Flood in '66.
My first job ever was as a helper in a small workshop where dentist chairs were 'regenerated'. It mainly involved taking them apart, cleaning them,
repainting the various pieces and then reassembling them. It lasted a few months, because then I was offered a new occupation: archiving works of
art on microfiche. The company had chosen a name, ISTART, which (perhaps deliberately?) Resembled a little too much to the more famous ISTAT (the
Italian's state Statistical Institution), but the basic idea of the owner and founder, Dr. Luciano Gagliardo, was substantially good,
because he offered to owners of works of art, or to the artists themselves, the possibility to archive photos of the paintings on microfiche, together
with some identification data. A sort of certificate was issued and, on the work itself, a label was affixed with the identification codes.
One of the main advantages of this operation was to guarantee its origin, for example, in case of theft.
Here too, I worked for a few months, contacting private individuals, art galleries and artists to offer the service. There was a problem, however: the artists were usually almost penniless and perhaps could not afford the cost of registration, and the owners were reluctant to let people know that they were in possession of works of art of some value. Thus, despite all the good efforts, the project ran aground. I believe that later the archive was sold or transferred to the Alinari company.
In that period I became acquainted with a landscape (gardens) architect Pietro Porcinai. A character in many ways brilliant, with important customers all over the world. He showed me one of his projects, relating to the creation of a university campus on the American model and that he would have liked my collaboration to make it happen. Porcinai was a very determined person, but also very short-tempered. In his office on the hill below Fiesole there were many who feared his anger.
He hired me but, to tell the truth, he didn't tell me what exactly I was supposed to do. I started by keeping his correspondence in order, creating a protocol, in which to record the incoming and outgoing letters, and to provide for the translation of the letters into English. I didn't feel good, I told him, I took a tantrum at 100 decibels, and, only after 3 days, I walked away.
The next experience was the sale of products for screen printing (paints, frames, etc.), on behalf of two friends, Giovanni Landi and
Pierfranco Maturo. They had successfully set up a screen printing press for works of art. I travelled a lot around Florence and its
province but, from the commercial point of view, it was a fair 'fiasco'. Shortly after, another opportunity: in a language school for foreigners,
The 'Dante Alighieri' in via dei Bardi, where I started teaching Italian. The school was state-of-the-art and had many students, of all nationalities
and all ages. In addition to language courses, cooking, painting and other courses were also offered that I don't recall. The teaching system was
based on "Total Immersion": only Italian and not a word in the student's original language was spoken.
An effective system: rather than focusing on grammar rules, which were nevertheless taught, they insisted on conversation and the results were really appreciable: after a month of lessons, the students were able to converse and even read the news in a newspaper.
After a few months I was also offered to teach English to Italians, mainly company courses, and my first assignment was for the "Nuovo Pignone".
After a few more months of teaching I saw an advertisement in the newspaper: search for staff for the British Consulate in Florence. I admit that I was a little dubious: I had no experience in that sector, but I was perfectly bilingual and this certainly worked to my advantage. A few days after the interview, they told me that I had been hired!
The British Consulate (1976-1982)
Obviously, a big leap in quality. My official role was as an 'accounting assistant'. Upon my timid remark that I didn't know anything about
accounting, Consul Miss Rowena Vining replied with a smile: "Well, that also means that you can't cook the books!" In the first
days I was joined by the person who acted as cultural assistant of the Consulate; a very polite and courteous Italian lady,who was just a few
days away from retiring. She was very committed to 'passing the deliveries', but my role was, in fact, another.
My immediate superior Richard Herd-Smith, Pro-Consul, was also the chief accountant. So I started dabbing at it relentlessly, trying to learn everything I needed to know. I had become so nagging that once, walking out the office door, he turned you around and said in a loud voice: "I'm going to the toilet for a moment!" - to make me understand that maybe I should stop following him everywhere.
Daniel with Mary Foreman (2012)
The working environment was very pleasant. We were a dozen people in all, divided between the Consular Section and the Commercial Section,
and all of them welcomed me with great sympathy. In the Consular Section, where I was, there was the Vice-Consul Enzo Masi,
Dick Herd-Smith whom I have already mentioned, Elaine Izzard Scorcelletti, in charge of passports and visas,
two secretaries Jean Stweart and Jane Ireland, the latter also PA to the Consul.
