"La Fallaci's" Story|
(as told by Oriana)
Compiled by Stefano Jesurum
for the magazine Il Corriere della Sera
October 11, 2001
A lonely little girl who, unlike others her age, didn't dream of a "house with geraniums" love. Then, a woman in love. Sex, flurries of excitement, pride in her first published piece...Here is a biography selected from documents and interviews.
Is Oriana Fallaci a reserved woman? It's possible. Outright reclusive ? That could be. Certainly she is a lady who does not like to talk about herself. But now we're going to try to let Oriana tell the story of Oriana - through excerpts from interviews she has left behind over the years.
It was a mournful, unhappy childhood that she described to her sister, Paola (Annabella, 1979). "I was a pretty child, with a round, pensive face. I was very withdrawn, I think, a boring little girl. And very obedient, very disciplined. An old fashioned child, if you like, the kind described in nineteenth century novels. My memories are almost always of depression, of boredom and disenchantment - in short, of unhappiness. And of a repressed desire to revolt. But against whom, against what? All my rebellions were internal and were translated into dreams. And the dreams boiled down into one image: books. I knew it: oh, I knew that I would write books and that I would write for newspapers. I never thought of the two jobs separately, even though I saw books as a more powerful, more noble objective. They were always books with hard red covers because that was the look of the books published by Sonzogno which I saw in the library at home. I never tired of looking at them, intimidated and overcome with veneration because the majority of those who had written them were dead and continued to be alive though those printed pages. Journalism on the other hand I thought of as a wonderful adventure. Thanks to the newspapers I wanted to go to Malaysia. To India and Malaysia. I'm talking about a little child of six, seven, maybe eight." A little girl who hence did not dream of marriage like the others her age because if she thought of love she thought of Jack London, "but not to marry him: to wander the world with him, maybe on sleighs pulled by dogs, to experience a thousand adventures and then write about them. Love was identified with that kind of man and that kind of life: a man who might be a companion for that life, never a man to go through quiet days with in a pretty little house with geraniums in the windows."
And so it was, more or less. To Guido Gerosa (Playboy, 1976): "Very often one loves a person because they impose that love on us. At other times one loves a person out of a fear of solitude. I'm not talking of physical solitude because that can be resolved through sex. I'm talking about psychological solitude: the solitude of the soul. At still other times one loves or has love imposed upon one out of pity. Or just out of kindness. And at times, finally, because one needs a brother. A companion. I have to say that personally I've always sought a brother in the men I've loved. And now more than ever." Again to Paola (Annabella, 1979): "Though I've never hidden my relationship with a man, I have always had this modesty about my private life. I will tell you that when I came to Italy with Alekos (Alexis Panagulis, the hero of the opposition to the Greek colonels, Oriana's lover from when I interviewed her in 1973 until the day of his death in a mysterious car accident - in 1976), in the fall of 1973; we were already a couple living together as if we were married. Moreover from the first day, even at the Hotel Excelsior where we stayed, we slept together in a double room. Yet in public I was so formal with him, I showed the relationship between us so little, that for a week or two they thought we were together only for our work. Unquestionably this was a great love we had. But this doesn't take away from the fact that at certain moments living together so totally was a burden on me. But he understood that about me because he was the same."
Modesty about her private life is a quality that has always been a part of "la Fallaci," as a youth and as an adult, at the beginning of her career and during the long days of her greatest success. Again to her sister Paola (Annabella, 1979): "To speak of oneself means to lay bare one's own soul, expose it like a body to the sun: to lay bare one's own soul is not at all like taking off one's brassiere on a crowded beach! No, it's not good to tell about one's own feelings unless one does it the way I did in A Man (Un Uomo), where I also explained my love for Alekos and his for me in political terms. Anyone who wants to know more about what happened before has only to read with attention in my other books: it's all there between the lines, almost everything. Oh yes! In every one of my books a trace of my human biography is etched. Alas... Because I did it without realizing it, without wanting to. Because I became aware of it later, with a shudder, really."
It's hard to find eroticism - at least in the form that literature has accustomed us to - in the pages of her books. Because sex...To Guido Gerosa (Playboy, 1976): "I begin to believe that, far from being something dirty, it's something very banal. Above all if it occurs without feeling - feeling of a kind that's not invented. Because sex without feeling is boring, it becomes the most tiring kind of gymnastics and nothing more. Especially for a man. I remember a colleague, I think it w as Mino Monicelli, who said: "To make love is something for porters. Because it moves the blood from the brain and takes it down to the lower stomach. Think no more about it." I have to say that this is not the case with me because even at that moment I am thinking. For me the blood never abandons the brain. They say that that's a negative factor, but to me it seems positive. Am I a puritan? Oh God, it would be terrible if I discovered that I'm a puritan. But I must confess that pornography, photographs of naked people, arouses a kind of irritation in me. There's a kind of desecration involved, an offense, in photographing the naked body, that is, in crystallizing it within an image. This whether the body be that of a woman or that of a man. I feel them humiliated and myself humiliated. Please note that, physically, I am not a prudish woman. If you catch me nude, that doesn't bother me in the least. Reaching to cover up is not one of my gestures."
