Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

A Fisherman’s Reflections on a beautiful but troubled world
Chapter 12 - Europe

The east was old and feeble; the west was young and strong. 
Life turned from the east, and pushed its immortal fortunes on the
banks of the Tiber.  …  This was the heroic stuff of which the best
Romans were made:  A man’s word was his
bond.  Fear was regarded
with contempt.  All pain could be endured.  Death was better than dishonour.

The rise of Europe was an ascension of the human spirit from depravity
toward moral
grandeur.  The noble Romans carried in their souls the
fortunes of the human race.   

                        The Rise of Europe     Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia


The first tender manifestations of the spiritual force called the Renaissance, the awakening of art after its long sleep, occurred in Tuscany, in the little town called Siena.  A great sense of beauty lay behind the movement, as mysterious as beauty always is.  It was something intensely airy and alive, and it captured men’s hearts and found expression in art and architecture.  The artists were influenced by new ideas.  Dante had just written his allegory, and Saint Francis of Assisi was going about in that region, preaching and teaching.  The Florentine school of art followed that of Siena, producing some wonderful artists.  Among them were two giants of the Renaissance, - Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo.

                    The Wonder Men of Florence   Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia


The legacy of Europe’s peoples to the rest of the world is incalculable.  Their creativity, endeavour and inspiration in literature, faith, music, art, science, architecture, philosophy and exploration has been the basis of much of modern civilization.  Following the rise and fall of past empires of Egypt, Babylon, China, Persia, Greece and Rome, European culture achieved global eminence for most of the past millennium.  My first impressions of the glory of the European states came from Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia which I loved to peruse.

Beginning in northern Italy at the start of the Renaissance, and spreading later into the Netherlands, France, Spain and other European states, scores of brilliant, gifted, dedicated artists appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.  Duccio de Buoninsegna was one of the first to break out of the old Gothic mould of the heavy Romanesque movement.  Then followed Giotto, Orcagna, and later, Fra Angelico, Gozzoli and Botticelli, - just names to us today, but all instruments of the remarkable art movement culminating in da Vinci and Michelangelo.  From the Germanic states came Durer and the two Holbeins. The Dutch and Flemish schools followed later with men like the great Rubens, Hals, Jordaens, Van Dyck, and the renowned Rembrandt.  In the 17th century Spain produced artists of the calibre of Velasquez and Murillo.  So Renaissance art spread.        

In exploration, the Italian states, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland, led the way from the time of Marco Polo in the 13th and 14th centuries, with a golden age of sea voyages and discovery from the late 15th to early 16th century.  Six renowned navigators of that period were Giovanni Caboto (Jean Cabot), Bartholomew Diaz, Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon), Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Jacques Cartier.  With the exception of Cartier who lived to 66, they all died relatively young, - the average age of the first five was just 49 years.  Their voyages covered the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and in Magellan’s case his ship circumnavigated the world before Drake’s.  Abel Tasman followed in their steps exploring the southern seas in the 17th century.  From my youth, the exploits of those pioneers fired my imagination and expanded my interest in foreign lands and oceans.  Much of my information came from Harold Wheeler’s compilation of marine lore in the volume, The Wonderful Story of the Sea.  A favourite chapter was, In the Wake of Navigators.

Behind those explorations lay the lust for power and empire by Europe’s rulers, and the greed for wealth by its merchants.  Kirkpatrick Sale concluded that Columbus began the long process by which 120 million indigenous American Indians were effectively destroyed, and much of their culture annihilated.  The wealth of their two continents, - gold, silver, pearls, timber, fish, tobacco, potatoes, corn, medicines, and much else, were discovered, exploited and exported.  In addition, much of the land was to be laid waste.  European institutions and economies came to dominate all countries of every land or longitude.  This most successful domination by any civilization in the history of humanity, led to the most successful domination by any single species in the history of life. [K.Sale, The Columbian Legacy and the Ecosterian Response, in People, Land and Community, Yale Univ. Press.]

But the subsequent exploitation does not detract from the bravery, skill and determination of the navigators.  It is interesting to bear in mind what motivated much of the expansion of trade.  It was not a vital necessity for the home countries, nor was the exchange of goods arranged out of any desire to bring development or civilization to the new lands.  Global trade began strangely, out of a demand for luxuries such as spices, silks, purple cloth, ivory, precious stones, gold and silver.  Much of global trade today continues that tradition.  Some commodities such as petroleum, electrical and electronic goods, vehicles and machinery, have become necessities for poorer developing regions, as certain foodstuffs and raw materials are for us; but I fail to see how nuclear power, luxury automobiles, Rolex watches, digital cameras, western music, Hollywood movies, Coca Cola, hamburgers, or brand name clothes and shoes are really that important.  But glittering toys of global capitalism are difficult to resist for those who have acquired some disposable income.

