Stefano Cingolani Dedication

Laying out a field, tracing a canal, making a dam is not just a matter of technique, experience, and hard work. It's relating with the natural and human environment, with a world, with unknown societies or ones only read about in books. At times building in the areas of the planet where there is the most social and political tension is like taking a great chance on the future. We do it for a better wage, to accumulate technical and professional experience, as a challenge, for the sake of passion.
Few people are aware of the fascination of this work halfway between industry and craftsmanship, between the organization of the territory and building, between the management of the natural environment and the transformation of the human one, when you have to create a small city often in the middle of nowhere. The great infrastructure leads to industrial rationality in an environment that is at times arcane; it modifies the village economy, it fosters urbanization. And then there is the impact with powerful, uncontaminated nature; to control its strength one must know and respect it. The motivation to set off for distant lands and come to grips with such bold challenges is often complex, it is interwoven with the pleasure of adventure, together with the choice to enrich one's own professionalism. But there is also the fascination of knowing and controlling the elements that escape any domination, like water or wind. That is when the dream becomes reality.

In the evening, when we return to our lodgings arranged as though they were a Roman castrum, when loneliness weighs more than weariness and nostalgia consumes one more than the scorching sun of the deserts or the warm rain of the tropics, then one's mind travels in time and space, memories loom and at times they are even transformed into miracles like that of Kariba on the Zambesi River, where Impregilo was building a gigantic dam. The story emerges from a yellowing newspaper clipping, the Salisbury Daily News, published on December 24, 1957. Edmondo Fermi had received news from Italy that his daughter Angela was seriously ill and was going to have to undergo a delicate operation. There was no way Edmondo could have made it back in time, the world was not as small and connected back then as it is today. His friend Lino, the company mechanic, had a "crazy idea": to build a bell that could be used to call for divine assistance. Edmondo and Lino got down to work and the other workers joined them, sacrificing their free time. It wasn't going to be a bell like all the others, it had to ring out all across the valley protected by the enormous dam under construction. Made from a part of an earth-crushing machine, it ended up being one meter tall and, with its silvery color, it shone in the fierce African sun. Where would they place it? In the school for the African workers' children? Or in the Church of St. Barbara built on the hill? The choice fell upon the church and an iron tower was erected at the top of which the bell was placed. It started ringing loudly, wrote the newspaper, arousing amazement in everyone. Soon afterwards a telegram arrived from Italy: the operation was a success, young Angela was getting better. It sounds like a Christmas tale, of the kind Charles Dickens might have written, but this too is part of work, work that never separates from life not even in the most remote places or in the moments of the greatest desperation, when even one's own existence is called into question as has happened many times in Africa, torn apart by tribal wars.

Italy, a country poor in raw materials, has always been able to count on one great, abundant and typically human resource. The construction of a country from "geographical expression" to independent nation, its take-off, modernization, all the way to the economic miracle of the 1950s and '60s, all of this was founded on work. The peninsula's economic problem has never been the scarcity of workers, the refusal to work hard on their part, the absence of parsimony by their families. On the contrary, the history of the Italian workforce is characterized by commitment, sacrifice, savings, and emigration when their own country could not offer adequate working and living conditions. Out of 70 million Italians born between 1861 and 1961, around 20 million expatriated. Italian capitalism is founded on work and not on capital, the historians have written. Careful though, not on the generic supply of the workforce, as the economists call it, but on a particular quality that some have called organized artisanship. Vittorio Valletta told the Constituent Assembly that Northern Italy was "the only mechanical granary of Europe" with its proliferation of workshops, small factories, and laboratories. And, criticizing Luigi Einaudi's financial crunch, he argued that "the cover, whether in gold or in dollars, serves little purpose. The true cover is work; you have to make people work, produce and generate movement".
Another leading figure in the rebirth after the Second World War, Giuseppe Bianchi who manufactured bicycles and cars, spoke of "people who had specialized in something, of senior workers who had separated from the workshop where they had learned the trade and started working independently. You start by trying to improve your work, you save the money you earn, you set up a small business that employs workers and carries out specialized work." This is what would later be called the Italian model. But this osmosis with the trade and with one's own roots, did not just remain within the national borders. It was exported all around the world.

There's Italian work in the Panama Canal that was recently doubled all the way to Patagonia. You find it in modern cities like Copenhagen with its new underground. There's Italian work along the great Nile. To slice up the colossal monuments in the Temple of Abu Simbel and save them from the waters of the new artificial lake, the marble cutters of the Apuan Alps were hired because no one better than them knew how to treat he rock without destroying it. To lead the project in 1963, an expert from Vicenza had been summoned, Luigi Rossato, who had worked in marble. He was asked to figure out a way to cut the Nubian sandstone out of which the temples were built, a very fragile type of rock, so fragile as not to even withstand water. So Rossato designed some special saws and instructed the Italian staff to conduct the first tests also reproduced in Schio. It took a year before everything was ready to begin. A field for two thousand people was set up, which looked like the neighborhood of a city, with all its essential amenities, spaces for leisure, places for prayer, a church for the Italians, cross the huge distances between a mosque for the Egyptian workers, a small airport for two four-seater airplanes to witnessed it recall that not even the closest cities. It was May 21, 1965, those who witnessed it recalled that not even the 50 degrees in the shade could weaken the cutters’ energy: the first heavy block was prepared for packaging, it weighed 12 tons and was labeled with the initials GA1A01 (Great temple area 1 row A block 1).

