How my passion for transport and logistics born

Author: Alexandra Lagorio

In this week’s article, I had to talk about how Covid19 impacted logistics. However, every time I started writing, I could not get past the third line because my mind would go to memories since an unfortunate event happened this week.

At this point, I was reminded of all the Ted Talks and public speaking lessons in which it was said: “if you have to tackle something big and fail because there is an elephant in the room, you have to talk about the elephant in the room”.

Consequently, I am telling you about my elephant in the room, which is totally related to how my transportation and logistics passion was born. This week my grandfather passed away at 90 after a beautiful and fully lived life. Most of my grandfather’s life was spent…at the port!

My grandfather became a partner in the “Pippo Rebagliati” Port Company of Savona on January 1, 1957.  At that time, “port operations consisting in the loading, downloading, transhipment, storage and movement of goods and any other material in the port area were exclusively reserved to the workers constituted in port companies or groups with legal personality”. Today, this is no longer like this. However, in Italy, until the 1990s, the port companies had exclusive rights to manage port operations. My grandfather worked in the“drayage” team. Drayage was defined as “the operation of removing goods from the holds of a ship to bring them on deck”.

So you can imagine that whenever my grandfather and I were left alone (and luckily it happened many times until recently) inevitably most of the stories were about merchant ships arriving from far away, unimaginable goods, sailors with incredible stories (ex-convicts, political dissidents, people who love freedom… you could find anything), the “camalli” that is the word used in Genova and Savona to call people that work in the harbour. He told me jokes, sad stories, funny stories, stories of life and freight and goods, of course!

Yes, because there were customs, documents, teams, and ships that changed year after year, and my grandfather saw the appearance of pallets, trucks, more and more elaborate cranes, and forklifts. In short, he saw the advancing technology! He also saw the first container ships in the mid-80s a few weeks before he retired.  My grandfather also told me about this technological transformation that fascinated him. And so many times he took me for a walk in front of the port of Savona, telling me about the silos and warehouses that we could see. He told me how the “draught” and transport of coal by wagons was different from that of sacks of grain, how the cranes were different from those of his time.

Credit: Harbor of Savona Patellani, Federico (1911/ 1977)

In the end, logistics and freight transportation have always seemed to me something more romantic than only moving a few objects from point A to point B. Logistics and transportation always seemed to me a combination of different vessels, exotic countries, stories of workers and sailors. And I ended up falling in love with this topic!

I didn’t know this tradition, and I discover it during these sad days: when a dock worker or former dock worker dies, the company puts the port flags at half-mast as a sign of mourning. And seeing those flags lowered at sunset for my grandfather who was and will always be a docker made me realize that this story is a story of men, goods, vessels, freight and transportation and maybe it was worth telling you about it.

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