“How do you swim in a chador?” 30 May 2006Posted by marisacat in Divertissements, Europe, Italy.
The above comes from a question put to Khomeini by the journalist, Oriana Fallaci. When he told her not to meddle in their business, she stood and stripped it off, having dressed as stipulated for the interview, barefoot and wrapped in the chador…
He left in a huff, but made sure to finish the interview two days later… Tho one of his sons warned her not to mention "chador", that is exactly what she did for the conclusion of the interview, bring it up again.
The New Yorker is up with a profile on Oriana Fallaci, from Margaret Talbot. I dropped in at breakneck speed to catch up on OF. Reading her as a teenager was, bracing. Wonderful wonderful interviews across three decades…
And she does not disappoint. Hardly anyone will like or agree with all of her points.
But with some, I surely do agree… And I want the politically incorrect, but still thinking, the iconoclastic, but cogent, to be heard. And certainly not hauled into court for blasphemy.
“Yesterday, I was hysterical,” the Italian journalist and novelist Oriana Fallaci said. She was telling me a story about a local dog owner and the liberties he’d allowed his animal to take in front of Fallaci’s town house, on the Upper East Side. Big mistake.
“I no longer have the energy to get really angry, like I used to,” she added. It called to mind what the journalist Robert Scheer said about Fallaci after interviewing her for Playboy, in 1981: “For the first time in my life, I found myself feeling sorry for the likes of Khomeini, Qaddafi, the Shah of Iran, and Kissinger—all of whom had been the objects of her wrath—the people she described as interviewing ‘with a thousand feelings of rage.’ ”
For two decades, from the mid-nineteen-sixties to the mid-nineteen-eighties, Fallaci was one of the sharpest political interviewers in the world. Her subjects were among the world’s most powerful figures: Yasir Arafat, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Haile Selassie, Deng Xiaoping.
Henry Kissinger, who later wrote that his 1972 interview with her was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press,” said that he had been flattered into granting it by the company he’d be keeping as part of Fallaci’s “journalistic pantheon.”
It was more like a collection of pelts: Fallaci never left her subjects unskinned.
Fallaci’s journalism, at first conducted for the Italian magazine L’Europeo and later published in translation throughout the world, was infused with a “mythic sense of political evil,” as the writer Vivian Gornick once put it—an almost adolescent aversion to power, which suited the temperament of the times.
As Fallaci explained in her preface to “Interview with History,” a 1976 collection of Q. & A.s,
“Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon. . . . I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”
Reading again of her interview with Kissinger, I recall squealing with delight as she skewered the flatulent.
In Fallaci’s interview with Kissinger, she told him that he had become known as “Nixon’s mental wet nurse,” and lured him into boasting that Americans admired him because he “always acted alone”—like “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse, the cowboy who rides all alone into the town.”
Political cartoonists mercilessly lampooned this remark, and, according to Kissinger’s memoirs, the quote soured his relations with Nixon. (Kissinger claimed that she had taken his words out of context.)
But the most remarkable moment in the interview came when Fallaci bluntly asked him, about Vietnam, “Don’t you find, Dr. Kissinger, that it’s been a useless war?,” and Kissinger began his reply with the words “On this, I can agree.”
No!” “No” was something Fallaci was happy to say. But Berlusconi and Prodi were “two fucking idiots,” she said. “Why do the people humiliate themselves by voting? I didn’t vote. No! Because I have dignity. . . . If, at a certain moment, I had closed my nose and voted for one of them, I would spit on my own face.”
I know that feeling.
I miss the sense of guerilla action from that type of journalist. It is absolutely gone from America. We have always had a largely pliant press, but it has become monolithic with corporate ownership. The crushing, and menial, mediocrity that is cover for our sins.
And Talbot includes a bit of vintage Oriana:
After I had interviewed Fallaci, I discovered two great examples of her journalism that I had not read before.
In a witty 1963 article about Federico Fellini, Fallaci describes with wary, nervy thoroughness the many times and places that the great director kept her waiting. When she finally corners him, she begins by saying,
“So then let us brace ourselves, Signor Fellini, and let us discuss Federico Fellini, just for a change. I know you find it hard: you are so withdrawing, so secretive, so modest. But it is our duty to discuss him, for the sake of the nation.” She goes on in this vein until Fellini cuts her off, saying, “Nasty liar. Rude little bitch.” In her introduction to the interview, she writes, “I used to be truly fond of Federico Fellini. Since our tragic encounter, I’m a lot less fond. To be exact, I’m no longer fond of him. That is, I don’t like him at all. Glory is a heavy burden, a murdering poison, and to bear it is an art. And to have that art is rare.”
Sometimes they really do toss the cookie cutter.