Oriana Fallaci – The siren of twenty years – The European 05.02.1961

Oriana Fallaci – The European
05.02.1961

But who, then, is this girl who in not even two years has become a kind of myth of Italians young and old, poor and rich, suckers and smart, communists and Catholics, and in one minute earns as much as a magistrate earns in a month (one hundred and fifty thousand traffic circles), in one week collects six covers of authoritative weeklies, and if you say you have never seen her sing they treat you as an ignoramus, a traitor to the fatherland, or a cretin? He is very, very unique. I look at it. In this Sanremo where she drowns all the squalor of a Festival dense with screaming, provincial vanities, mediocre sins that nevertheless do not touch her, and the more I look at her the less I understand who she is. At moments her pretty face is innocent and I feel as if I love her like a little sister who has to defend herself because she cannot tell lies; at moments her pretty face is devilish and I feel as if I am being led around by the nose by the shrewdest woman I have ever dealt with. At moments it seems worthy of all the enthusiasm the country devotes to her, at moments it seems ridiculous to devote this serious attention to her. And the only state of mind that remains intact, in doubt, is a great sympathy for his character in whom in a sense he sums up the enigma of a generation from which an insurmountable gulf divides us.

Mina is lying, not without languor, on a hotel bed, next to the black, diva-like gown she will wear to sing in a connoisseur’s voice Io Amo, Tu Ami, and blowing bubbles with a little red plastic fish whose workings she explained to me, composedly. “You take a little shampoo, but a little, as if you were going to wash the head of a flea, pour it down the throat of the little fish, turn the crank that is in the belly of the little fish, and meanwhile blow it holding the tail between your teeth as if it were a pipe. The tail of the fish, of course. Do you smoke a pipe? Neither do I, daddy doesn’t want to. Hello, who is this? Curse on the phone. Who are you, what do you want? Newspaper? Tell me newspaper. If I marry Maurizio Arena? I say, are you crazy? And then I am a minor. Do you want to understand that I’m underage? So, you blow into the belly of the fish…. “. Along with the fish, Mom, a manager who supervises her in the absence of her father, an industrialist in Cremona, Mina brought a teddy bear that she needs at night to fall asleep. At night, Mina doesn’t sleep unless she has her teddy bear between the sheets, and as outlandish as it may seem in a 20-year-old who has been given thirty-three boyfriends and sings love songs as if she knows what she is saying, the news is accurate: even the waiter who brings her coffee in the morning confirms it.

The teddy bear is blue nylon, the mother is a pretty young woman who follows her with a bewildered air, as if she does not quite realize what is going on, the manager is a white-haired gentleman who resembles the late Mitropoulos, his name is Gigante, and since this morning he has been receiving calls from a minister who wants Mina in Montefiascone where “the people are clamoring for her.” What do I answer him, Mina?” asks Gigante as the shadow of this minister troubled by such conceptual issues as taking Mina to Montefiascone (tell me: how does Italy fare if Mina doesn’t go to Montefiascone at the official invitation of the Italian government?) stretches across the bed. “Answer him that I don’t give a damn,” Mina says, and her brown eyes have a determined expression: she really does give a damn. She doesn’t even know who runs the government, let alone who this minister is: lucky her. She doesn’t know that Nenni is a socialist and she doesn’t know that Muslim women in Arabia wear headscarves: “Tell me, who was this Muhammad? What a nice name! If one day I have a son, I want to name him Muhammad.” What she learned in school when she was studying accountancy she has forgotten, nor does she intend to fill the gap, Two months ago, when Mario Soldati interviewed her on TV for his survey on Italians who read, she replied without embarrassment, “I only read Donald Duck, sir.” Then a reporter threw it in her face that she was not original, many intellectuals are devotees of that classic text, and she said with less embarrassment than ever, “Really? And do they understand it?”