What is and has always been one of her gestures is the act of writing, the effort of writing. She has explained this to David Lajolo (Corriere della Sera, 1979): "The choice of a word, the composition of a sentence, even the rhythm of sounds on a page, the structure, or rather the architecture of the story extended to the length and complexity of a novel are as consuming as the suffering of recreating reality. In every case writing is a torment that borders on masochism. Writing well, I mean. Even when the writing is going smoothly it's cruelly wearing and afterwards I fe el as if I've dragged tons of lead up a mountain." "Masochistic" Oriana became very early: because as a child she did not play with dolls... (To Paola Fallaci, Annabella, 1979): "The other children intimidated me. With them I couldn't read, dream, or write. Because I wrote, you know? Even then. I have found notebooks full of absurd stories, impossible tales... I believe it's due to my mama. I assume that my mama, together with a genuine desire for culture, which was spontaneous because she came from a family of poor artists, pushed me to read out of a raging desire for revenge. Yes, I believe that my mama always interpreted culture as a personal and social revenge. "Woe to you if you're ignorant," she used to say, "when you're ignorant they can take advantage of you horribly."
And although she was enrolled in medical school (which she did not finish), there was the passion for newspapers at the age of sixteen... (Again to her sister, Annabella, 1979): "Work for me meant writing, being a journalist. I wanted to work for La Nazione. But I went to the wrong floor and landed up on the fifth where La Mattina dell'Italia Centrale was. 'I want to be a reporter.' 'How old are you?' I lied: 'Seventeen.' 'What's your name?' 'Oriana Fallaci.' 'A relative of Bruno Fallaci?' 'He's my uncle.' Well, you know how prestigious the name of my uncle Bruno was in journalism: in my opinion he was one of the greatest Italian journalists who ever was." The first article, about a Florence dance club, was written in longhand on lined paper like they use for classroom assignments. "'Don't you even know how to type?' I took nine hours to copy over my piece: from 10 a.m. till 7 p.m. But finally it was to my satisfaction and pleased me so much I signed it: OF. They paid me for it right away. Three hundred lire. I was madly proud. Consumed with emotion. You understand, I too had entered the unattainable world of the privileged who when they die remain alive because they leave behind a book with a red cover."
Need we recall the newspapers in which "la Fallaci" appeared, or list the titles of her books translated into almost every language in the world? No, it's superfluous; everyone knows that. But what kind of journalist is Oriana? (To Paola, Annabella, 1979): "I was raised in the school of 'putting one over on them.' It meant 'getting a scoop,' though the word 'scoop' wasn't in style till many years later. It was very competitive. Competitive and, again, lonely. "You could write a book about a seventeen-year-old, eighteen- year-old, nineteen-year-old in search of a love that wasn't of the geraniums-in-the-window kind. It was as if the wonderful men whom I'd admired in the eleven months of my training, the Resistance (with her dad in Justice and Liberty with the nom de guerre of Emilia), had been an empty mirage or as if, with the coming of peace, the country had regressed and become a desert of dead souls." Competition, loneliness, and baths of reality, the kind that lead to growth. The debut of her byline on the page, and the phone call from her uncle Bruno: "I held the receiver anxiously: did he finally want to congratulate me? And uncle Bruno: 'Who do you think you are, Hemingway?'"
The supreme Hemingway...To Vittorio Feltri (Europeo, 1991) "Above all there was Hemingway who, at about my age and after having covered the Spanish Civil war as a journalist, returned to be a war correspondent in World War II. And God knows he was already celebrated at that time. Alas, nothing reveals man the way war does. Nothing so accentuates in him the beauty and ugliness, the intelligence and foolishness, the brutishness and humanity, the courage and cowardice, the enigma. To understand human beings, ultimately war serves a writer better than any other experience - or should one use the word adventure? To live, to write, some (and in London there was one of these, Hemingway was one of these) need adventure. And I do too."
All the Vietnams on earth or almost all. The beatings in Teheran, the bullet taken in the back in Mexico between the twelfth and thirteenth vertebra. From here the images that have been pinned on her... (To Paola, in Oggi, 1991): "That grotesque one of the pathetic soldier with the helmet on her head and the knife between her teeth. That stupid myopic one of the belligerent, ambitious, hard and pitiless, outright nasty woman who chases away everyone who enters her life... They've even attributed to me sentences I've never uttered to build up this fantasy, and by now this fantasy has crystallized into a "truth" that's hard to shake off." But she has often assumed the helmet-on-the-head role and continues to do so for long periods: what does she like about war? (To Feltri, in Europeo, 1991): "I don't like it in the sense that I like the inconveniences it imposes on me; I don't like it in the sense that I like the dangers it exposes me to, the danger of being killed, of getting wounded, of being captured. I like it for the intensified truth that war offers me, for what it teaches us about human beings. In war you can study existence as no philosopher will ever be able to study it. You can analyze men as no psychologist will ever be able to, understand them as you never could in a time or place of peace. Furthermore war offers the challenge of challenges, the wager of wagers: the challenge of death, the wager with life. That wager, that challenge attract me because to confront them you must conquer fear. And I hate fear." And she detests envy. (To Isabella Rossellini, Amica, 1980): "It's true that by now I am used to betrayals because I know that they primarily conceal envy and envy is the sister of ignorance. I must tell you why I am comfortable in New York. It's because here people react to success as a good quality. In Italy success is considered a drawback, a disability, a wrong, something in sum for which one must be punished. In Italy, anyone who is successful is at least an adulterer or a thief. Since you can't accuse me of either of these things, they say I'm nasty, mean, overbearing. That I'm a prima donna..."
Compiled by Stefano Jesurum
© Il Corriere della Sera, October 11, 2001