Marco was born in Rome in 1959. He has been traveling since he was very young: he started with an Interrail trip to Scandinavia and never stopped. He got his first diving certification at sixteen.
He then moved to the United States at eighteen and graduated cum laude in international relations at Georgetown University in 1981. During that time he also spent a semester in Poland and was arrested for accidentally trespassing into a Warsaw Pact military base. His adventures in communist Poland and the Soviet Union are narrated in his book “Beyond the Wall: Adventures of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle on the other side of the Iron Curtain“.
He then earned a Ph.D. in strategic studies at M.I.T. in 1989, just when the end of the Cold War forced him to start all over again. He has published books and essays on international politics and contributed to the Italian Encyclopaedia Treccani. He edited a book on the role of international institutions in European security, and one on Soviet-East European Relations.
He learned to take photos with manual focus cameras and Kodachrome film. Over time he has become a pilot of gliders and one fine day he decided to take his camera underwater. As he grew up he began to appreciate good wines – 1959 was a great vintage! He has fun in the kitchen and loves listening to Bach, Beethoven and cool jazz.
In Brussels he worked for many years as an international civil servant at NATO Headquarters, focusing on NATO enlargement to new member states and relations with Russia and Ukraine. He published a book on the command and control of NATO nuclear forces in Europe.
Later he went on to travel almost full time. He prefers East Asia and the Pacific Ocean besides, of course, the Maldives. The islands are always going to remain in his heart because it is there that he met his wife. He has written a book on the people and the underwater natural treasures of the Maldives: “Journeys through the Maldives: unveiling the islands of an archipelago on the brink“.
He now lives between London, where he became a wine sommelier, writing about wines as well as travels, and Brussels.
Talk 1 – Bali, Komodo (Indonesia)
Bali is a majority Hindu island with a diverse immigrant population that is reflected in its wealth of art, architecture, and cuisine.
We will visit temples, markets, and sacred cemeteries. Komodo is a world-class nature reserve known for its diving and the scary Komodo dragons.
Talk 2 – Celebes/Sulawesi, Ternate, West Papua (Indonesia)
Indonesia is an underwater paradise and I have sailed around many of its diving destinations.I will share photos of animals ranging from critters smaller than one centimeter to whale sharks over 10 meters long. While island-hopping, I also visited local communities and will show villages and markets.
Talk 3 – Yap, Palau, and Peleliu (Micronesia, South Pacific)
The smallest islands of the South Pacific are home to incredible underwater life. Topside, ancient traditions mix with foreign influence, first German, then Japanese and finally American. My talk will cover Operation Desecrate One, the American assault on Japanese military installations on Palau and neighboring Peleliu in 1944.
Talk 4 – Operation Hailstone and the wrecks of Chuuk (Micronesia, South Pacific)
This talk will focus on the role Chuuk (aka Truk) played during World War II. It was the “Japanese Pearl Harbor”: a large fleet at anchor was attacked by American carrier-based bombers in 1944 and still lies at the bottom of the lagoon. I photographed many of these wrecks and the artifacts they hide in their bowels.
Talk 1 – The Kingdom of Tonga
The only country in the Pacific never colonized by the Europeans. Today it thrives of tourism with visitors attracted by its blue seas, where I could swim with humpback whales, as well as its traditional culture. I have stayed in local homes, ate their food and participated in their traditional "kava" drinking ceremony.
Talk 2 – Hidden French Polynesia
It was the destination of those who wanted to escape the world, from Paul Gaugin to Jacques Brel, whose tombs we will visit in the remote Marquise islands. Today Polynesia is easily accessible and distinctly French. But efforts to recuperate its culture, that was almost obliterated by early colonialists, provide ancestral fascination to the visitor.
The author has traveled extensively to the most remote islands, met the locals, visited the schools and markets. He spoke and played with the young Maldivians who long for progress in their small country threatened by climate change and uneven economic development. He has written a book on the Maldives: "Journeys through the Maldives".
Talk 1 – History of the Maldives: a small proud country in the Indian ocean
From pre-Islamic settlements to the collective conversion in the XII century. The fight against colonization and the establishment of the sultanate. Finally the founding of the republic, the first democratic elections and the threat of extremism. I will show photos of rare Buddhist artifacts that have since been destroyed during the riots of 2012.