“You see,” Mina explains scratching her foot, “People say you have to read books. To begin with, I don’t have time. Then, I don’t feel like it. Books always end up influencing you. So many things people say are clichés because people have read them in books, I, on the other hand, want to find out things for myself: with my ears and eyes; that’s why I don’t even read newspapers. My ignorance is deeper than a well; everything I know, I know from hearsay. 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 Khrushchev: I’ve been told he takes off his shoe and bangs it on the table when he wants the floor, what a goon. 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 just drives me crazy. Hello, who is this? Damn the phone. Bindi, honey, what do you want? Are you tired? But you are always tired, what do you want? Don’t you know how to take the ‘do’ this evening? And don’t take it, my son, who cares about the ‘do’? But look if people have to worry about the ‘do’!”

Bindi came to Sanremo with a mink-lined seal coat, an ivory chest with a shiny new one that he looks at when he is very sad, a song that worries him because of that ‘do,’ and, like the other thirty-nine fellow singers, he spends his time dreaming of winning the Festival. To Mina this seems absurd. “Who cares about the Festival, whether I win it or lose it? The others are there slaughtering and suffering like they have a cough or measles, they spend their days worrying about a ‘do,’ as if their whole future depends on that ‘do,’ they are consumed in jealousy and spite, I don’t understand them. They seem like a bunch of crazy people to me. What is the need to give themselves so much trouble? I have never given myself that. I am not like them, if I sing it is because I feel like singing, I don’t spend my days tormenting myself on a ‘C’. I don’t know music, I’ve never studied it, I don’t intend to study it. Do you know how I became Mina? There was a party in a village called Rivarolo del Re and Flo Sandon’s and Latilla were singing there. I went to the party and at some point I got a great urge to go up on the stage. So I went up and started screaming. Those people applauded, and the next night I came back, together with Mother.” Mrs. Mazzini sighs. “A disgrace, miss, a disgrace. I’ve gotten used to it a little bit now but you should have seen the look on my face when my little girl was screaming and wiggling like that. At least she sang like Nilla Pizzi or Flo Sandon’s, perbenino, with a polite voice. Macché: she needs to do all that mouthing off. On the other hand, what do you want to do with it, my husband and I are modern parents, we don’t want to get in the way of our children’s careers and hear ourselves thrown back in their faces one day. When Mina said she wanted to sing, my husband bought her instruments: he thought she was singing at home. Instead, Mina put together a little ensemble and went to Milan to sing at the Six Days. And do you see the result? It is that the other son also started singing. He started a little orchestra and renamed himself Geronimo. I say, does it seem serious to you to be called Geronimo and sing in cabarets instead of becoming an engineer in his father’s company? My husband says, “Be patient, he’ll get over it.” But Mina didn’t get over it. Ah, these young people I don’t understand them. In my twenties I was a quiet girl who only thought about getting married and having beautiful children. I was afraid of everything. Mina, on the other hand, is not afraid of anything. Always quiet, confident.” Mina’s intelligent eyes follow her mother with indulgent irony. Afraid of what? His generation does not know what fear is. She was born during the war but did not see war, never suffered hunger or ridiculous impositions. She grew up in a time when there was no shortage of chocolate and began to ponder the world when beautiful girls became divas for winning a swimsuit contest. The world she knows is a world that looks at success as a measure of life and in which success can come overnight: as long as you have a nerve and graceful face. “Mommy is a darling,” says Mina as she stops blowing bubbles and lights a cigarette. “But she is also naive. How can anyone expect me to be like her? I grew up in affluence, I’m a spoiled bad girl, I didn’t come up with those pretty little princes of the past. And what happens to me certainly does nothing to make me better. All it took was for me to make two squeals for me to immediately be induced to sign a contract and for the newspapers to start talking about me. At first I thought only children cheered for Mina, now I see that adults do too. Then I thought only ignorant people enjoyed hearing