In the Commercial Section: Giulia Dei, Vice-Consul, Affortunato Capecchi, Diana Wain and, last employed as me, Peter Scott King. Then there was the Counsul's driver, Antonio, a doorman, Tersilio, and, only in the morning, Bruna, who took care of the cleaning and of making us a "cup of tea" at mid-morning.
Last but not certainly least: Mary Foreman, an institutional pillar, who took care of the reception. An exquisite person, very typically British, she had a deep knowledge of all British residents in and around Florence. She was the one who sorted out the calls and visitors, according to the needs of the case.
Every three years the Foreign Office would send its inspectors, with the (not so hidden) objective of finding reasons to reduce staff or at least
management costs. The concern of a closure was high (other Consulates in Italy and elsewhere had already been closed down or transformed into
Honorary Consulates). In fact, the Florence Consulate will later be shut down in 2012.
As I previously mentioned, my official position was as an "accounting assistant", but since the accounting operations were minimal, I was soon instructed to juggle other tasks as well. I learnt how to issue passports and visas, how to deal with those who came to the Consulate for help and how to write speeches in Italian for the Consul. Other tasks, later, were the visits to British citizens in hospital or prison, to take care of stranded British citizens.
We were instructed, as a general policy in that period, to get involved as little as we could (to avoid extra costs) in matters concerning assistance to British tourists, who were generally covered by their own insurance anyway. That didn't stop the staff, however, from trying to do their best anyway.
On one occasion, I was summoned by the Consul, Mr. Roger Eilbeck, in his office. With very inquisitive looks, he asked me if I had helped an elderly British couple. The husband had been taken into hospital for major surgery. Fearing that I'd be accused of 'getting too involved', I replied that I did see this couple, but mainly outside office hours. The Consul then half-smiling, told me that he'd received a letter from Margaret Thacher's office on the subject. My anguish was growing fast. However, when he explained the contents of the letter, I was deeply surprised: the couple had written to Mrs Thatcher to say how beautiful and efficient the Consulate in Florence was! I wasn't mentioned by name, but the description as a 'young employee' fitted me indeedd: I was the youngest there.
It was a very pleasant time, in a calm and friendly working environment. Over time, however, I began to worry about the future: the latest inspections had reduced the number of employees and the Commercial Section was practically suppressed. I thought it would be particularly unpleasant if, perhaps in my 40s, I had to find another job. The experience gained was great, but somewhat isolated from the 'world outside'. And so, when my son was born, in November 1982, I made the big decision; I would resign and throw myself into the world of information technology.
General Processor Firenze
From an early age I had cultivated a deep interest in electronics, then in microprocessors and, above all, in the software to make them work. In 1978, together with a cousin, we had assembled a personal computer and in my free time I had practiced software development. My decision did not find great consensus in the family, but in the end they understood my motivations. It was a big turning point in my life and, all in all, I don't regret it.
Computer Technology 1982-1986
General Processor Firenze
At first I availed myself of a dear friend, Gianni Becattini, who had set up a computer factory (General Processor) in the outskirts of Florence. They produced hardware and I, together with others, adapted and created software. Subsequently, the firm went through a difficult period and eventually closed. I continued as a freelance, working for other companies and for individuals.
Until I landed at the FB Computer of Chiesina Uzzanese, which distributed computers from the American company Cromemco. Originally, this firm consisted of two partners: a commercial and a software developer. The latter had died following an attempted robbery in the adjacent hotel, the "Don Carlos". And I had the rather arduous task of taking his place, with a real archaeological operation, examining all the sources of the programs and trying to put in order a tragically truncated situation.
I would leave early in the morning heading for Chiesina, to return in the evening, exhausted, to Florence.
At a certain point the working relationship had a crisis: the customers demanded assistance that had been ensured in the contract for the purchase of their software and, at the same time, the owner of FB was not inclined to pay either for my travels to the customers, nor for the time it taked me to modify and update the software. Squeezed between these two walls, my only choice was to leave. This also had legal consequences, which lasted for years, at some costs. In the end I won the case, but in the meantime the FB had been reduced to ashes by a fire and so I was not even reimbursed for the expenses. Accidents that happen in life.