Talk 2 – Daily life on twenty-two Maldivian atolls between tradition and modernity
The people, the environment, their religion and the economy of an archipelago. A look into the society and its secrets never seen from the posh resorts.
Talk 3 – Underwater wonders of the Maldives and environmental challenges
Diving is the main activity in the Maldives, this talk will show the unparalleled beauty of the deep sea, the mantas, the sharks big and small, the diverse life on the reef and the resilient corals that survive the rise in water temperature.
Talk 1 – The history of nuclear weapons: origins and strategy during the Cold War
Nuclear energy was discovered in the early XX century and it became apparent that while it could be harnessed for peaceful uses, it could produce explosions of immense destructive power. The US won the race to make the bomb and a nuclear arms race started with the USSR. I was fortunate to visit a Soviet nuclear airbase in Estonia and will show close-up pictures of strategic bombers including inside the cockpit!
Talk 2 – The history of nuclear weapons: “Haves” and “Have-nots" around the world
Besides the Americans and the Soviets/Russians, several other nations built or tried to build a nuclear weapon arsenal. France, the UK and China built them in the 1960s. This talk will address the history of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and the former republics that constituted the Soviet Union. It will also discuss how many other countries either gave up their nuclear arsenal (South Africa) or decided never to build one in the first place.
Marco has a Ph.D. in international relations from MIT and worked at NATO Headquarters for many years. He wrote a book on nuclear weapons in Europe. He will address the role of the two main multilateral entities that play a role in European current affairs.
Talk 1 – Elusive "ever closer union": the European Union from the ashes of World War II to Brexit
The early fifties of the XX century was a rather dark age in Europe. Devastated by the war, the continent was split in half by the “Iron Curtain” and threatened with Soviet invasion. Six nations decided to pool some of their resources together, notably steel and coal, to avoid fighting over them yet again in the future. Since then, the European Union has grown into a complex organization of 28 member states.
Talk 2 – Transatlantic ties that bind: birth and growth of NATO after World War II
NATO was formed to defend democracy in Europe and did so without ever firing a shot, hence the "Cold War". As NATO’s first head put it in a paper that was declassified much later, it was meant to keep “the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down”.
Talk 3 – Alliance transformed: continuity and change after the fall of the Berlin Wall
NATO’s military only went into action after the USSR had faded into history. Unexpectedly, it was the USA, on 9/11, that first invoked Article 5, the mutual defense clause of the treaty. Today more and more countries have joined the club while many question the rationale for its continuing existence.
Talk 1 – Chongqing and the Yangtze River: the eternal lifeline of China
The Yangtze has long been the main artery of China’s economy and trade. Chongqing is its main hub and is now a megalopolis of over 30 million people. The completion of the massive Three Gorges Dam has changed the river and its landscape forever. The river ends into the East China sea and it is not by chance that Shanghai lies by its mouth.
Talk 2 – the Ganges: the holy river of Hinduism
I will show the sources of the Ganges in Uttarakhand and follow part of its course toward the ocean, including the Hindu holy cities of Prayagraj (Allahabad) and Varanasi (Benares).
Talk 3 – Along the Mekong: upstream in Cambodia and Laos
A long trip on small ferries and slow boats from Angkor in Cambodia to the vibrant Phnom Penh and on to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, and charming Luang Prabang. Finally some local markets and rain forest treks along the border with China.
Talk 1 – Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou and the rise of modern China
The province of Zhejiang is not a household name but Shanghai has been a synonym of economic growth and open doors to the world for a long time. Yet Shanghai is not all that makes Zhejiang a locomotive for China: Hangzhou, a short fast train ride to the south, is a modern city with a lingering traditional flavor while Suzhou, the silk capital of China, keeps its charming character of ancient times.
Talk 2 – China and the sea
China was traditionally a land-based power but its maritime dimension was remarkable as well. The Yellow sea is shared with Japan, Russia and Korea. We will visit the city of Dalian and its turbulent history. The East China Sea lies south of Japan, with the ports of Shanghai and Hong Kong. The South China sea stretches all the way to Malaysia. We will visit Hainan, China’s only tropical island.
Talk 3 – Yunnan: the most diverse province of China
Yunnan lies at the foot of the Himalaya but stretches all the way south to tropical Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. It is widely considered the most fascinating province of China because of its natural treasures as well as its multicultural diversity: 52 ethnic minorities live in Yunnan. We will visit the capital Kunming as well as romantic Lijiang and drive all the way north to mythical Shangri-la.