me sing, now I see that even intellectuals listen to me. Is it my fault that the world is populated with fools? I sell five thousand records a day, they offer me half a million to sing six ditties: am I the one asking for it? I know very well that it is not serious to live shouting “Lalala, ya ya, good morning, my love good morning, there is so much sunshine in my heart, the world is beautiful still.” But I don’t think of it as work. I consider it fun, a leisure, and the fact that they pay me so much fills me with endless wonder, even a vague sense of guilt. People say I’m greedy for money, I swear I don’t give a damn about the dough. I never know what I earn, I don’t even know what I have in the bank: my father and manager do everything. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so successful: poor, unfortunate people nobody wants them. On the other hand, if someone is rich and doesn’t ask for anything, everyone is looking for him.” Mina has put on a black seal fur that Father bought for her along with the mink because Father does not want Mina’s money to be spent; therefore, he keeps it as if he did not own a penny and, thus wrapped in that shiny black fur, she finally looks like a diva. Yet, she does not act like a diva. There is an unsuspected wisdom in her that is revealed not only by the speeches she makes but by the way she acts. For example, she wears fur not as one who wears fur to show that she owns it but because fur serves as a shelter from the cold, and last week, I am told, she wanted to buy chinchilla, but it was enough for her father to say two little words in her ear for her to reply, “That’s okay,” and make nothing of it. His fame is comparable in Italy to what Elvis Presley enjoys in America: but I have seen how Elvis Presley behaves. When he leaves the hotel he is surrounded by a mob of bad boys shouting, “Here comes Elvis Presley,” then he signs his autograph with his admirers’ lipstick smearing their dress. She, on the other hand, leaves the hotel as befits a young lady from a good family and signs autographs with her golden pen, after thanking those who ask for them. Her Mercedes is driven by a chauffeur provided by her father, but she is ashamed to keep the chauffeur and in a gentle voice explains to him that he can go for a walk: he drives well himself. On the road in Bordighera, when traffic officers stop her because she made a wrong overtake, she meekly hands over her papers and gives her generalities without posing offense. “Mazzini Mina, of Mino, born in Busto Arsizio on March 25, 1940, living in Cremona, singer by profession.” CHP officers are red with excitement-who would have dreamed of coming face to face with Mina, and maybe they would avoid giving her a ticket as well. But Mina dryly hands over the money and then says restarting, “I have to laugh to say ‘professionally a singer.’ I am not a singer, I am a singer.” She likes the phrase, came up with it herself, and repeats it at every opportunity: it is actually a clever phrase like almost everything else she says. “You see, being a singer means something else. Singer is Piaf, is Mahalia Jackson, is Fitzgerald. Do I have to tell you that? Sometimes I want to get away from Italy, and become a singer for real. I could go to America, I think, but America doesn’t interest me: it’s like I’ve already been there. Then I think I could go to Paris and start over but that would force me to study and I don’t want to study: I’m too lazy and spoiled. Then I think I would like to change professions, but all professions require discipline that I don’t know how to impose on myself. I would like to be a journalist, for example, and travel the world, go to those places where there is that Mohammed and see the women in veils, or go to Russia and see if it’s true what they say, how they all live on file: but do you know how hard it is. People like me are not used to fatigue. And then I don’t know how to see things: I’ve been to Paris and all I remember is a lot of cold, I didn’t realize that Paris was beautiful. I’ve been to Malta and Malta was beautiful however I only remember the sea and this huge moon that was hanging over the sea. I’ve been to Berlin and it was a country that you could find in department stores, I wasn’t interested in it at all. How would I write things down? I don’t have any ideas, I just have violent feelings that go away immediately. For example, do you know what impression it made on me to know that they had launched that thing, what’s it called, the sputnik? It bothered me to think that I was going to look at it thinking it was a star, and that fooled me because it wasn’t a star. I don’t like being fooled.”

