How one becomes keen on good organisation

By Lodovico Riva di Sanseverino

Four steps justify the heading:
a. Imagine a fresh post-doc, paid as chauffeur to drive Caroline MacGillavry from Amsterdam to the 6th IUCr Congress in Rome (1963). He was recruited as collaborator by the organisers due to his Italian nationality, but in spite of his restless efforts and those of many others, the overall organisation has been recorded by the international community as a real disaster (see also point 2. below).
b. The hearing of the following expressions (in italics) was a personal, psychologically shocking experience:
. 1.Gosh (followed by a very noisy bang on a wooden table ) !! This phone works even less than the Italian microphones (casually heard to come from Olga Kennard’s room, University Chemical Laboratory, Cambridge, November 1964)
. 2.I thought Italians were bad organisers, until I came to Moscow (Ray Young, shouting on the bus commuting from the Ukrainia Hotel to the Hall of the 7th IUCr Congress, Moscow 1966)
. 3. No, please, no! Future Japanese organisers (Kyoto 1972) shall not accept any advice from the current organisers (8th IUCr Congress, Stonybrook 1969)! The list of organisational weak points is large and includes... (many of the problems were then listed by the present author – who, sitting in the last row of seats at the General Assembly, had been exceptionally allowed to speak by the IUCr President)
c. The speech mentioned at the point 3 provoked contrasting reactions: Olga Kennard quite legitimately reproached: “Everybody knows that you work in my lab, therefore the Americans will think that I have “sent” you to accuse them”! Olga has always used diplomacy in science, but in actuality “the Americans” in question were only the two congress chairpersons, Walter Hamilton and George Jeffrey, while most of the others shared a similar criticism to the organisation. On the other hand, many Eastern European authoritative scientists – the “cold war” was still going on – gathered later around the impertinent youngster to congratulate: as official delegates, but they had not dared saying a single word on the point. By the way, the role of being the herald of somebody else (according to Olga) could well turn out as a profession. In fact in September 1966 in Rome, the assembly of the Italian chemists and mineralogists working in X ray crystal structure determination got stuck on the definition of the discipline, which could be applied to them all! The chemists, in a greater number, could not attempt to propose anything distant from Structural Chemistry or X Ray Diffractometry on Crystals, being afraid that moving away from their disciplinary area could be costly in terms of funds and jobs. Having just ended his staying in Cambridge, the author decided to express his viewpoint in order to put an end to the hypocritical positions: “Everyone in the world calls this field Crystallography”! The assembly immediately started clapping and the name was consecrated. Two days later, however, the mineralogists accused Professor Gallitelli, the boss of the author in Bologna, to have “sent” a young, unknown messenger in order to mine their leadership in administrating the Italian crystallography for the past decades.
d. The points a to c easily explain the title of these notes. For the first Erice meeting in 1974 each step was carefully planned in order to avoid any disappointment from the participants. However, things were not so smooth as the scientists encountered several drawbacks, due more to inexperience (!!! local ????) than carelessness. The time delays seemed to be almost a rule, the excursion buses were never ready, nor all the lodgings appeared adequate, and more. Nevertheless Michael Woolfson, scientific director of the course, pronounced special greetings and wishes when he left. It is still not clear whether his words were ironic or benevolent but they remain unforgettable: “Lodovico, you will become a wonderful organiser”.

The story continues in the web page www.crystalerice.org.

Lodovico Riva di Sanseverino