In the science of astronomy, there were remarkable discoveries in the 16th and 17th centuries beginning with Nicolaus Copernicus of Poland, who was followed by Johannes Kepler in Germany, and the great Galileo Galilie in Italy.  Having both a romantic and a professional interest in astronomy, I was delighted to meet a modern galactic astronomer from Italy who was working on the Hubble space telescope project in Maryland.  It happened on a flight from Johannesburg to London in the 1994 when we were fortuitously sat together.  An attractive young Italian scientist, her name was Daniela Calzetti.  After brief introductions, I took the opportunity to ask her about her work and profession, and she kindly gave me an amazing two hour panorama of the universe and its galaxies, stars, black holes, quasars, pulsars, comets, planets, moons and asteroids, and the energy systems that permeate the boundless vistas of space and maintain the whole in seeming harmony and equilibrium.   I recall the impromptu lecture with pleasure to this day.

A final comment by Miss Calzetti left me with food for thought.  “Do you know that you are made of stardust?”  How is that I asked.  “The human frame is made up mostly of carbon atoms,” she responded.  “The only place in the universe where carbon can be created is in the intense heat of a burning star.  Carbon dust is star-dust”.

The Italian states produced many religious scholars and pioneers of faith, as did France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Switzerland and Germany.  Five notable men of faith were (in chronological order), Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, and Thomas A’Kempis.   Reformation scholars began their work in the 16th century, building on the labours of scripture translators and anabaptists.  Desiderius Erasmus laid the ground for Martin Luther, with men like John Calvin, building the new theological frameworks.  A post-reformation revival of spirituality in the Roman church was marked by the work of men such as Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier in the 16th century, and Blaise Pascal in the 17th.   Subsequent centuries saw further movements in faith and theology.  Count von Zinzendorf founded the Moravian church in the 18th century, and the 19th and 20th centuries brought Christian scholars like Soren Kirkegaard, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to prominence.  The lives and writings of all of these have enriched my own understanding, as heavy as some of their works are in places.

In music also, Europe’s legacy is awe-inspiring and invaluable.  I love music of all kinds but as I was not blessed with a musical ear or any latent talent in that area, I will not say much about that glorious art form other than to acknowledge its importance. But Europe has also suffered much.  It has experienced earthquakes, landslides, famine, pestilence, disease, economic hardship and social distress.  But worst of all have been its wars and invasions, civil conflicts and slaughters.  It is probably those experiences in the historical memory of the people that makes most European states desire the stability and protection they believe will come from membership of a United States of Europe. 

 The folly and insanity of Europe’s wars was well expressed by the poet Robert Southey in his poem “After Blenheim”.   Some verses read :

With fire and sword the country round was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then, and newborn baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be, at every famous victory. 

They say it was a shocking site, after the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here, lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be, after a famous victory.

My direct experience of European people and culture, began at a basic level with odd sorties to French trawlers when they were berthed in ports in the Republic of Ireland.  An Irish deckhand, Joe Glynn used to ask me to join him on those visits.  I thought that with my schoolboy French I might help him to communicate, but he had no problems in that area.  His language skills were limited to, “vin rouge, - vin blanc, - and - cognac”, and once the ice was broken, and the glasses offered, he preferred to stick to cognac !     The French fishers were mostly from the Breton ports, and probably  of Celtic origin like the Irish.  They were humble down-to-earth men, much like our own seafarers.

Spanish trawlers also were often in southern and western Irish ports during bad weather or breakdowns.  They fished mostly for hake in deep waters off the west coast, using a two-boat “pareja” system. The men were mostly small and poor, - their working clothes covered in patches.  (This was around 1950).  On entering our boat’s mahogany-lined cabin they would blow kisses in the air in admiration.  Looking around at the crew, they would point to the most corpulent figure and say – “Capitan !”, then pointing to the next heaviest person, they would say, “cookee !”, to the amusement of all.  (They were often correct in their humorous assumptions). They had no love for General Franco, the mention of whose name they would treat with a hiss and a throat-cutting gesture with the hand.  One injured sailor joined my father’s boat for a few weeks after his release from hospital, while awaiting the return of his own ship.  Ricardo Diaz was a sincere and gentle soul, and most appreciative of the kindness shown to him.

My first encounter with Europeans:  Spanish ‘pareja’ hake fishermen off the SW of Ireland in the early 1950’s

French trawlers in Howth, Ireland, during the great gale of 1953.

Years later I was to visit much of Europe, and to work for extended periods in Italy in the 1980’s and in Austria during the early 1990’s.  I spent shorter periods in Scandinavia which is not part of Europe; specifically Norway, the Faeroe Isles, Denmark and Iceland.  It was also a pleasure to work with a number of Scandinavian colleagues in the United Nations Agencies where they are well represented and where their countries have made outstanding contributions over the past 50 years.

