We were extremely honoured to have Roberto Saviano speaking at Fabrica yesterday evening.
Saviano is one of Italy's leading cultural figures. He's internationally-known for writing the incredible book "Gomorrah", which spawned the equally incredible film of the same name, denouncing the Camorra Mafia's effect on Napoli (and more broadly, Italy and beyond.) "Gomorrah" has been situated within the New Italian Epic movement, as an Unidentified Narrative Object (UNO.) (This is totally fascinating to me, as I'm interested in other, very different, writers such as Peter Robb, Peter Carey, or Jonathan Raban and his "prose narratives", who also float between fiction and non-fiction, objective stance and subjective, personal.)
Saviano was perhaps the most compelling contributor to Bill Emmott and Annalisa Piras's ocumentary about 'good Italy, bad Italy', "Girlfriend In A Coma". Saviano's collection of essays, "Beauty and the Inferno", is a recent favourite.
His new book, "ZeroZeroZero", perhaps explores cocaine in the same way that those books of a few years ago used to pivot around cod or salt or shipping containers, examining how this single phenomenon alters core systems of living across the globe. After "Gomorrah's" success, Roberto is forced to live under police protection, unable to live anything approaching a normal existence. So "ZeroZeroZero's" research, tracking the movement of cocaine across global trade routes and borders, and its influence within global finance in particular, is essentially conducted via the internet. This is immensely interesting to us, as a communications research centre.
However, that necessity of police protection — and many, many thanks to his bodyguards, Benetton security and the local carabinieri, who were nothing but helpful, courteous and totally professional at all points — meant that the arrangements for last night were particularly complex. We could only announce the event with two days' notice. That we got almost 800 people into Fabrica nonetheless is some indication of Saviano's status, and the hunger for this kind of thinking in this region.
We held the event outside in our "agora", the circular outdoor theatre that Tadao Ando designed as the fulcrum of our building. Ever since I got to Fabrica, making that space active has been a priority, and I could not imagine we would get it quite so active within six months or so. It was a delight to see the place full and buzzing.
Although security was the priority, we had to figure lots of other details out too, including back-up parking in nearby farmer's field (thanks!), portable WCs, temporary book-stall, simultaneous translation, locking down the building, and so on. I'd like to personally thank all the Fabrica staff involved in that; there are too many names to list here, but particular thanks to Enrico Bossan who was instrumental in bringing Roberto here, Angela Quintavalle, who coordinated the communications, liaison and overall management, and Stefano Bosco and Luciano Alban, who led on logistics. But like I say, many others were involved too — it took a supreme team effort. Somehow, sheer force of will sorted out the weather too.
This event was part of our strategy around opening up Fabrica — the space, the organisation, our work, our people — and we were delighted to see people from Treviso, Venice and the Veneto region here in droves. A real mix — young/old, male/female, black/white, North/South— all massively engaged with the event, and then wandering around the building, apparently enchanted not only by Saviano, but the whole experience, the evening, the space, and perhaps even what role Fabrica might play in what Roberto later called "a renaissance of ideas" in Italy. (It's also nice to be able to follow last week's announcement of Sandbox with this very different project, indicating our range as well as a different take on openness.)
It was a privilege to be able to offer Fabrica up to the region last night, particularly in this way, and we will look for other opportunities to do this. It's too good a space, in too good a climate, surrounded by too interesting a proposition not to do this more regularly! Fabrica has never had that many people (perhaps 800) here for an event.
This regional aspect is important, not least because Italy is a loosely unified nation of regions, perhaps more diverse than any other country in Europe and in a fragile coalition right now, but because this particular region of Veneto has aaaah, shall we say, an awkward political relationship with the South. So for Roberto Saviano to speak here was hugely important, as an incredibly eloquent, fluent and compelling intellectual from the South, with genuine presence, honesty and insight. This aspect was pointed out to me by a few of my colleagues, who feel it better than I can. Potente, as they say in Italian. My Italian teacher describes a long tradition of eloquent, powerful orators and writers from the South, but given the current economic scenario, not just in Italy but across Europe, we need these strong characters to become visible, and there are few stronger than Saviano.
Personally, I continue to be amazed at not only at this but also Saviano's sheer humility and generosity. Walking him through Fabrica yesterday, his genuine interest and openness in our work and our people was immediately obvious and disarming to Fabricanti (our researchers) and staff, some of whom were perhaps a little star-struck.
Saviano then stayed another 90 minutes after the long standing ovation that marked the end of his speech, signing books. The security guards waited patiently until the end to get their copies signed. Earlier, I had noticed our cleaning ladies standing listening to Saviano, rapt with attention.
In my introductory speech, I quoted a line of Roberto's from his preface to "Beauty and the Inferno":
"If anyone hoped that living under extreme circumstances would lead me to hide my words away, there were wrong. I have not hidden them and I have not lost them."
It was our great privilege that Roberto has not hidden or lost his words, and that we could see him and hear him at Fabrica last night. And it continues to be a great privilege, for all of us. Grazie Roberto.