The car stops in front of a hairdresser’s store, and the Nino who has come especially from Milan to comb Mina’s hair runs up to her all excited and dressed for the occasion in blue. La Mina holds out her hand to him with the coolness of young people who, although poetic to the point of not being able to stand the sputnik among the stars, do not want to be fooled by anyone, not even the stars, and enters the store with a confident stride, indifferently facing the stares of customers who take their heads off their helmets and blissfully whisper, “La Mina, oh la Minaaaaa!” The Nino is all upset: combing the head of her singing in San Remo. The thousand blue bubbles! Clients do the same. What could be more important in Italy today than for Mina to sing Le mille bolle blu at Sanremo? Meanwhile, the news that Mina is in Bordighera spreads, a mob threatens to break windows outside the store, the police have to come to contain it, and an old woman makes her way with her grandson to bring Mina a large bouquet of flowers. The old lady is pale with excitement, “There,” she says pushing her grandson with the bouquet of flowers, “when you grow up you will be able to say you have met Mina. Mina takes the flowers, says thank you, and it is not clear whether she considers the tribute as something to which she has a sacred right or whether inside she laughs at it with derision: she immediately pulls out her Mickey Mouse album and indulges in that holy reading. “As a human being,” he uses to say, “I am eighteen years old: the age I was when this miracle or, if you prefer, this disease came upon me. When an 18-year-old girl sees herself being treated for no reason as if she were Callas, something comes to a halt in her mental development. As soon as people get tired of me, I will go back to growing up starting from those 18 years.” Is she sincere when she is blowing bubbles and sleeping with teddy bears and extolling Fidel Castro’s beard or is she sincere when she is making these speeches? Is she really as ignorant and unconscious as she wants people to believe or does she read Mickey Mouse to fool me? Is her success really the result of chance and collective stupidity, as she claims to believe, or does she deserve it? In the evening, when the Festival erupts in the little theater of the Casino and she is about to sing, I still don’t get it. The theater is full of people who have paid twenty thousand lire for a wooden chair to hear Mina, Italy is waiting on radio and television for Mina to start singing. Mina has put on her black diva dress and advances with a confident step, as if that ‘wait did not concern her at all, she goes to stand with her legs together and firmly in front of the microphone, the orchestra starts a banal tune, Italy unplugs its ears, Mina opens her lips and her hoarse voice, at times childish at times mature, spreads: while her whole body, hands, arms, hair lacquered by Nino participate in that wiggle that, according to her biographers, “gives a long shiver.” She may not be able to sing, but I like her voice; it is alive like few other voices of people who can sing. Most of all, I like the Mina who sings with her eyes closed as if she is telling Io amo, tu ami to herself and doesn’t give a damn about those who are listening to her. There is in her an unconfessed contempt for those who are listening to her and in fact, when she is finished, she disdainfully turns her back and leaves: to go watch herself on television. The program is not live, it is broadcast later; this allows her to see the only person who interests her about the Festival: herself. In fact, I find her in front of the screen, in the hotel, and she watches herself ecstatically, her mouth open and her eyes shining, “Oh Mom! Look at Mina!” Oh, yes: she is indeed a child to be loved like a little sister who must be defended because she cannot tell lies. “You know?” she murmurs complacently, “these things amuse me so much: but I can’t go on amusing myself forever. I really have to think about what I’m going to do when I grow up. I need to make up my mind to study, to read books, newspapers, to look for a real profession.” But then the manager comes to tell her that she has entered the finals, there is a high probability that she will win this Festival, and she gets as serious as a businesswoman, in a professional tone she explains to him that in that case she will have to correct the record, she doesn’t like that vocal emission, the arrangement should be changed, don’t you think? So I am seized by the suspicion that she knows very well who Fidel Castro is, and who Kennedy is, and who Mohammed is, and what love is, and even what a pentagram is, and that soap bubbles don’t amuse her at all, and that the teddy bear is her hot water bottle, and that someday she will become an authentic artist like Piaf, perhaps she already is, and again I am irritated by the doubt that I have been taken for a ride: it really does sum up the enigma of a generation from which an insurmountable gulf divides us.

Oriana Fallaci

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They say about her

11 November 2023

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