The Italian pirate in Saudi desert

The Italian pirate in Saudi desert

Last few weeks saw oil prices nosedive in such a manner that had left many economic analysts baffled. During the same period, this writer also wrote on the unusual decline in the oil prices. In response to one of those write-ups, this writer received an email from an Italian journalist, Federico Simonelli, who writes for the Italian newspaper, Il Secolo XIXI.
Truth be told, the only thing I knew about the paper was the fact that it was the first newspaper that switched to color printing. The Italian journalist wished to seek this writer’s opinion on the reasons and the impact of the decline in the oil prices.
Anyways, we had a nice telephonic conversation and discussed the issue of oil prices. The conversation, which was in English, went well despite the issues arising from this writer’s Saudi accent, Simonelli’s Italian accent and the static during the call.
The conversation somehow forced to ponder over Italy’s ties with Saudi Arabia in various spheres of life. The two countries enjoy strong ties.
There was a time when Italian products were a craze among Saudis. This writer still remembers those FIAT cars roaming Saudi streets in the past. One wonders as to what happened to those cars and where have they vanished.
Now let us focus on the famous young Italian in the Saudi desert known to many old Aramco pioneers as the Italian pirate. In the mid 1940s, there were more than 2,000 Italians working at the Saudi oil installations. According to a book titled, The Caravan Goes On, by Frank Jungers, after the end of WWII, Aramco hired many Italian workers who were stationed in Eritrea. They were hired on single status like many other nationalities because the lack or shortage of family housing for Aramco employees. The Italians were housed in two places, One in Dhahran and the other in Ras Tanura. They had their own kitchen staff and their own recreation facilities. For the Italians, Saudi or American food does not work. We all know about the unique and delicious taste of the Italian cuisine. They were very talented.
Among them was a 24-year-old man with a good sense of humor and a camera. During those days, it was unique thing for the local population, as most of them were unaware of the technological developments taking outside of the Kingdom.
His name was Ilo Battiglli. He was basically a draftsman but during his daily work he used his camera more than any other tool. He was a bright photographer who recorded very important moments in the history of the Saudi oil industry. Workers in Aramco changed his name and started calling him “Ilo the Pirate” because he had his studio on the beach. Many people saw his work and the valuable photographs that he took at many different places. He was seen photographing Saudis, Americans, Italians and many others, which reflected the benefit of putting hands together. His and the work of some other workers helped preserve the story of discovering the most important commodity in today’s history, which changed the fortunes of Saudi Arabia. This Italian photographer or as he is called the Pirate by his coworkers 70 years ago showed us with camera shots the importance of working and living together no matter what part of the world you come from. As for the price of the oil barrel, well, we should leave it to the experts.

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