I wasn't in a particularly pleasant situation, but I had a stroke of luck, largely favored by my father-in-law. He was then the head of the AIE
(Italian Publishers Association) and at the International Book Fair in Frankfurt he learnt that De Agostini was looking for a person to whom to
entrust the translation of a part-work on home computers. The requirements were: to know Italian, English and computer science as well. I was
summoned to Milan and then to Novara and the task was entrusted to me immediately, also because they intended to come out with the first issue
of "My Computer" within a few weeks.
I met Mr. Jason Vella and Mr. Mario Nilo, of De Agostini, with whom I immediately established excellent relations.
The challenge was not a small one, because between the translation and the newsstand there were only 15 days! My father-in-law set up an office
in the headquarters of Sandron (his publishing firm) in via Farini, where I spent 12 hours a day translating - and adapting - like a madman the
English texts on my computer.
As soon as I finished the translation of an article, I passed the disk to the editorial office, where the proofs were carefully corrected. At the end of this phase, the editorial staff passed via modem (an innovation for those times!) everything to the printing house, which printed the "transparencies", to be sent immediately to Novara. It was a marathon that lasted almost two years: I couldn't afford even a cold, much less a flu, because I couldn't stop: a newsstand appointment would have been missed!
There were rare pauses, like when they called me from Milan to tell me that I should attend a meeting in London, with the drafters of the original
part-work. We spent two or three nights at London's Savoy, one of the most luxurious in the capital, and then rushed back to Florence. We
returned with the prospect of translating a second part-work (52 issues): "INPUT".
When the first issue of "My Computer" came out, I bought all copies I could find in the nearest newsstands. What a thrill to see my name on the cover! Then comes the end of this experience too. The head of the Florentine editorial office and I were offered a job in Novara, but we both declined, mainly because we had no intention of moving.
Computer Technology 1986-1998
After this experience, I worked again with hardware companies (RA Computer, near Porta Romana) or as a software employee (in one of the Pippucci brothers' companies). Eventually I landed at General Comp, which was looking for a manager for the new optical disk storage industry. There were initial difficulties because the software that had been chosen before my arrival, produced by a French company, had significant problems. So I seeked another product and the choice fell on two American products "MacroFiche" and "MacroImage", one for filing of printouts, the other for imaging. These two systems were aimed at large companies, especially banks. This job offered me the opportunity to travel several times to the United States, both to attend software training courses and to search for new products, attending at COMDEX in Las Vegas. Fantastic experience, completely unexpected, and from which I leart a lot. For this I have to thank Mario Degasperi, Florentine manager of the General Comp. Again, my good knowledge of English helped a good deal.
But even this experience ended after a few years. Corporate difficulties caused its closure. Also in this case, thanks to a friend from Rome, I was lucky enough to find a job as a software manager at the Florence branch of SOGEA, a Roman company with 11 branches in Italy, which mainly dealt with data-entry in the banking sector. There was a close collaboration with the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze. During this job, I was asked to attend to a computer science exhibition in São Paulo, Brazil. I was asked to find a software for archiving images on optical discs, an area I was familiar with. Although I had created two good contacts (one with the largest bank in São Paulo), the negotiation by the Roman offices did not go further. In the meantime, the first difficulties began due to the increasingly widespread use of credit and debit cards: the flow of cheques and similar documents was dropping visibly and consequently also the data-entry work. Until the company finally decided the closure of branches.
This time, to find a new job, I turned to a temporary employment agency. A few days later I was offered an interview at the European University
Institute, based in San Domenico di Fiesole. The agency employee had some hesitation in proposing it to me, because it had nothing to do with
information technology: it was a post as a concierge in one of the villas that are part of the large EUI complex. I introduced myself
and, to my considerable surprise, was hired on the spot: I had to report to the Villa the following morning for the handover!
I can say that it was the classic "cheese on macaroni" (as it's said in Italy). I was going through a crisis in my wife, which resulted in a separation, and having a quiet and low-stress job was a cure-all. The recruitment was of the temporary type, therefore short-term (six months), however it was renewed for a further six months. Eventually there would be a competition for a two-year hiring period. Although all seemed to appreciate my work and in spite of an (unsolicited) letter of support by the professors who attended the Villa, the competition was won by another person.
Obviously, I was deeply disappointed. Evidently, time had come for yet another change...
And change there was: my second my second big turning point: the opening of my Calligraphy shop, to which I have dedicated another page [HERE]...