One of these days, in between travels, assemblies and disassemblies, Gilbert took a bit of his busy time to have a nice conversation with us. And what an amazing conversation it was, even more now with the workflow finally increasing, after the unimaginable we have been going through. Fortunately we are coming back to be more “physical, namely with Turismo de Portugal.
Gilberto will share with us his experience in first person of what it means to be one of the most involved and committed wolf and how is this life of assembling, disassembling and just being in the exhibitions.
Margarda (M): Gilberto, with so many Multilem years, endless exhibition hours and a life of assembling and disassembling, we know you might have a lot of great stories to tell. We would like to have unlimited time for this conversation but, since it is not possible, we will try to pass on how is your daily life at Multilem and all that you have been going through all these years.
So, let’s get started!
Can you tell us how it has been to be working and living for so many years building stands and events? How did you manage to keep that wolf strength after all these years and still be the living proof of Multilem life and health?
Gilberto (G): Indeed, we would need a lot more time for this interview….
M: But we will make it!
Before all the other questions, do you remember where were you before coming to Multilem?
G: Where was I?… I remember perfectly, I was a motorbike mechanic.
At that time, the company was called Encormate, not Multilem. I came here through my brother-in-law, to work in a solar cement machine that had mechanics. I have been working on probation for a month and I learnt how to manage that machine. I have been in charge of the machine for a few years after that.
M: How long ago?
G: Ui…maybe 40 years, 40 something…I can’t tell exactly. How old is Multilem?
M: 35 years…
G: So, I was already here for a few years, maybe 7 or 8 at Encormate. Later Multilem was created and I started working at Multilem. But before, I was already here, in another battle.
M: And what about this come and go battle? Can you imagine how many countries you have crossed so far?
G: Uhh, I can’t know for sure! I remember the first time we ever left Portugal was to Angola, to build a stand for AICEP (Trade and Investment Agency) and that was one of those experiences… suited for wolves, huge adventures!
M: You have never been there before?
G: No. We won a contract to represent AICEP in Angola, Mozambique, Libya and Algeria.
M: And you have never been to those countries before?
G: No, it was the first time.
M: And how was it to be in those countries with different languages?
G: It is complicated, but we can manage through gestures. Gestures areeverything. I can’t speak foreign languages, English, etc. But after years doing what I do, I always managed to get away with gestures.
M: So, you can say: “ gestures rule it all” ?
G: I am going to tell you one simple adventure. When Multilem was created, we travelled by car not by plane, like nowadays.
Me and Celso left in my van for Germany and other countries. Without a GPS. We printed the map from google and off we went. But that time, we were lost for days, without knowing in which country. To distinguish the countries, we counted the cars…when there were more German cars on the road, it meant we were in Germany.
M: What an empirical statistic.
G: Indeed. Nowadays, GPS is amazing. There have been so many years without the kind of conditions we have today. In Lybia, I was alone for 15 days without speaking the language or in Algeria, while we were there, we could the see the bombs explode. So many adventures…
M: And that phone, is always ringing right?
M: Back to the adventures – there was no GPS, no mobile phones…how was it to assemble a stand back then, traveling by car. Did you depart a long time in advance?
G: No, not really. We used to leave counting only with the necessary time to arrive at our destiny. There was a time, and I could never forget this one, we were to assemble the TMN Stand (you can see how long ago it was) and I left here with Luis Pintor father. Just the two of us in my van. We travel for 24 hours straight, non stop.
M: And when you got there, you went straight to the stand assembling?
G: Yes, we were.
M: But the way you are talking about this, 24 hours non stop, without sleeping…everything looks so simple: But we know it is not quite like that, right?
Despite everything being easier now in communications, locations and GPS, do you think assembling a stand or an event 20 years ago is really that different from nowadays?
G: Yes, absolutely.
M: So tell us, what changed?
G: Everything was a struggle back then.
For example, now we stay in better hotels, we travel by plane and when we arrive, we rent a car to go to the hotel and the exhibition. Back in the day, we went by car and after a long and exhausting travel, we arrived to start assembling the stand. The exhibitions changed a lot, as well.
M: There are so many changes, that now you can start the assembling with another freshness. Is that it?
