A short biography for busy readers
Whether you arrived on this page by accident or on purpose, you are welcome. This is the literary site of Lucio Margherita, a writer, author of the picaresque novel The Rising Sun Chair. Why “picaresque”? Undoubtedly an important point to discuss. But let’s get acquainted to begin with.
Someone’s interesting life is not necessarily appealing for someone else to read. “Good for you” my fortuitous reader might acknowledge. “Is this relevant to the book I might purchase?”… I wonder!
Would I have written The Rising Sun Chair had I lived differently? Had I had a different circle of friends…? Had I also been a different person “no” would be the obvious answer. But me being me, and life circumstances being poles apart… had I been a lawyer instead of an Earth scientist… would I have even thought of writing this book? There are two possible answers to this question and, contradicting as they are, they lead to the same conclusion. The first one is again “no”. I would have chosen gardening in my spare time, or fishing, or playing the piano. The second one is “yes”. But my book would be different.
Therefore, if this novel is here today, instead of a fishing trophy or a different novel, the events of my life have made it what it is. So, my keen or unlucky reader, let’s brace ourselves and let’s get to those events together. I promise I shall not be long.
And a short life story for whom who has more time:
I was born in Rome, the year of a new pope and of a new war. The first of these two events had little bearing on my later inspiration, but the second influenced my family’s logistics and, consequently, my imprints and early schooling. We changed residence half a dozen times in five years, with the Germans, and later the Americans, camping on the lawn of the villa where we lived. There were air-raids, allied landings and further moves because of my father’s professional appointments. We ended up in Naples shortly after that war; and there we stayed. Or at least my parents did for the rest of their lives.
I started school as a 6 year old, whereas my older siblings had both started at 5. I began with the nuns; a white pinafore and a large bow ribbon under the thin neckline. I followed up with the Jesuits and the obligation of attending Mass on Sundays. Eventually I moved to public school and to the city’s University where I completed my graduate education with a degree in Geology.
All in all, I was a better than average student. I did well in the humanities and was not bad in science. I had my curricular missteps, but I also had my recognitions. I loved literature, but the books I devoured were off the school’s reading list. I was fascinated by history, but pored over manuals shunned by the masters. I was intrigued by philosophy, but my preferred mentors were all on my teachers’ black list. In spite of that, some of them liked my argumentative compositions. Others were less impressed and thought me an arrogant ass.
How I ended up reading science is evidence of my being a contrarian. My parents and friends thought I would make a great lawyer. I tried. But I only lasted three months listening to “Roman Law” classes in a vast auditorium full of indifferent students. This happened in the late ‘50s. Outside the lecture theatre rockets were flying, Sputniks were orbiting as Russians and Americans chased each other around the Van Allen new belt. I dropped all decrepit laws and, in their stead, took reading what the Earth was made of and, possibly, how the Universe was built. A wise choice. Nor was it to be my last one.
Chance is an odd gadget in the life tool-box. Does it just happen or is it willed? I became a geophysicist (rather than a geologist) because the Corporation I had applied to for a summer job put my name in the wrong slot. Waiting for the administration to sort out the papers, I became so absorbed in what I had been temporarily assigned to that, when my legitimate superior came to claim my services, I asked not to be moved. That original error had shown me unerringly what I wanted from life. On the advice of my supervisors I applied to Imperial College and was accepted to redirect my scientific education within that Institution.
From there on it was easy sailing. Geophysicists were a scarce breed in those years, and in great demand because of the successive oil booms. They came all the way from the other end of Canada to get us at the school’s portal. Calgary? Do you mean Cagliari? No Calgary. Where is it???
Let’s not forget that all this happened well before Justin Trudeau (in fact before his father); before the end-of-hydrocarbons-scare and before the Banff and Lake Louise Winter Games that put Calgary and Alberta on the front pages. The city had less than two hundred thousand denizens in those days. Western Canada was “terra incognita” for the average European. It was cowboy and Indian land on the wrong side of the American border. And so it was. But it was also oil and gas land, with tar-sands to boot. A great place to learn my trade and start a family with my newlywed wife.