Talk 4 – Hunan province
It is known because Mao Zedong was born there, and for its spicy food. Today it is a booming province, more populous than either France, Italy or the UK. We will visit the capital Changsha as well as smaller towns and old villages which have been preserved for future memory of what China once was. We will also hike through spectacular mountains and navigate quiet rivers.
Talk 5 – History of Hong Kong
In the 1840s a relatively unknown island in southern China grabbed the headlines when imperial Britain snatched it from the crumbling Qing dynasty. For the next century and a half, London would change the ways it runs the colony and when it's time to return it to China the world, China and Hong Kong have evolved. Hong Kong is now part of China under the "One country, two systems" formula.
Talk 1 – Ladakh, the land of a thousand mountain passes
We start in Leh, the pulsating capital at the heart of the western Indian Himalayas, it is part of the contested Jammu and Kashmir province. All around the valley, we visit secluded monasteries rich in ancient art and culture. We also camp near the mystic Tsomoriri lake, drive over the Khardung La, the highest motorable pass in the world, and meet wild Bactrian camels of the Nubra valley.
Talk 2 – Zanskar: the kingdom where Islam meets Tibet
Here the local communities have intermingled with immigrants from Tibet and Kashmir. I will show high-altitude treks, inaccessible monasteries, religious festivals, and eternal glaciers. I met the king and shared accommodation and food with the monks. I also participated in their elaborate annual holy ceremonies.
Talk 3 – Spiti and Kinnaur: Buddhist sacred mountains
The lesser-known provinces of the western Indian Himalaya, their majestic peaks and rich Buddhist history. The name Spiti means “middle land”, between India and Tibet.
Talk 4 – History and current affairs of Bhutan
A reclusive Himalayan kingdom opens its doors to the world but strictly limits tourism to preserve its identity. We will visit the capital Thimphu and the economic hub of Paro, whose airport is considered the most dangerous in the world by airline pilots.
Talk 5 – Villages and festivals of Bhutan
Unspoiled nature and ancient culture mix harmoniously in Bhutan, a country that measures its economy with Gross National Happiness. My wife and I actually got married there during a local festival with a traditional Buddhist ceremony in a remote village and we wore real royal attire ...on loan!
Talk 1 – History of a multinational country
South Africa as we know it today is the result of massive migrations that took place over centuries. The original Bushmen population was overrun by Bantu from the north, then came the Caucasians from Europe and finally Indians from South Asia. Today it is the Chinese who are making their presence felt.
Talk 2 – Tribes and townships
I stayed a few days with Ndebele tribes in the north, I slept in their homes and ate their food in order to better appreciate their lifestyle and culture and will share that experience with you. I also visited several townships in the south of the country, around Cape Town and Knysna.
Talk 3 – Nature and wildlife of South Africa
I will look at some famous parks, like Kruger, as well as some smaller private ones and other natural treasures along the “Garden Route” that follows the southern coast of the continent around Cape of Good Hope.
These talks could be organized in two ways:
A. For a large audience in a theatre, without tasting, or
B. For a small audience, in a room, with tasting.
Talk 1 – Buying and storing wines: budgets and bargains
Talk 2 – Tasting wines: tools and rules
Talk 3 – Pairing wines with the world’s cuisines
Until recently Canada was not known for its good wines, and for a good reason: there weren't any!
Over the last thirty years however great products have appeared in Ontario and on the west coast. Icewine, made by pressing frozen grapes that yield no more than one drop of must per berry, has made Canada a world leader in winemaking.
Wine of Belgium
Belgium is known for its world-class beer, as well as chocolate and fries. It also makes some great wines.
It was the Romans who first planted vineyards in the "Belgica", but after the fall of their empire, no more wine was produced for over a thousand years. Only after WW II Belgian vineyards were back on the map, and today some excellent still whites and sparkling wines begin to compete with their big brothers in Burgundy and Champagne.
Origins and peculiarities of fortified wine in the middle of the Atlantic.
A relatively little known wine, undeservedly underrated, is made in a Portuguese outpost near the western coast of Africa. Its origins are owed to the fact that it was difficult to transport wine from Madeira to the main markets in Europe and America. Its peculiar taste owes as much to added alcohol as to the strange effect of heat and oxygen.