I first visited Italy in 1966 to undertake a brief assignment for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Fisheries Department at the request of Hilmar Kristjonsson, who was then the organisation’s chief technical fisheries officer.  Hilmar was an amazing character in many ways.  He had an encyclopedic mind and could quote facts and figures from memory, on almost every fishery in the world  having visited practically every country apart from mainland China.  Sadly he suffered from alcohol addiction in his later years, and was to die before he reached sixty.  But for all of us who knew him in his prime, he was the most outstanding fishery technologist of the 20th century.  His name lives on in the Fishing Gear of the World volumes he edited in an attempt to chronicle all the major methods and equipment used in fish capture in the three decades after the end of the second world war. 

The headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, Italy.
I was employed by FAO a number of years, in SE Asia, Africa, and Italy.

FAO Logo

Below: with Dr Joaquin Cortez at an international FAO conference

I was to work occasionally in Rome for varying periods, over the next 30 years.  The first visit was probably the most memorable.  I stayed at the San Anselmo Pensione, (now a hotel), on the Aventino between the Tiber and the Pyramide.  Walking down the cobbled street the first morning, I was attracted by the graffiti on the walls on either side : “Vota Communista”  on one side, and “Viva il Duce” on the other.  Italy’s cafés and restaurants  were an experience in themselves.  What splendid food.  What a relaxed atmosphere in which to eat.  What coffee, and what wine.  And those crisp fresh rosetti rolls that Rome is famous for, - what a breakfast they made, with fresh butter and jam, and heaps of café latte with loads of hot milk.

Near the Aventino, and the San Anselmo, the Pyramide monument

The manager and owner of the San Anselmo showed me much kindness.  He invited me to join him one evening to attend an international boxing title fight at the Sports Palace in EUR.  The main contestants were Nino Benvenito, the middleweight champion of the world at that time, and the challenger Luis Rodriguez.  Benvenito being Italian, was the home favourite.  Rodriguez was managed by Angelo Dundee who also trained Muhammed Ali.  My recollection is that Benvenito won by a knock-out in the 11th round, but it was the whole spectacle that was memorable.  All the razzmatazz, the animated spectators, and the physical speed and prowess of those young prizefighters who were trained to the peak for that particular sport, - combined to create the atmosphere and excitement of the evening.

In my youth I loved to watch live boxing contests on television.  Before television was common, we would gather around the radio to listen to fight commentaries by Raymond Glendenning or Eamonn Andrews.  When black and white television arrived in our house I was even more captivated.  British boxers I enjoyed watching included Henry Cooper, Dave Charnley, Terry Downes, John ‘Cowboy’ McCormack, and Billy Walker.  Walker was at his best as an amateur.  He was the heavyweight in a famous team of ten British boxers that beat an American golden gloves team in London 10 – 0 to everyone’s surprise.  But strangely, though several of that team of amateurs (like Walker) turned professional, - not one of them won a title.  So then I enjoyed the sport.  But not now.  Either I am getting old, or else the sport has gone far downhill since the fifties and sixties.  Later I was to meet a few former champions including Ken Buchanan [One of Buchanan’s sparring partners at the Sparta club in Edinburgh, boxer Jimmy McCarron, became a dear friend of mine during my years in that city.  He worked hard through our church to help young people and unemployed men in the area.  His wife and four daughters were also marvellous workers for the fellowship.], Alan Minter and Rocky Graziano.  My brother James actually arrested (or rather, cautioned) Muhammed Ali.  He was a Metropolitan policeman on the Westminster beat when he received a call that someone was holding a public meeting in Trafalgar Square without permission.  James went along to find a tall, handsome negro holding forth to an eager audience.  He halted the proceedings and informed the boxer that he could speak at Hyde Park without prior notice, but not in the Square. The former Cassius Clay was most courteous and accommodating in complying with the instruction.

My meeting with Rocky Graziano was in Rhode Island where he was naturally popular with the Italian community.  He occasionally showed up to help Italian businessmen to sell cars or fill their restaurants.  Not to be confused with the heavyweight Rocky Marciano, Graziano was a welterweight cum middleweight who had some epic battles with Tony Zale.  Some claim that Graziano had been involved in criminal activities and should have gone to jail.  However, he did not, and lived to enjoy his earnings and die with some respect.  That may have been on his mind when he wrote a biography titled “Somebody up there loves me”.   Paul Newman acted his part in a Hollywood film based on the book.

My brother James when a Metropolitan policemen.  On one occasion he had to caution and remove Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay) from Trafalgar Square where the boxer was conducting a public meeting without permission.

