted that his 13th state dinner was also his last.

"Buona sera [Good evening]. Welcome to the White House and the final state dinner of my presidency," he said.

Then he added: "But in the immortal words of a great Italian-American, Yogi Berra, 'it ain't over till it's over.'"

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wait to greet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini on the North Portico for a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wait to greet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini on the North Portico for a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo as they greet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini on the North Portico for a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama stands with First Lady Michelle Obama shortly before greeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the North Portico of the White House November 24, 2009, as the Obamas host their first official State Dinner. AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama stands with First Lady Michelle Obama shortly before greeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the North Portico of the White House November 24, 2009, as the Obamas host their first official State Dinner. AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC -MAY 19: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama await the arrival of the Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Mrs. Margarita Zavala to this evenings State Dinner at the White House. Photos taken on May 19, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Marvin Joseph /The Washington Post via Getty Images) StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Wed May 19 18:43:28 2010
WASHINGTON - MAY 19: First lady Michelle Obama and her husband U.S President Barack Obama wait for Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife Margarita Zavala to arrive for the State Dinner at the White House on May 19, 2010 in Washington, DC. President Obama welcomed President Calderon to the White House today for an official state visit that is taking place amid tension over immigration politics and Mexico's deadly drug war. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama (L) welcome Chinese President Hu Jintao for a State dinner at the White House January 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama and Hu met in the Oval Office earlier in the day. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Pool/Corbis via Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to greet Chinese President Hu Jintao upon his arrival on the North Portico of the White House in Washington, DC, January 19, 2011, prior to hosting a State Dinner. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband Joachim Sauer (not in picture) at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 7, 2011 for the State Dinner. Obama warned Europe's debt crisis must not destabilize the global economy, as he laid on a lavish and warm White House welcome for Merkel. Obama said he and Merkel had extensive talks about the plight of debt-stricken Greece, which needs a second huge financial bailout, despite some reluctance from some eurozone members to stump up fresh funds. AFP Photo/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband Joachim Sauer (out of frame) at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, DC, June 7, 2011 for the State Dinner. Obama warned Europe's debt crisis must not destabilize the global economy, as he laid on a lavish and warm White House welcome for Merkel. Obama said he and Merkel had extensive talks about the plight of debt-stricken Greece, which needs a second huge financial bailout, despite some reluctance from some eurozone members to stump up fresh funds. AFP Photo/Saul Loeb (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama wait for the arrival of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and first lady Kim Yoon-ok on the North Portico of the White House before attending a state dinner October 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. Michelle Obama is wearing a dress designed by Korean-American Doo-Ri Chung. Earlier in the day, President Lee held a joint press conference with Obama and addressed a joint meeting of Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama walks with South Korean first lady Kim Yoon-ok in the Cross Hall as they arrive for a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, DC on October 13, 2011. The State Visit comes only a day after congress passed a free trade agreement with South Korea. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/Pool/Corbis via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stand in the North Portico of the White House before attending a state dinner March 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day, Prime Minter Cameron participated in a joint press conference with President Obama, topics included Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama await the arrival of British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha Cameron, prior to a State Dinner as part of an official visit on the North Portico of the White House in Washington, DC, March 14, 2012. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama await the arrival of French President Francois Hollande for the State Dinner at the North Portico of the White House on February 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose with French President Francois Hollande as he arrives for the State Dinner at the North Portico of the White House on February 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle wait for the arrival of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe at the North Portico of the White House on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) poses with Akie Abe, the wife of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, upon arrival at the North Portico of the White House on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. President Barack Obama wait on the North Portico for the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Madame Peng Liyuan ahead of a state dinner at the White House September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama and Xi announced an agreement on curbing climate change and an understanding on cyber security. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: (L-R) Madame Peng Liyuan, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama pose for photographers on the North Portico ahead of a state dinner at the White House September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama and Xi announced an agreement on curbing climate change and an understanding on cyber security. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. â On Thursday, March 10, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wait for the arrival of Canada's Prime Minister and Mrs. Gregoire Trudeau for a State Dinner in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. â On Thursday, March 10, from (l-r), Mrs. Gregoire Trudeau, First Lady Michelle Obama, Canada's Prime Minister, and President Barack Obama outside of the North Portico of the White House before the State Dinner in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose with Nordic leaders and their spouses before a state dinner at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2016. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wait for Nordic leaders to arrive for a state dinner at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2016. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and U.S. President Barack Obama wait for the arrival of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore and his wife Ho Ching on the North Portico of the White House August 2, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Obamas are hosting the prime minister and his wife for an official state dinner. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and U.S. President Barack Obama wait for the arrival of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore and his wife Ho Ching on the North Portico of the White House August 2, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Obamas are hosting the prime minister and his wife for an official state dinner. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Obama reminded the crowd of more than 400 — who included prominent Italian-Americans like Mario Andretti, Giorgio Armani, Nancy Pelosi and Rachael Ray, capped with a performance by Gwen Stefani — that Renzi was Italy's youngest prime minister when he assumed office in 2014 at age 39.

"Makes me feel old," he said. "I was the young guy. Now he's the young guy."

Related: Obama's Most Memorable White House State Dinners

Obama recalled the contributions Italy has made to U.S. democracy, highlighting Thomas Jefferson's devotion to the territory that is now Italy and noting that he was inspired by the words of Filippo Mazzei, an exile from Renzi's hometown, Florence, in writing the Declaration of Independence.

Returning sharply to the present, he added: "But sometimes, our presidential campaigns can seem like 'Dante's Inferno.'"

Reminiscing about a presidential trip to the Colosseum in Rome, which the first family visited in 2009, Obama grew thoughtful.

"In the grand sweep of time, each of us is here only for a brief moment. So many of the things that we focus on each day — the political ups and downs, the successes and the setbacks — those things are fleeting," Obama said. "What matters in the end is what we build. What matters is what we leave behind — the things that will endure long after we are gone."

In his toast, Renzi said that when the Obamas return to private life in January, they could visit Florence to figure out who produces the better tomatoes — Italy or Michelle Obama's White House garden.

"I know, Michelle, your tomatoes are great," Renzi joked. "But after the last weeks, let me be very frank — your speeches are better than your tomatoes."

The gathering then tucked into a meal of sweet potato ravioli with browned butter and sage, warm butternut squash salad and beef pinwheels, served with broccoli rabe. Dessert was a green apple crostata (an Italian tart) and with buttermilk gelato.

It was prepared by celebrity chef Mario Batali with executive chef Cristeta Comerford and pastry chef Susie Morrison of the White House kitchen — using ingredients pulled from the same White House garden.

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