We had left Naples in a warm autumn afternoon just after the ceremony; we landed on a snow covered tarmac with my welcoming boss, wrapped in a furry parka, waiting for us at the frozen foot of the plane’s stairway. Thirty below. I did not dare to tell my frost-bitten Neapolitan spouse what that number translated to in centigrade. We lived in Calgary eight years, had two children and loved the place so much that I decided to acquire the nationality before leaving it so that a trace of Canada would remain with me forever.
Why leave then? Would anyone say no to Paris, to a good salary and to a chance to begin an international career with a world-renown firm? Calgary was lovely and so was our home. Our dear friends were (and still are) our dear friends. Weekends in the mountains or on the snow-slopes were super. But Calgary was neither New-York nor Montreal. Among oil rigs, hockey pucks and stampeding bulls we missed Europe. We missed Sartre, Fellini, the Sistine Chapel, the Prado and Inter-Milan.
So we settled with my French employer and in our new life. In fact settle we didn’t. Paris, Abu Dhabi, Khartoum, Caracas were some of the places where we actually lived as a family. But I moved on short, and not so short assignments, virtually anywhere oil or gas were to be found on the globe.
I delighted in the field operations in the most impossible places, I valued discussing with colleagues from different lands and cultures. I might be seasick on one of our research vessels or homesick under a desert tent, I still loved my job and the opportunity it gave me to see the world behind the curtains, the sites off-limits for the casual traveller. The new employment was a chance to broaden my professional experience and my euro-centred education.
I did not find much oil in my professional life or, at least, not as far as I know. Geophysicists are the first rung of a long step ladder. They work over unexplored basins where the presence of hydrocarbons is often barely suspected. Many more scientists come after them to test their findings, to sample the ground and drill the target. It may be years between their fieldwork and an actual discovery. They are seldom around when the well gives and the champagne is uncorked. They are on the next prospect, or on the next to the next. But there is justice in this world.
A few years ago, I had long retired from my activity, my wife and I were on a trip to Svalbard. We were sailing along the rugged coast of Norway on our way back from the archipelago when, ambling on deck, I sighted an impressive cluster of buildings at the mouth of a fjord. There were pipes, funnels, reservoirs and monstrous tankers moored off the bay. “What is it?” I asked one of the mates. “Is the processing plant for one of the offshore gas fields” he answered, and gave me its name. I recognised it with a gasp. I remembered the day, nearly thirty years prior to that short exchange, when I walked into my supervisor’s office and showed him the map I had made of a rock structure, deep under the seabed, that my team and I thought promising. Of course we were not the first one to have spotted it. If we had gathered data over that area it was because someone else had had a hunch on earlier information. Barring serendipity, there seldom is a sole or foremost architect in any research project. But we were the first ones to actually draw the map of that hunch. And there it was, thirty years later, with the mess and riches that that map had caused and fashioned. There was no champagne for the occasion. I only had my wife to whom I could tell the story. But on that long, very long high latitude evening, I was as happy as a conceited lark.
I retired the very first day of the new millennium. We stayed in Paris, near to our friends and to our euro-scattered family. And then I began writing? No. I have always written, since I was a youth and I started a long lost teenager journal. I had the opportunity to. On my foreign appointments I often had time during seasonal lulls, rain seasons or instruments breakdowns. I travelled everywhere with a load of books and whatever technical advances supplied me with for writing material. I wrote all sort of bits and pieces: short stories, essays, magazine articles or newspaper columns.
Lately I have taken up another occupation. Socratic is an online educational institution that assists school or University students from the whole word with their homework, essays or formal exams. There is no money involved, no publicity… the set up works as a community of busy bees where everyone who is willing contributes what he knows and what he can. Amateur teachers help each-other, students help each-other and, more often than not, students help teachers out of their fallacies. The whole thing is orchestrated by a skeleton crew in New York and a few group leaders somewhere else who try to keep the house in order and the wheels turning. Would you believe that learners in Yellowknife or Pago-Pago have used my answers to do their homework or write their dissertation? If that is not a worthy achievement for a wanderer’s life I don’t know what it is.
I also wrote three books. The Rising Sun Chair is my second one. The other two are in Italian and I plan the next one in French. I intend to feed this site with some of this earlier work and with new material whenever a reading or an event might strike my fancy. Have I provoked yours? Will you stay with me?