Another tale from my days at the San Anselmo, provides a bit of the flavour of Italy on a summer holiday.  On 15th August at the end of the hot summer months, there is the Roman holiday of Farragosto.  Manager Petroni told me that no-one stayed around the city on that day, and I should also go off somewhere.  I am a poor tourist despite my travels, but agreed to his suggestion.  He arranged for me to take a trip to Naples and Capri with a local tourist company.  The bus duly collected me early the Monday morning, and off we went down the road to Naples past Monte Cassino, the monastery that was a scene of fierce fighting during the war.  Our guide stood at the front of the bus before we arrived there and said, “Good morning. My name is Gepetto and I am your guide.  See how I wear a very funny hat.  That is for a good reason. In Naples there will be very many peoples.  You follow Gepetto, and keep watching for my funny hat.  We get onto a boat and go to Capri and have a good time”.  The bus arrived at Naples harbour where it ploughed into a sea of humanity.  Our guide stepped out first and disappeared into the enormous crowd.  That was the last I ever saw of Gepetto and his funny hat.

I was swept along the pier by the throng, at times almost lifted off my feet.  We arrived at the place where a fleet of tourist boats were moored.  The operators had long since given up on careful checks of the passengers.  As soon as a full complement was deemed to have stepped on board, the skipper went ahead to drive the boat away from the pier while the main mooring rope remained attached.  One distraught Italian mother who had been chaperoning her daughter and the girl’s boyfriend, was stranded on the pier while the boy and girl made it on board.  How that poor woman screamed and shouted to the skipper, - how she cried and pleaded with her daughter.  She perspired and got so flushed, the steam was literally rising from her forehead.  But it was all in vain.  The boat left without her, taking the courting couple off on a trip free of maternal supervision.

I also landed on a boat, but not the correct one for my tour ticket.  However, no one seemed to mind, and in Capri another tour group kindly took me with their party to the blue grotto and other sites on that lovely isle.  I got friendly with the second tour guide, a young woman from Peru whose father had been head of the Salvation Army there and had done a lot of famine relief work. I also got to know her Italian boyfriend, a less than full member of a titled family due to some anomaly I now forget.  I was to spend some evenings with them later in Rome, including a memorable open-air dinner and musical evening in the Tresteveri part of the old city. The second tour group kindly brought me back to my hotel.  How they sorted the payment out with the first group I have no idea, but the Italians have ways of fixing these things.  On the road back I recall that the restaurant where that group was meant to have dinner was full and the manager claimed to have no record of the booking.  But following a fifteen minute harangue between him and our determined guide, we were permitted to eat.  All in all it was a most memorable day, and I was glad to have had the experience. 

Naples - I went there and to Capri on a memorable Roman holiday.

A colleague of mine had a house in Castelgandolfo, by a volcanic lake, and near the summer residence of the Pope.  We would motor there some weekends and spend a pleasant day in that scenic town.  On the road back to Rome through Frascati we would pass the memorial and initial grave of one Charles Edward Stewart, the “Young Pretender” or Bonnie Prince Charlie as he was called.  He led the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46 which nearly overturned the English Government.  But as the Scots have been wont to do over the years, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and having gotten as far as Derby, with London in a panic, they began to quarrel among themselves, and went back north.  The English army recovered its composure and followed them into Scotland, eventually slaughtering what was left of the Scots at Culloden moor near Inverness.  Prince Charlie sailed back to France and from there he later returned to Italy where he died a drunken alcoholic by most accounts.

Another mountain lake we used to visit was Braziano to the north of Rome.  The town overlooking that lake is typical of the beautiful and well-preserved medieval castle towns of Italy.  Our friend Werner Kley, had a small speedboat on the lake, which our children loved.  We sometimes went there by train which was more leisurely than driving.  On one trip, a fellow passenger who had imbibed rather much wine, took a great interest in the family.  He rushed out at one station and bought a large number of ice cream cones which he proceeded to distribute among us.  He had over-estimated the size of the family and was left with a surplus.  The ticket collecter came in and was pressed to accept some, much against his better judgment, by our very generous travelling companion. 

Below: The Coliseum, perhaps the best known of Rome’s ancient buildings

“Beautiful, beautiful Roma” was how Charlotte Loewenthal [Mrs Loewenthal was a Jewish lady, the wife of a Nottingham doctor, who raised large sums for charities, including the Freedom From Hunger Campaign.  She died tragically in a car crash in 1967.  I admired her greatly, having met her twice and corresponded with her for a few years before her death.] described the city to me when I made my first visit there in 1966.  I have to concur with her words though Rome then also had its poorer districts.  In compensation it also had a host of small restaurants where one could eat well for very little.  But these cheap dining places are a thing of the past, replaced now by rather unappetizing ‘pizza rustica’ take-away shops.  However, Rome had, and I guess will always have, the largest and most magnificent range of treasures of art and sculpture and architecture in Europe.  It was my wife Margo who introduced most of them to me in the late 1980’s when she made it her business to guide our many house guests around the ancient churches and temples and ruins of old Rome.  At that time we rented a flat off the Grotta Perfetta, not far from the old Appian Way, the main road that led into Rome from the south in days gone by.  The FAO Fisheries building lay off the Cristoforo Colombo highway that linked old Rome to E.U.R. the more modern part that was built by Mussolini as a monument to Fascism.  The main FAO headquarters building was at Terme di Caracalla, by the Circus Maximus, and just a few hundred yards from the ruins of the Coliseum and the Forum.