G: Another example, before, it was very difficult to find the location of the stand in the exhibition. The companies weren’t so organized as they are now and the infrastructure was not as developed: there was more room for mistakes.
M: So, what you are saying is that it is not only the experience that matters, that the exhibitions also improved a lot over the years.
G: Yes, the exhibitions improved a lot.
M: And what is more important during the disassembling? The experience or the method? In the middle of the mess, there is a huge amount of material to disassemble, organize and load…
G: No doubt the experience. It is mandatory to know how to do it and Multilem knows it, with so many years of experience. Without experience, it can get very confusing. The hallways are always occupied, we can’t even use it to put the material. Now, with the Pandemic, the hallways are wider and it is better but there were times the hallways were only one meter wide and no place to put the materials. For example, now in the UK, the exhibition organization is very demanding and did not let us use the hallways for material, but the truth is, there is no other place to use. It is very stressful, very complicated.
M: It means there are a lot of rules to follow?
G: Too many.
M: But Gilberto, you can only tell us that because you have been working in this area for so many years and have a lot of experience.
Now, we would like to talk about some Multilem iconic projects that might have some great hidden stories. For example, how was it to assemble the Pope’s Altar?
G: I remember it so well, it was raining. It was chaos…
M: It is chaos every time, but in the end everything falls into place… it is almost unbelievable right?
G: Sure. In the end, when everything was finally ready…I remember the day before the opening, I went to pick up José Castro (President of Multilem) at the airport at 6 am. He was arriving from Angola and wanted to go straight to the place, it was raining a lot.
M: But there was no rain on the opening day, the photos are so bright…
G: It was a beautiful day. That glorious sunshine…
M: Incredible. Another great adventure must have been the assembling for the Equestrian Championship in 2007.
G: That one was crazy! Not only for the work or the exhaustion…but the mosquitos, we were all bitten. And the horses smell…this was one of a kind, what a huge project…
M: And when you are working with new materials and not the ones you are used to, this means new challenges right? For example, in Marmomac, you had to deal with heavy marbles. And we can be talking about other materials. It must be challenging to work with different materials, ones you know better and others you do not know at all?
G: I believe everything is challenging. We have been working with Turismo de Portugal for years now, we are used to that type of work and stand…but Marmomac was different. I was there and it was tough, also because we were travelling directly from one exhibition to another.
It was one of the hardest! I was first at Milan, for the disassembling and it was a lot of iron. Then I went to Verona by car and after, Lyon to disassemble a stand in one day only. In the end, we had to go to Paris, always by car. It was exhausting.
M: Gilberto, you are a hero…
G: No, not a hero…and I am not alone. All the others are heroes, everyone that works with me…
M: You are here also representing a lot of your coworkers…
G: What I say is that, at my age, this is no joke. I am 61 years old and working with all of them, with no problem at all.
M: Yes, what an endless energy.
G: Let’s hope it stays that way!
M: We were talking about disassembling. That is the last part of the process: it all starts here in the offices and the storage, etc, after, the assembling and, iin the end, we deliver the project to the client and all that stress and exhaustion are over. How does it feel to successfully deliver after such intense days?
G: The moment we deliver a stand and the client is happy, I believe the feeling is relief, after all we have been through.
M: And did it ever happen to you to look at the stand in the end and think “what an amazing stand!”?
G: So many times! So many memories, there were times we didn’t know if we were able to deliver it in time. But in times like that, we do not think. We went to sleep and the following day we woke up better and we got to improve the situation.
M: Do you always have the feeling that it was all worth it?
G: Of course it is worth it. If it wasn’t like that, I wouldn’t be here for all these years. I like it here.
It is true that I have to make a living, but it is not only that, I like Multilem very much and my life has adapted to this company.
In 20 years, I have not spent my wife or son’s birthdays with them, and my birthday is always spent with Multilem, traveling. This year for example, I was in Paris and the client surprised me with a cake and everyone sang me happy birthday. Can you see the experience I have? It is the life I chose…and I like it!
M: It is such a beautiful life!
G: Indeed! If it was not, we weren’t here.