Taking the work to the workers, as Henry Ford wanted with the assembly line, is not exactly what happens in a construction site or in a mine. They resemble literary memories as compared with the new world of robots or 3D printers with which one can produce an artificial heart, a violin, and even the body of a car in one's garage. But the reality is rather different from the technological dream: the machines, loathed and loved at the same time, free us from toil, not from work, all the less so from what is still done today in the wells or in the tunnels in the bowels of the earth, and not only in Africa or in South America, but in Europe and in Italy as well. Every year in July the feast of the miners is celebrated in Zorzone in the province of Bergamo, with the stories of the "taissine," the young women employed to separate the zinc from the rock, who transform their hard work into a legend. The women made an essential contribution and not only in the plants for spinning silk and cotton, predominantly female environments for at least two centuries. These are oft-forgotten tales such as that of the building site of Azuni, in southwestern Sardinia, tales that are being brought back to light today thanks to the stories themselves and the collection of period photographs. Images that bring the past back to us.

The yellowing pictures and the portraits with people striking a pose, the immediacy of the experience, and the artistic elaborations devised by the masters of the lens, become the icons of a whole era. Like the construction workers having their lunch out on a beam at the top of the skyscraper being built for Rockefeller Center in Manhattan on September 19, 1932, one of the most famous and controversial photos of the century probably taken by Charles Clyde Ebbets (this was only discovered seventy years later thanks to his widow). Or the firefighter Paul "Red" Adair soaked in oil who puts out the Kuwait oil well fires with dynamite, pictured by Sebastiao Salgado in 1991 after the First Gulf War. Or the men coming from all over the world to seek their fortune, climbing half-naked and covered in mud from the bowels of the earth, in the gold mine of Serra Pelada, they too immortalized by the great Brazilian photographer. Micro-stories that are combined with micro-history, individual destinies that form, like the pieces of a mosaic, collective destinies.

This photographic pathway through a whole century shows the profound change in work that transforms the surrounding reality. The epic of the Fréjus has become a museum. The images of the tunnels excavated with the blows of pickaxes have made way for the gigantic Moles or TBM (Tunnel Boring Machines), huge rotating boring machines that move like an earthworm in the bowels of the mountains. The largest in the world was used in Italy between Barberino di Mugello and Firenze Nord for the San Lucia tunnel. Besides the fact that it saves the workers from having to do a lot of hard work, we must never forget how much highly skilled labor went into building such an awesome machine. Not even a bridge with large spans is assembled the way it once was.
The craftsmanship, mastery, and specialization merge with science. But it's not just a question of technology; the organization itself has changed, the material conditions and the human relations within the company have changed. What hasn't changed, instead, is the spirit that drives a person to defy the impossible.

The twentieth century is also the era of intellectual work as a profession, of science applied systematically to transform nature. Far from optimism on progress and from nostalgia for time lost, today's reality creates deep connections between the lab and the workshop, between science and manufacturing. The engineer, the technician, the specialist are the basic figures in the construction sites of megaworks where there are no white coats arid blue coveralls separated by a class barrier like in the factory. Group spirit takes shape in the adversities and in the successes, in the eleven months spent all together in foreign lands, ten hours of work a day, even on Saturdays, in conditions that are often extreme, when to phone home or send a telegram you have to travel two hundred kilometers. We see it in the use of the informal form of address with the boss or with the manager, who can speak three languages and lives with everyone else, goes around wearing a T-shirt and rolled up trousers, or in the planner, who started out as a fork-lift driver in the tunnels, works by day and studies by night to become one of the best in the building of plants and megastructures. Figures who emerges from the stories of the protagonist, unknow testimonies of everyday heroism.

The concept of labor has distinguished Western culture ever since Ancient Rome where it was contrasted with slavery. Actually, just as it was for Virgil, it's a basic instrument in the path toward man's moral elevation and progress: "Relentless work conquered all difficulties, work and urgent need when times were hard", he wrote in the Georgics. In this world of logarithms, of clicks, of machines that drive other machines, there is the risk of losing not only the social and economic meaning, but the ethical and historical one of work. As Luigi Einaudi wrote in the Corriere della Sera in 1919: "Take away the joy of work and work becomes insipid... Work cannot be divided among workers and assisted by the machine. But each one must know the reason for the work being done. He or she must have understood why the work must be done in that particular way, to achieve that goal".

And so let's go back to Primo Levi, where we started off. The writer, employed for nearly all his life as a chemist in a large industrial company, recalls that "If we except those miraculous and isolated moments fate can bestow on a man, loving your work (unfortunately the privilege of a few) represents the best, most concrete approximation of happiness on earth: but this is a truth not many know". Who knows for how long we'll be able to say that, now that the trade becomes the trades, work turns into jobs, and relentless change casts doubts over every traditional paradigm. Will this twenty-first century make us mourn for the twentieth? The mythology of the past is a veil with which to cover the fear of the new and the pretence that things change while continuing to do the same things. In the end, the true crisis is the crisis of incompetence.

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