We visited the Pantheon, the Catacombs, St. Peters, the church of San Paolo (where Paul was beheaded), the Coliseum and the old Forum, and the numerous old churches that housed magnificent sculptures and paintings.  Our friends were also shown some of the more recent constructions including the Vittorio Emanuel monument, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and other attractions.  Outside of Rome by the Leonardo da Vinci airport was the old Roman port of Ostia with wonderfully preserved streets, shops, baths and houses. We marveled at the sculptures of Moses and David and Mary by Michelangelo, as well as his magnificent paintings in the Cistine Chapel, along with those of Leonardo da Vinci.  Margo was particularly fond of the works of Caravagio, one of the finest of Italy’s medieval artists.

Appia Antica, the ancient road to Rome from the south. 
We had an apartment just minutes away from here.

Ostia, the seaport of Rome when the empire was at is height.

Near the Coliseum, on via Capo d’Africa, was another favourite pensione of ours where we spent many stays.  It was run by two pleasant ladies, Mrs Khan and Mrs Musik.  A sign of their good management was that the staff hardly changed.  The leading waitress, Vera, a delightful woman with a perceptive Roman wit that put cheeky guests in their place, was there when I first stayed in the 1960’s, and had just retired on my last visit nearly thirty years later.  The Lancelot, in true pensione fashion, served breakfast and dinner, though some weekends a lunch was provided if necessary.  For dinner, guests had to be in place at 7.30 pm.  Woe betide the casual diner who wandered in a half-hour late !  There was a set menu consisting of soup or risotto, a main course, and fruit for dessert.  The tables were furnished with all the bread, mineral water, white and red wine the guests could consume.  Guests were seated, eight to a table.  Coffee was served after dinner, with, as a special treat on Sunday evenings, a glass of sambucca containing a coffee bean.

It was the conversation around those Lancelot tables that was so often fascinating.  There were UN project field workers from practically every corner of the globe.  We met visiting delegations from all member countries of FAO and IFAD, and conference speakers on just about every subject remotely connected with food production.  There were occasional tourists who had stumbled upon the hotel, and once there was a young newly-wed Irish couple who had for their own reasons, opted to have their service in Rome, and their wedding feast in the Lancelot, without an Irish friend or relative present.  The bride sat there in her wedding attire, totally unembarrassed at celebrating her nuptials in a public dining room.  I could not resist presenting them with some Scottish souvenirs and wishing them every happiness, in an attempt to add a touch of festivity to the occasion.  The staff provided the couple with a bottle of champagne at management suggestion. 

  Via Capo’d’Africa where I often stayed            EUR, modern part of south Rome built by Mussolini
  at the Lancelot Pensione                              The FAO Fisheries building was located here in 1966

An amusing encounter with European Members of Parliament, occurred when FAO was asked to receive a large delegation from Strasbourg who had some questions about fisheries and about food aid.  Director Kojima of Fisheries Operations asked Serge Garcia, Director of Resources, and myself, to meet with the group and respond to their enquiries.  We waited in the meeting room a full 2 hours before they showed up.  The MEPs had been given lunch by the World Food Program, and it had taken longer than planned.  By their flushed appearance and glassy eyes, it looked like some of them had been liberally wined as well.  The group of over two dozen filed in and took their seats.  Mr Kojima welcomed them and their spokesman responded.  He thanked us for the welcome and then apologised that as they had spent too long with the WFP, most of them had now to leave for Leonardo da Vinci airport at Fumicino.  With that they got up and departed, leaving the Director rather dumbfounded.   

Two MEPS from England remained, (I will not name them!).  The senior one, a Tory, who was accompanied by his wife, was appointed spokesman.  He then asked how we should begin.  Kojima responded, “perhaps we can begin by answering your questions.”  “What questions?”  the MEP asked. “The questions in your e-mail to us” responded Kojima.  “What e-mail ?” replied the MEP.  Kojima then read the communication to them.  One of the questions related to fish stocks off the Falklands (or Malvinas).  Garcia started to list the species, beginning with squid. “Squid?”, exclaimed the second MEP (who had just been deselected by his Labour constituency).  “What do they taste like?  I’ve never eaten them.”   My recollection is that the discussions continued even farther downhill from then on. Afterwards I apologised to Dr Garcia for the calibre of the English MEPs.  “It’s all right”, he responded. “We have MPs like that in France also”

When I first visited Italy, Italian government was synonymous with instability, short term ministries, uneasy coalitions, and ineffective rule.  Public life was later afflicted with extreme violence, as perpetrated by the marxist Red Brigade, and brutal murder of any politician or judge that stood up against the Mafia, that huge network of organized crime and callous domination of businesses, centred mainly in Sicily and Palermo at the southern end of the country.  Some remarkably brave individuals like Antonino Caponnetto, stood up to the evil empire and some paid for their integrity with their lives.