M: Even now you were telling me the client offered you a cake…
G: It was a surprise! When I arrived at the exhibition, an AVK worker that was with us called me to solve some problem in the system. I went to fix it and when I came back, everyone was gathered around the cake and sang happy birthday to me.
M: That is so nice!
You are part of the team that supervises the exhibition days, besides the assembling days, correct?
G: All of it. I am there from the beginning to the end, the first to come in, the last to get out.
M: And you even receive awards…
G: Yes…and we receive a lot of awards with Turismo de Portugal. I am still waiting for some photos.
M: And after watching the stand ready, deliver it successfully to the client, accompany the exhibition days and always be there, it comes the last day and the time to disassemble. That can also be an art, what is the feeling of undoing it all over? It is more like winning and mission accomplished or is it pitiful?
G: I would say mission accomplished. Even though we are disassembling, we are not ruining it because it will be used again.
In the case of the stands that will not be used anywhere else, those are a pity but not these ones, the ones we will use again because the disassembly is made very carefully, we must capitalize the material.
And I can say more, a few days ago I went to Alcoutim for work. We end up dining with a RTP journalist and a Cameraman. We have been talking and telling some stories of me and Celso, from when we are traveling for work. The Journalist told me “Your stories would make an amazing book”. Can you imagine all that I have been through, all the adventures I have lived, the emotions, the dangers, the fears…People have no idea!
M: We can make a Multilem book, by Gilberto Nunes…
G: Ah there is no need (laughs). Celso was with me for so many years now, we have been through a lot.
M: And now everything is more controlled isn’t it?
G: Absolutely, work related.
Everyone makes mistakes and we have been through so much. Trucks wrongly loaded or disassembled stands in record time with a few people. The disassembling can get complicated as well.
M: What is more important in a disassembling? The quickness? The agility?
G: The agility and the intelligence of knowing how to disassemble and store the material at the same time. Disassembling is very easy when you put everything on the floor. The problem is in storing correctly and avoiding extra costs in more trucks. There is only so much room in the trucks for the material, so we can not let anything slide. It is tricky…
M: So the experience is very important as well in the disassembling?
G: Absolutely. And you can see that when we are working with people that are not from Multilem. It is very different when we all know each other and our way of working it set and everyone is used to it. With new people, it is necessary to manage, guide, remediate and do it all over again. It takes more time and is more stressful. When we are only Multilem workers, we just follow the technical drawings and everyone does their job, with no questions asked and no problems.
M: And lastly (since that phone did not stop ringing), how is it to be reliving all these dynamics after the pandemic and so many months without working, without knowing how everything would evolve? How is the feeling of being back on the road again?
G: It was the best thing for me. I was going crazy at home and was missing this life so much. The first time we got back was with Turismo de Portugal.
I think this is already an addiction. I could retire this year, I have already 45 years of work, but I can’t. I don’t know if I will ever be able to retire one day. Maybe, if Multilem goes out of business. (laughs)
M: That will not happen…
G: It is an addiction, it is in my blood. After everything, I believe I will always be around here, in crutches.
My wife always told me I liked Multilem better than my family. And it is not far from the truth… I did not accompany my son’s childhood, I was always away.
M: Multilem means a lot to you…
G: A lot! Not only the work, but the employers. It has been so many years and they are my age, more or less…
M: Would you like to leave a wise word to the rookies?
G: Uhh (laughs)! There are good rookies out there! Even though I think they will never be like the old ones, there are very good people working at Multilem that work with pleasure and like to be here.
M: But what would you say to encourage and motivate?
G: I would say to look at my example, to see what I have been through to be here in the company. They have it all these days, conditions, cars, etc…! We have come a long way to have the facilities and conditions we have nowadays.
M: So, endurance and pleasure?
G: Yes. This is not only to earn income. It is important to have pleasure in daily work, otherwise you will not be going anywhere.
M: Do you believe you are providing knowledge?
G: I think and hope so. Everyone knows the life I have.
And it comes from the heart. If you look at me, you will see that what I am saying comes from the bottom of my heart. Carefully, you will make me cry!
Read here the last article on APEX Brasil – The exhibitions comeback, written by Ana Fontes.