Indro Montanelli – Mina’s fragile secret – 04.02.1961

By Indro Montanelli
04.02.1961

Two forces seem to sustain it, instinct and ignorance. But then it is not hard to see that it is a calculated fiction so clever that it appears to be the truth.

Rome, Feb. They tell me that here in Rome, the San Remo champions who came to repeat their singing feats here have had bad luck. One of them, distinguished in languid elongations of vowels accompanied by gallinaceous revulsions of pupils, was countered by a high-pitched noise about which there was no equivocation. The real audience in Rome, the popular one, has an incisive language, even too much, especially when it suspects it is being corbelled. And with the protagonists of Sanremo, musicians and singers, he had a poisoned tooth. Only for Mina did he make an exception and, though with some guarded reservations, let it pass.

Imperforable armor

Would you believe me if I told you that I had never seen Mina and did not know exactly who she was, before the telescreen the other night introduced her face and voice into my home, overbearingly, to the accompaniment of a thousand blue bubbles? The nursery rhyme seemed to me to be very melancholy, in tone with everything else; motifs, words, staging, and spectators (but what faces are there, by God, in Italy! To suggest that the atomic bomb, then, after all, would not be at all that scourge they say? That devil of a girl made it though, even with bubbles, or in spite of bubbles. If not always listening, he at least allowed himself to be watched. And if I did not turn off the television set after two or three numbers engaged in a noble contest of clamorous insult, it was only in the hope of seeing her, the Mina, reappear on it.
What does this girl have to “meet” so much? She is not more beautiful than many others; she does not sing better than many others. But I think that more than all the others, she got the timing of her birth right. Certainly her parents were not the only Italian couple to have a daughter in 1940. One would say, though, that they were the only ones who did not give her anything but her first name. Mina has the air of not remembering anything that happened in the world before 1940 and having no anxiety about what might happen after 1961. If she does not have one still alive for home, she certainly does not know that she had a grandmother and never wondered how she lived when she was a girl. Perhaps she is convinced that the mammoth dates back to 1914, that Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1921, and that Mussolini was the direct successor of Romulus and Remus. When people talk about classical music they probably think of Modugno. And when he says “the future,” he alludes to this year’s Easter. She sings ditties because she was born in an Italy that in ditties, for the past couple of decades, has placed its last pride. And he sings them that way because he does not even suspect that they can be sung in another way. It’s not that I follow the “fashion.” It is in her blood because she was born with it, and perhaps she does not even imagine how much in a “fashion” is temporary and cangeable. Indeed, perhaps he believes that “fashion” is the only stable and unchangeable thing in life. Mina interprets her time, her likes, dislikes, and bad tastes to perfection, because she does not have the remotest suspicion that there have been or may be others. He is in it up to his hair with no memory of the past and no expectation of the future. Two great forces sustain it, two impervious armors protect it: instinct and ignorance. Or at least that’s what I believed from the other night, when I saw and heard her on television for the first time, until today when I happened to read the interview she gave to a very good (and devilish) colleague of mine.
Ouch, ouch, ouch, what a disappointment his words were, if they were faithfully recorded (but they looked like they were)! And not because they contradict my assumptions. But rather they confirm them with such calculated commitment as to inspire at least some doubt. Listen to her talk about her ignorance to magnify its vastness: “I know, for example, that in France there is De Gaulle, a long guy with a nose, that in Russia there is Khrushchev, that in America there is a new guy they call Kennedy, and then there is Fidel Castro. The Kennedy I saw misses an eye, however, he’s not bad: that topknot looks good on him. I don’t like the Khrushchev. I was told that he takes off a shoe and bangs it on the table when he wants the floor, what a guitto. Besides he is ugly, that fat wife makes him even uglier. The Fidel, on the other hand, simply drives me crazy. I don’t know what he did, this Fidel. I know he’s mated a bunch of people and that he’s a nice guy: with that beard, that big shirt. Imagine if he didn’t have a beard, if he cuts his beard he’s screwed, they take him out in two days. Then I know there is a privateer ship in the Green Islands, where are the Green Islands? The idea of a privateer ship simply drives me crazy….”
All this talk and more Mina makes after stating that she goes to bed at night with a teddy bear without which she cannot sleep, and that in her life, except for Donald Duck, she has read nothing, but really nothing at all, not even a newspaper, because she has no time, because she does not feel like it, and because she wants to see things with her own eyes, not with those of the writer. It will be. But ignorance when it is true, authentic, eighteen-carat, speaks of itself in quite another language. He doesn’t have this swagger, this self-mastery, this bravado, this pride. Even when it is not accompanied by modesty, it avoids posing as a blazon and taking people head-on. Even when he does not make excuses, he relies on the understanding and indulgence of the interlocutor.