The Mafia or Cosa Nostra, have of course been around for generations, but it is believed that the USA laid the basis for their rejuvenation by employing gangster Lucky Luciano to help prepare for the allied landings in Sicily in 1943.  Luciano lost no time in involving two notorious colleagues, Michele Sindona, and Gaetano Badalamenti, who were later to figure prominently in Mafia activity.  Once Sicily was liberated, Mafioso characters were installed as mayors in many of its towns.  Apparently the Allies thought this much better than having communist-leaning officials hold office.

In 1983, the Mafia murdered Rocco Chinnici, then head of the office in Sicily that was investigating organized crime.  In 1992, they assassinated two magistrates, Giovanni Falcone, and Paolo Borsellino.  Some of their bodyguards and family members were also killed in the brutal bombings.  Despite the terror, a few courageous prosecutors continued to hunt down the criminals.  Among the crime fighters was Anna Maria Palma, a tough prosecutor with a combative spirit.   As a result of her efforts and the support of a growing number of brave officials, several mafia bosses were eventually tried, convicted and jailed.

Mafia violence was paralleled for a period by that of the Red Brigade or Brigate Rossi, who murdered Fulvio Croce, a leading Milan lawyer in 1977, and then a former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro in 1978.  The Red Brigade went on to kill Emilio Alessandrini, a young prosecutor in 1979.  Other lawyers murdered included Giorgio Ambrosoli and Guido Galli.  The list is depressing, and even sadder was the public cowardice shown at the time.  Many politicians would not even attend the funerals of assassinated prosecutors.  Fortunately, the Brigate Rossi is no longer around, but the Mafia continues to flourish.

Aldo Moro and Italian politics

The Aldo Moro / Red Brigade events give us a glimpse into the sinister and murky world of Italian crime, corruption, and politics.  As with other national scandals in that lovely land, one finds a Byzantine trail of collusion between, and manipulation by, Italian politicians, underworld Mafia figures, P2 Masonic Lodge groups, and Marxist terrorists; - with interference from outside by powerful entities like NATO and the CIA.  

Aldo Moro, a leader of the Christian Democrats, one of Italy’s longest serving Prime Ministers, had also held the posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Education, and Minister of Justice.  He was highly respected for his intellect and his diplomatic patience.  Early in his career he helped draft Italy’s post-war constitution.  He had a strategic vision of a Compromesso Storico (historic compromise), of a unity government that would bring together elements of the centre, left, and rightist, parties in Italy.  This was opposed by Kissinger who (according to Moro’s widow), warned him, “you must abandon your policy of bringing all the political forces in your country into direct collaboration, … or you will pay dearly for it”. 

The Red Brigade kidnapped him in March 1978, hoping to exchange him for some terrorists held in prison.   From the beginning the police and judicial authorities appeared to bungle efforts to locate him and secure his release. They also laid false trails and raided houses, in apparent attempts to pressure the Red Brigade to act.  The Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, and some of his inner circle insisted on sticking to a hard line of no negotiations with the Red Guard despite pleas from Moro’s family and from Pope Paul VI, and despite suggestions from Moro in letters from his prison that were delivered by the Red Brigade.  Some observers speculated that Andreotti and his supporters saw an opportunity to get rid of a powerful competitor within the Christian Democrat Party. 

Aldo Moro was killed on the 9th of May, 1978.  Following his death there were seemingly endless speculations about his kidnap and murder, with suggestions that the Italian Masonic Lodge, P2, was involved, or elements in Nato’s Gladio network, the Mafia, or the CIA. 

In a bizarre twist, it was Romano Prodi who directed authorities to a house where Moro may have been held.  Prodi claimed that elder Christian Democrat figures gave him the information following a séance, and use of a Ouija board !   Some Italian members of the European Commission claimed that he had made up that story to conceal the real source of the tip-off.  Romano Prodi served as President of the European Commission from 1999 till 2004. 

Giulio Andreotti was known to have had close links to the Mafia until 1980.  He was investigated for this but the charges were never proven.  However, he was found guilty in 2002 of complicity in the 1979 murder of news reporter Mino Pecorelli who had published allegations about his ties to the Mafia.  He was sentenced to 24 years in prison but the following year, 2003, the Supreme Court quashed that verdict and the sentence was not carried out. 

