After weeks of avoiding the press while enjoying a post-term vacation, Barack Obama is back in the political spotlight.
This week, he traveled to Milan, where he delivered a speech at a food innovation conference on Tuesday. The former president said he is "confident that the United States will continue to move in the right direction" on climate change.
"The good news is, in part because of what we did over the last eight years, the private sector has already made a determination that the future is in clean energy. Investments are moving into clean energy," Obama said at the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit during his foreign political appearance since leaving office in January.
Before heading to the event, he went to see Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper."
"Even in our religion and in our art, food is important," Italy's culture minister, who accompanied the former president, said.
After the conference Obama is . The two are reportedly staying at Borgo Finocchieto (above), a villa that was renovated by John Phillips, the U.S. ambassador to Italy during Obama's administration. The villa is an "800-year-old village unto itself, with 22 bedrooms, a formal dining room, a ballroom, a library, a professional teaching kitchen and a wine tasting cellar," Travel + Leisure reports.
In addition to his luxury travel, Obama's style has been making headlines. He was spotted Monday wearing a tailored suit, a button-down shirt sans-tie and a pair of black shades.
Earlier this month, Obama received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, a prize "who govern for the greater good, even when it is not in their own interest to do so." Specifically, he was honored for his passing of the Affordable Care Act, which secured health coverage for millions of Americans.
In his acceptance speech at the JFK Library in Boston, the former president called on current members of Congress to have courage in the current political battle over healthcare.
"It is my fervent hope … that today's members of Congress are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth, even when it bucks party dogmas," Obama said.
"I hope that current members of Congress recognize it takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential, but it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm."
In Chicago earlier this May, the former president unveiled plans for his own future presidential center there, painting a picture of a buzzing hub for youth and community programs on the city's South Side where he raised his family and launched his political career.
Obama fielded questions from residents at a forum near the site, delving into nitty gritty details of traffic patterns, green space and job creation, while avoiding any mention of his successor in the White House.
"What we want this to be is the world premiere institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities, in their countries and in the world," he told the friendly crowd that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his one-time chief of staff.
The plans revealed that the Obama Presidential Center will feature three structures, including a tower-like museum and tree-lined walkways. The Obama Foundation displayed drawings and a miniature model of the center, which will also include a public plaza and classrooms.
Obama said construction of the center—up to 225,000 square feet overall—would take about four years, but programming would begin this year. He said he and former first lady Michelle Obama, who also attended, would personally donate $2 million to summer job efforts in the city. He said Chicago has a lot to offer, but most people outside the city only see headlines about the violence.
"We don't want to wait for a building," he said. "This is about reaching out right now."
It was Obama's second public appearance since he left office. Last week, the former president at the University of Chicago in a conversation about civic engagement on Monday, the same day that Fox Business reported that he plans to deliver at a healthcare conference organized by the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald in September.
The fee is equal to the salary Obama received as president and , according to the New York Times. Hillary Clinton's fees have varied, but the former first lady and presidential candidate received as much as , the Washington Post reports. Former President George W. Bush is reportedly paid $100,000 to $175,000 for his speaking engagements.
The news of Obama's fee has drawn criticism for and , and critics have pointed out how often the former president criticized big banks and the growing wealth inequality. "I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: making sure our economy works for every working American," Obama in December 2013.
The Washington Post's Aaron Blake "4 reasons Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street speech is a bad idea." And Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote, "Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee will . To fight the rising tide of populism, mainstream leaders need to raise their ethical game."
The backlash drew the spotlight away from Obama's Monday remarks, his first public speech post-presidency (). During the speech the former president focused on both his time as a community organizer in Chicago as well as his optimism for the future of American democracy.
“We have some of the lowest voting rates of any democracy and low participation rates than translate into a further gap between who's governing us and what we believe,” Obama said.
“The only folks who are going to be able to solve that problem are going to be young people, the next generation. And I have been encouraged everywhere I go in the United States, but also everywhere around the world to see how sharp and astute and tolerant and thoughtful and entrepreneurial our young people are.”
He also shared that breaking down the barriers that inhibit young people from getting involved is one of his goals for life out of the Oval Office.
“The question then becomes what are the ways in which we can create pathways for them to take leadership, for them to get involved? Are there ways in which we can knockdown some of the barriers that are discouraging young people about a life of service?” Obama asked.
“And if there are, I want to work with them to knock down those barriers, and to get this next generation and to accelerate their move towards leadership. Because if that happens, I think we're going to be just fine. And I end up being incredibly optimistic.”
The appearance marks a turning point in Obama's post-presidency routine, and an indication that the former president is ready to return to public life after weeks of vacationing, first in and with the likes of Oprah, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, and his wife.
Before the president departed for his month-long South Pacific sojourn, former Attorney General Eric Holder told he'd been talking to the former president about getting involved with the new National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which aims to help the Democratic Party win back state legislative seats beginning with next year's elections. Obama asked Holder to chair the committee last year, and last month he said the former president "will be a more visible part of the effort."
"It's coming. He's coming," Holder said. "And he's ready to roll."
But that wasn't the only big Obama-related announcement around that time. On February 28, Penguin Random House announced that it had with former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama for their upcoming books. The publisher also announced it would donate one million books to charitable organizations in the Obama family's name, and the Obamas plan to donate a portion of their earnings from book sales to charity.
Earlier this year, the former president took trip to another sunny locale—the Virgin Islands, where he with billionaire Richard Branson—and a trip to Manhattan, where he drew quite a crowd when he visited in late February.
He with his eldest daughter Malia at , an old-school red-sauce joint in the Nolita district that's popular with musicians and other celebrities.
Malia is currently on a gap year before she starts college at Harvard in the fall, and her recent activities include a glitzy and an ongoing internship with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The ex-president really made a splash around midday one February Friday, though, as he left a building in the Flatiron district holding a Starbucks cup. (Click play on the videos below to see that moment.)
A reported crowd of about 200 gathered on the block to witness Obama's exit from what TMZ is a building that houses Simons Foundation run by James Simons and his wife, Marilyn, who "are big-time philanthropists who reportedly donated around $700,000 earmarked" for Obama Presidential Library in Chicago.
A team of Secret Service agents stood guard as Casual Friday Obama (he forwent a tie) made his way to a waiting SUV and drove away, presumably bound for Gramercy Tavern, where the former president stopped for lunch and posed with the staff for a photo. (The restaurant's executive chef and his partner, Michael Anthony, posted the picture on Instagram with a #proud hashtag.)
He drew quite a crowd there, too.
With reporting from the Associated Press