Cleverness and instinct

I mean in short, Mina’s ignorance reeks of literature a mile away. And never mind the classic texts of the “snobbish young lady,” which with true ignorance can also happily coexist. But there is more in it than that. There are the most elaborate and sophisticated beggars of neo-realism, the heroes of the “nouvelle vague,” certain characters of Pasolini and Testori, all the garbage of Miller, Tennessee Williams, and even the very old Saroyan. And there is above all Lolita: a Lolita who, having carefully read the novel of the same name and learned what power of bamboozlement her dolls wielded over mature men when she was thirteen, deliberately stopped there, and there is no calendar beard that can move her from there. Mind you, I do not at all believe that Mina came up with all this coldly, having measured its liabilities and assets like a seasoned captain of industry when founding a company or launching a product: although blood is not water and her paternal origins may make us suspect this as well. No, he does it instinctively. But instinct, as is often the case especially with women, is not divorced from calculation, and no one, not even she, could tell where one ends and the other begins. Even his ignorance is not that it is all feigned, in fact I am sure it has a solid foundation. But I am equally sure that Mina, on her own ignorance possesses an excellent culture, has studied it thoroughly, knows its full extent, all the nooks and crannies, all the nuances, all the resources, and who knows with what study, with how much diligence and patience, she who has no time or desire to do anything, has honed the art of exploiting them, of enhancing them, of “mounting” them. “Tell me,” asked that colleague of mine at one point, “who was this Muhammad? What a nice name. If I have a son someday, I want to name him Muhammad.”
Eh away, Ms. Mina puts a bit of a strain on our good faith. We have confidence, a deep confidence in his ignorance. We are persuaded that it is billionaires of it. We are filled with admiration for the generosity with which he deepens it. We are willing to endorse without question all the promissory notes it issues on this solid capital. We are even ready to admire it, to bow respectfully before it, as if before a mark of intellectual and moral superiority.
But up to Muhammad, in the name of Allah, the step is a bit long for any leg. Had she said, I don’t know, Buddha we are already between India and China, a little further away, Had she mentioned any other character from Vercingetorix to Mao-Tse-tung, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon, we would have given her credit. But Muhammad. Too bad. We would have quite willingly believed the total and genuine cluelessness of this girl who can adorn herself with such grace, as long as she only sings. But when he speaks, the donkey falls, or rather he brays in a voice so thunderous as to inspire some doubt about his identity. This does not detract from his skill, which is great. It only serves to make us understand what “naturalness” is to these kids of today who wave it like a flag, take pride in it as their own personal achievement, and shove it in our faces in mortification of our hypocrisies. God how many books Mina and her peers must have read, to learn to speak like illiterates, what harsh discipline they must submit to in order to show themselves so nonchalant, how many lies they must tell themselves and others to appear so sincere! Mina is by far the most successful, and therefore it is fitting that she has the success she has. She has put such consummate cunning into the service of her naiveté that there is no way to catch her at fault. This late Lolita is actually an early tard. She is so fake that she looks just like the real thing, and I would not be at all surprised if it turns out that she really sleeps with the teddy bear and even with him she does Mina all night long by hugging and chasing him, petting and scrambling him, luring and repelling him, adoring and hating him, to keep herself in training.
And yes, too bad it slipped on Muhammad. He had studied so much and so well to earn that degree in ignorance….

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11 November 2023

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