I had my own brush with criminals in February 1989 when entering a branch of Banca Commerciale Italiano that was located inside a UN FAO building on the Via Cristoforo Colombo.  I stepped into the small bank and took a queue number ticket from a system just installed.  Looking at those ahead of me in the line along the wall, I noticed they each were holding their hands up and looking straight ahead.  Only then did I see the hoodlum with a broken nose and balaclava, holding a large pistol to the head of one of the cashiers.  His two accomplices were filling black plastic trash bags with bundles of Lire notes.  This was inside a building that had security guards at every entrance !   The gang took their time, and showed neither fear nor nervousness.  Eventually they sauntered out and returned to their vehicle through the front door.  Some surmised later that they had some help from the inside, possibly from one or more of the security staff, but I’m not sure.  One sharp-eyed secretary had noticed what was happening.  Unfortunately she ran to tell the main door guard and was made to sit beside him by another gang member who was holding the guard at gunpoint inside the foyer where his gun would not have been visible to people entering and leaving.

A number of Brits and Americans had settled in Rome, and I came to know a few.  One elderly man from the USA who attended our church was “Red” Faulkner, a nephew of the novelist William Faulkner who died in 1962.  The writer once stayed a few weeks with his nephew in Rome.  According to “Red”, he hardly spoke two words the whole time he was there.  Some writers can be like that.

Amsterdam, where my wife and I spent our brief honeymoon.

In addition to the periods spent in Italy, I visited France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Germany, Belgium and Denmark.  Margo and I had a brief honeymoon in Amsterdam where we stayed in the old American hotel.  We returned many years later to find that magnificent hotel thoroughly modernized, and its beautiful suites made into a larger number of tiny rooms to accommodate more guests.  We spent a romantic few days on the canals and visiting Delft and the Hague.  On our second visit we saw Anne Frank’s house.  I had read the book but could not bring myself to watch the film.  To this day it pains me how anyone could have betrayed that innocent young girl who died so tragically in Belsen

Tulip fields near the Hague, Netherlands.

Spain has happy memories of family holidays when we swapped houses with dear Spanish friends. That was in Denia on the Mediterranean coast.  Our friends included my former research vessel engineer, Jose Sansaloni, and his lovely wife Maria del Carmen, and Jose’s sister’s family, the Garcia’s. Rita Garcia had spent a summer with us as a young teenager then gaining fluency in English.  She is now a medical doctor.  Needless to say, we got by far the better piece of that arrangement!   Later we also spent a holiday in Tenerife. 

My work took me occasionally to France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark where there was little time for sight-seeing, but in each country I was well received by colleagues and contacts.  In France I visited a fish merchant friend at Granville near Mont San Michelle.  He had a beautiful house built in the style of an old Norman manor villa, with a huge central room and an inner balcony overlooking it, from which the upper bedrooms were accessed.  Even more memorable than his house was the seafood he served, mainly shellfish, which were prepared as only the French can cook them. 

Two other countries I spent time in are probably my favourite parts of Europe. They are Switzerland and Austria.  Both are blessed with magnificent scenery and a well-ordered society.  In both countries, the streets are clean, trains run on time, and there is an apparent absence of crime and graffiti.  Critics say that both societies can be rather dull and humourless, but that was not my experience. 

Our memories of Switzerland stem from a convention at Interlaken which I attended with the family one summer.  The younger kids stayed at a youth camp in Grundevald, near to the glacier.  The rest of us rented a self-catering apartment in Interlaken.  As our eldest daughter said, it was “like living inside a picture postcard”.  You could point your camera in any direction and still get a splendid result.  The whole experience was delightful, from the funicular railway to the mountain chalets, to the small but high quality restaurants.  One can understand why men of wealth settle there, - even if there were no tax-free benefits!

Interlaken, Switzerland, of which my family has happy memories.

Austria in many ways was just a larger Switzerland.  I worked in Vienna for most of three years for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.  It is located in a magnificent modern building constructed on an island in the re-engineered Danube river.  The building also houses the UN Agency that monitors nuclear power developments.  This Agency has been much involved with developments in Iran and North Korea in recent days.  While I was working in UNIDO, a friend of mine delivered a protest letter to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, from the Scottish National Party, about plans to send nuclear waste from East Europe for re-processing in Scotland.  The request was received with a degree of consternation on the part of the official concerned.

Below left : The UNIDO complex on the Danube river, Vienna, Austria.  It also houses IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, and the UN Narcotics Commission.  OPEC has its offices elsewhere in Vienna.

                                                                                                  Below : The Austrian Alps


My first assignment with UNIDO began when after returning to Scotland from Sumatra, I received a call from a Colombian lady in Vienna.  Teresa Salazar described how her unit was undertaking a global study of the patterns of fish industry development.  They had recruited a Harvard computer programmes professor to design a package to contain basic fishery sector data on every significant fishing country in the world.  After running the programme, the print-outs identified groups or clusters of fishery industries that shared some commonalities.  The problem then was to identify whether and which clusters were significantly meaningful from the viewpoint of the study.  Since none of those involved had any detailed knowledge of global fisheries, they were unable to interpret the results.

