Coming to terms with Indro Montanelli twenty years after his death

Okay, okay, you don’t like Indro Montanelli, we don’t like it anymore, the statue in Milan smeared several times, the reopened debate on his colonial past, on the child bride in Ethiopia, on this and that passage of an existence “Long and tormented,” as he himself called it. But: what if he were a character from a novel? It would also appeal to those who actually hate it. Those who read enthusiastically would like the words of Walter Siti: in the recent pamphlet “Against commitment” (Rizzoli), the writer invokes morally complex characters, whose parable makes our criteria for moral judgment less stable and less comfortable. No, of course, he is not a character in a novel, but how else can one define the life of someone born practically together with the twentieth century and who died a month and a half before September 11, 2001, just as blood was staining in Genoa? roads? The Belle époque of the Tuscan province. A grandfather who calls his children and grandchildren to intervene in the Great War. Faith in Mussolini and the branches. The daring and ambiguous exit from fascism, a death sentence. The run-up in the journalistic career, the Russo-Finnish war, Hungary and the tanks in ’56, a fleeting encounter with Hitler, unsubstantiated, a dialogue with Perón, sure, and with John XXIII, with Golda Meir, with dozens of protagonists. The bullets of the Red Brigades in ’77. The friction with Berlusconi, editor of the Giornale that Montanelli founded in ’74, the farewell to the newspaper, the return to Corriere della Sera, of which he was unquestionably the first signature for decades. The last article written a month before he died. The self-obituary dictated on a hospital bed: “He takes his leave of his readers, thanking them for the affection and fidelity with which they followed him.”

I lose nothing in confessing that it impressed me. A man who alone chooses the words with which to leave: “Religious ceremonies or civil commemorations are not welcome.” I was impressed as it would have impressed me, in a few weeks, the reappearance, after a very long silence, of Oriana Fallaci on the front page of Corriere della Sera. I was going to school, I picked up the newspaper, I was stunned: “You ask me to speak this time.” He told of the Towers of New York, the huge cloud of smoke seen from the windows of his house in Manhattan; and by dint of anger and pride he marked a dangerous contrast between “us” and “them”. He scandalized. She also disappointed those who had loved her deeply. (I would later find out about a failed Fallaci-Montanelli four-handed book project: the two clashed violently on the Resistance. Fallaci closed his ex-friend: “It’s four in the morning and dawn is about to rise over New York . What a difficult night you gave me, Indro, what a painful night. I would like at least it to be of some use: to meet again because, on this damned subject, we are really lost “).

The summer of 2001! The newspapers were busy reiterating that the twentieth century was over. The word globalization. Genoa. The death of Montanelli. The collapse of the Twin Towers. But a century does not end in a summer, it continues to die for a long time. He agonizes, he struggles. I was an eighteen-year-old confused and fond of newspapers, which were already beginning – they perhaps yes – “to die like immense moths” (it is a beautiful image of Bradbury). I read, I studied to get my driver’s license. I had written letters to Montanelli, I was able to meet him. He stretched his long, very thin hand to my cheek. “Ah, it’s you.” The little boy who had asked him how to keep the “conflicting judgments” he read together I don’t remember who. We are a jumble of contradictions, he replied. You will notice it as you grow up. I noticed. The lives of others continue to seem more interesting to me than the judgments with which we archive them; humans in flesh and blood, compared to the statues we smear. Those stay still, we can move. The past can be explored, analyzed, the horror, the injustice, and the anonymous figure that that injustice and horror suffered can be brought to light from the past. But to make demands on him, to pretend that he meets the ethical parameters of the present is senseless. How to cut out from the biographies of others the segment that clashes, that does not convince us, that indignates us. But no existence resembles an equation, the result never comes back.

Now that the old century is truly over – the new one is twenty years old! – we could read it with more adult eyes. Avoid the risk of designing a customized parallel one. The Ukronic version, a la Quentin Tarantino, of the twentieth century. The short century amended. In slow motion, we cut this and that scene. Once started, it is impossible to stop: «Who are these assholes who in the past allowed themselves to have values ​​different from ours? Let’s delete them. I do not mean that we are in the same vein as those who landed in Australia and erased the aborigines, but that is the unconscious instinct ». Word of Alessandro Barbero.

Come on, let’s try the writers. Of Pasolini, very soon celebrated for the centenary of his birth, let’s take, for example, the comfortable version, the light version – and not the words against abortion, not the words against feminism. Not even the scene of one of his novels, the last, in which the narrator bends over the sex of a boy who “must have been much younger than he looked: perhaps he was just about sixteen.” And then yes, okay, we like to read Berto, the great author of “Dark Evil” !, but how do we cope with the page in which he writes about his young bride in Ethiopia and the «usual smell of rancid butter, of smoke and animal dung “? And the extraordinary Ortese? Who in 1997 spoke of the former SS captain Priebke as a “wounded wolf”? And the great Morante who, coming to minor “faults”, could not tolerate being called a poetess?

In the stupid August, his definition, of 2006, the German writer Günter Grass confessed to having entered, at the age of seventeen, the youth section of the SS. He was overwhelmed by controversy and insults. Someone demanded that he return the Nobel Prize. “At that age, in certain situations, I didn’t ask myself the questions I should have or wanted to ask myself,” he explained. “A time from which I came out, like many others, foolish, ignorant and limited.” Finally, he thanked the few who made the effort to judge him “as a person in his entirety.” A decade later, the Spanish writer Javier Cercas was reproached for having dealt with Franco’s uncle in the novel “The Ruler of Shadows”. He redeemed the irredeemable! How can you justify who was on the wrong side? But taking on the most embarrassing past doesn’t mean that. Understanding – Cercas insists – is not justifying. And on a beautiful page he writes: «I thought: he is here, they are all here, none of this house of the dead is dead. Nobody left. Nobody goes away ».

Thus touches the “most elementary and most occult” secret, namely that we do not die, that Uncle Manuel is not dead; and he understands that to write about him was to write about himself, “that his biography was my biography, that his mistakes and his responsibilities and his guilt and his shame and his death and his defeats and his fear and his filth and his tears and his sacrifice and his passion and his dishonor were mine, because I was like him as I was my mother and my father and my grandfather Paco and my great grandmother Carolina, equally in which I was all the ancestors that converge in my present as well as a multitude or an innumerable legion of dead or a forest of ghosts, like all the lineages that flow into my lineage coming from the unfathomable abyss of our ignorance of the past “.

Paolo Di Paolo is the author of the book “Montanelli. Restless life of an anti-monument ”to be released for Mondadori

Source: L'Espresso – News, inchieste e approfondimenti Espresso by

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