I flew to Austria to join the team for a few weeks.  It proved to be one of the most fascinating assignments of my career.  Dr Cliff Zinnes, the Harvard professor, was a mine of information on how computer programmes could analyse a host of data on numerous aspects of an industrial sector, and could identify patterns not easily detected from a normal desk study of the basic information.  He was also a brilliant musician, and could play Bach, Beethoven and Schubert from memory, and improvise to illustrate the particular styles those composers preferred.  His young wife, from Latin America, was quite different but equally gifted, with an artistic talent and a typical Latin temperament.

What amazed me when examining the ‘clusters’, was not what they told us about the fish industry patterns, but what else they indicated.  It was easy for me to identify the clusters with large artisanal fisheries and big domestic markets; those with smaller, commercial, export-oriented industries; those with significant reduction fisheries, making oil and meal; and the ones that followed a high-tech, big investment path; and so on, in a variety of different patterns.  But what surprised me was that the computer also clustered countries that had large petroleum reserves; countries that suffered from political instability, civil wars, or insurgencies; states that had centrally controlled economies; and states with free market systems.  All of that from information about the fishery sector !   Somehow the programme detected relationships that indicated other factors were at work. 

Above : The Hoffburg Palace, Vienna where I spent many hours

I visited the Hoffburg palace regularly when in Vienna as my friend Dr James Wilkie used an office there when working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Among other tasks, he produced the Austrian Foreign Policy Yearbook, and edited Austria Today, an official journal about the country, current affairs and cultural history.   Jim had a wealth of intimate knowledge about Europe and its politics, which he shared with me over dinner many evenings in a range of small restaurants in the city.

Dr James Wilkie with members of the Habsburg family, Austria.  Dr Wilkie worked with the Austrian Foreign Ministry for many years, and has latterly been assisting United Nations projects in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  He was a founder member of the Scotland-UN Committee, and has been a long-time correspondent to the Scotsman newspaper readers letters page.

European history and the current emergence of a United States of Europe, from the European Community and the Common Market, featured prominently in our discussions.  The states and peoples of west and east Europe have experienced over 300 years of limited democracy, political and economic instability, wars and internal conflicts. That probably explains their attachment to the EU and their willingness to surrender national sovereignty to achieve long term stability and protection.  But these factors I believe do not apply to Britain.  For Scotland, the economic, social and national costs of EU membership, far outweigh any advantages that the Union brings.

One evening Wilkie and I attended a meeting addressed by British Minister and close confidant of John Major, Tristan Darel-Jones.  On a platform with the British Ambassador to Austria, he gave his reasons for the need for Britain to be fully involved in the European Union, some of which appalled me.  One was that if the EU had existed in 1956, Britain could have continued with its invasion of Egypt and retained control over the Suez Canal. This confirmed my suspicions that rather many of the inner core of thinkers and strategists behind the European Union, have fascist leanings.   There are also some who came from centrist socialist backgrounds with little sympathy for genuine democracy. 

As the full implications of the European Union began to emerge in the late 1990’s and early years of the 21st century, I started to examine the loss of national sovereignty, the imposition of mountains of EU legislation, and the Union’s control over the economies, resources, and foreign policies of its member country’s, - and I was astonished by the surrender of centuries of democratic control of our institutions to the mindless, ruthless, unelected apartchniks of Brussels.  The emergence of the “Super-State” of Europe, with its proposals to forbid any member the possibility of withdrawal, filled me with alarm.

The caliber of senior EU and European politicians also fills me with unease.  Many of them have criminal records, or have escaped conviction by wielding considerable influence on the judiciary.  Those from France and Italy are well known, several books having been written about their corruption and misdeeds.  The EC or European Commission is itself riddled with corruption, evident in the misuse of funds, the nepotism, and the manipulation of power and programmes to satisfy personal or political agendas.  Several brave whistle-blowers [Among the whistle-blowers have been, former EC Chief Accountant, Marta Andreasen (sacked by Neil Kinnock); former EC auditing officer, Paul van Buitenen; and former senior EC economic official, Bernard Connolly, (now an MEP), and author of The Rotten Heart of Europe, which contains an in-depth critique of EU monetary and economic plans and policies.] have drawn the world’s attention to the improper inner workings of the EC.  Without exception they have been pilloried and dismissed or forced out by intimidation or by being ‘quarantined’.  In contrast, the guilty have mostly been allowed to remain in power, or have even been promoted. Commissioners tasked with the job of ending corruption, have instead persecuted the whistle-blowers and protected the guilty.  Among these cowardly Commissioners was our own Neil Kinnock, the former Labour MP from the mining valleys of Wales.  What would his honest, working class forbears have thought of his behaviour once he reached the pinnacles of power?

I had addressed several public meetings in Scotland on the fisheries issue, and how the industry had been systematically destroyed by the EC as part of a long-term but unspoken policy of the EU.  What surprised me at those meetings was the number of non-fishing sector people, - farmers, processors, small businessmen, who in effect affirmed that what I had observed in the fishery sector was but a mirror image of what the EU and the EC were doing to them and their communities.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus