Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Big Lie

When Robert Stevens became the first confirmed death in the American Anthrax attacks of 2001, I was still in Miami attending my father’s funeral. Stevens had worked at the National Enquirer’s offices in Boca Raton, just up the coast from where I was staying, and my wife, back in Italy, thought that that was a little too close for comfort. Talking to her over the phone I told her that I didn’t think that I was in any danger, but she wanted me home and the sooner the better.

Cleaning up Capital Hill after the attacks

The anthrax letters, which had been mailed to two high ranking Democratic senators, a prominent TV journalist and the National Enquirer, were spooking a lot of people in the States. Coming just two weeks after September 11th, they seemed to confirm the idea terrorism was in America to stay. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald convincingly writes in his blog on, the Anthrax attacks were perhaps even more important in securing popular support for the Bush Administration’s “War on terror” and its eventual invasion of Iraq than the suicide attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon had been.

Soon after Steven’s death, sources inside the US government were leaking information to ABC news about a probable connection between the attacks and the government of Iraq, saying that “initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” Betonite was a signature element closely associated with the Iraqi bio-weapons program and the kind of “smoking gun” that according to the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings the Bush administration was looking for, in part, he explained “because there's been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein.”

Which is exactly, as everyone knows, what the Neocons did. They went after Saddam, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and effectively destroying the country. Searching for Hussein’s biological “weapons of mass destruction” was one of the primary reasons given for our preventive blitzkreig. The weapons, of course, were never found, but it didn’t matter, the claim that the Iraqi dictator was behind the anthrax letters and that he still had enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological horrors that were just waiting to be used on other innocent Americans was more than enough.

What many people didn’t know at the time, and are probably still unaware of, is that there were never any tests done at Ft. Detrick showing the presence of betonite in the anthrax letters. ABC News finally admitted as much in 2007, but they won't budge when it comes to naming those in the government who had given them the false information in the first place. They say they are “protecting their sources” but in fact are just continuing their cover-up of one of the many lies floated by this administration over an extremely gullible American public.

Worse still, the recent suicide on Tuesday of Bruce E. Ivins, a top anthrax researcher at Ft. Detrick, confirms what many have suspected for a long time, that not only did the anthrax letters have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, but that they came from the Army’s own bio-weapons research facility. Ivins killed himself soon after he was told by the FBI that he would be indicted on five accounts of murder stemming from the anthrax attacks. The FBI was sure, albeit after seven years, that they had found their man.

Greenwald in his blog connects the dots: the letters were sent by a top government anthrax researcher, there was a clear intent in the letters to link the attacks to Islamic fundamentalism, ABC News was given false information by government sources linking the anthrax used in the letters to Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration repeatedly used this “link” to ramp up public support for its invasion of Iraq in the months prior to March, 2003.

I’d say the facts speak for themselves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photograph from 1924 Encierro in Pamplona

Here’s the photo that inspired the film being made about my grandfather by Sergio Oksman and Carlos Muguiro.

The photograph, as I mention in my post El Doble, was taken on the 13th of July, 1924 in Calle Estafeta in Pamplona, just a few moments before Estaban Domeño was mortally wounded, the first ever recorded death in an encierro. The man lying on the corner of the street, Pablo Guerendiain, was also wounded by one of the bulls. My grandfather would have been on the opposite side of the street, further ahead, looking down at the dying and injured runners from the balcony of his room at the Hotel La Perla.

Special thanks to Sergio Muguiro for sending me this photograph!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Solidarity for Ronaldo and Hemingway

Living in Milan for as many years as I did, I learned a lot about “Ronaldo” or The Phenomenon as he is commonly referred to in Europe and in Brazil. Soccer is religion in Italy and when one of the two professional teams in the city, F.C. Internazionale Milano (Inter, for short), bought the Brazilian player in the summer of 1997 from F.C Barcelona the media barrage that covered the trade, and thereafter everything about Ronaldo’s life on and off the field, was intense.


Yet, as famous as Ronaldo was, and continues to be, I never thought I’d see the day when he would be compared to my grandfather. Then in May a friend suggested that I have a look at a column on the Folha de Sao Paulo. The article, “Solidarity for Ronaldo and Hemingway”, was written by Contardo Calligaris, an Italian psychoanalyst and novelist. Calligaris (who lives in Brazil) said that he was surprised to see a message spray-painted at the entrance to a tunnel near a favela in Rio, Ronaldo’s hometown. Some of the soccer player’s fans had written that they “believed in his innocence” and that he would always remain their “phenomenon.” At the time, Ronaldo was at the center of a scandal involving three transvestite prostitutes who had spent a night with him in a hotel. He claimed that he had been tricked and that he had no idea that they were men. They retorted that he was just trying to get out of paying them.

Calligaris asked “but what kind of innocence are we talking about here?” Ronaldo hadn’t committed any crime and his status as a “phenomenon”, strictly speaking, was related to his performance on the playing field and not with anything he might have done in one of the city’s lesser-known hotels. Calligaris reasoned that for his fans Ronaldo wasn’t just a soccer player but also a “macho ideal” and that as such it was necessary for them to continue believing in his “innocence.”

He then said that he’d read my memoir, Strange Tribe, and pointed out to his readers that Ernest Hemingway, another macho ideal, was perhaps not entirely the man that everyone believed him to be and that he may have struggled as much as Ronaldo has recently in dealing with the contradictions between his public image and an infinitely more complex private reality.

Ernest in the 1950's

Of course, I hardly needed to be convinced. It was my book that he was talking about, but more than that I had seen what my father had gone through trying to live up to the macho image that Ernest had helped to create. Gregory had done all the things that people generally associate with being a Hemingway; hunting, fishing, drinking and womanizing, and there were times when he had even surpassed his father. At the age of eleven he tied for first place in a national skeet-shooting contest in Cuba, against adults. Gregory was an incredible shot and a chip off the old block, as far as Ernest was concerned. Any kid who could handle a gun that well had to be a real Hemingway. But there was more to being a member of this club of sharpshooters than met the eye. My grandfather and father shared a fascination with androgyny, or as Ernest had the protagonist of his posthumous novel the "Garden of Eden” put it, a search for “a more African sexuality, beyond all tribal law.” They were machos, but with a twist. Men more interested in finding a union of the sexes, than in living on just one side of the gender divide.

It was similarity that united them and which, at the same time, complicated their relationship tremendously. They were mirror images of each other, but being a real man has never been easy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Calm After the Storm

My friend Ed Steinhardt sent me this translation by Charles Guenther of Giacomo Leopardi’s poem “La quiete dopo la tempesta.” It’s being published next month in a collection of other translations by Guenther of Leopardi’s poetry. It is one of the Italian poet’s most famous works and I think that this translation captures perfectly the haunting, almost desperate quality of the original.

Calm After the Storm

The storm has passed.
I hear the birds singing, and the hen,
Gone on her way again,
Repeats her song. See the bright sky
Break through there from the west,
toward the mountain;
The countryside is clear
And the river sparkles brightly in the valley.
Each heart rejoices, everywhere
Sounds rise again,
The usual work resumes.
The craftsman comes to his door,
Singing with work in hand,
To look at the humid sky; with friends
A girl comes out to collect water
From the new-fallen rain;
And the vegetable vendor renews
His daily cry
From street to street.
Look, now the sun returns, see how it smiles
On hills and villages. Families open balconies,
Terraces and cascades:
And far away from the main stream we hear
Tinkling of bells, the screeching cart
Of the traveler who continues on his way.
Each heart rejoices.
When else, as now,
Is life so pleasant and so sweet?
When else does man
Turn to his studies with such love,
Or to his work or begin something new?
When does he remember his misfortune less?
Pleasure’s a child of anxiety:
A useless joy, the fruit
Of some past fear
Where he who abhorred life
Was induced to be afraid of death;
Where in long suffering,
Cold, silent, pale,
People sweated and trembled at the sight
Of lightning, clouds and wind.
O kindly nature,
These are your gifts.
These are the delights
You offer mortals. It’s a pleasure
For us to be relieved of pain,
You spread pain freely; grief
Rises spontaneously; and that bit of joy
Which by miracle and prodigy sometimes
Is born of anxiety, is a great gain. A human
Progeny dear to those eternal ones!
You’re lucky
Indeed if you can breathe again
After some grief: and blessed
If death heals every sorrow.

La quiete dopo la tempesta

Passata è la tempesta:
Odo augelli far festa, e la gallina,
Tornata in su la via,
Che ripete il suo verso. Ecco il sereno
Rompe là da ponente, alla montagna;
Sgombrasi la campagna,
E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare.
Ogni cor si rallegra, in ogni lato
Risorge il romorio
Torna il lavoro usato.
L’artigiano a mirar l’umido cielo,
Con l’opra in man, cantando,
Fassi in su l’uscio; a prova
Vien fuor la femminetta a còr dell’acqua
Della novella piova;
E l’erbaiuol rinnova
Di sentiero in sentiero
Il grido giornaliero.
Ecco il Sol che ritorna, ecco sorride
Per li poggi e le ville. Apre i balconi,
Apre terrazzi e logge la famiglia:
E, dalla via corrente, odi lontano
Tintinnio di sonagli; il carro stride
Del passegger che il suo cammin ripiglia.

Si rallegra ogni core.
Sì dolce, sì gradita
Quand’è, com’or, la vita?
Quando con tanto amore
L’uomo a’ suoi studi intende?
O torna all’opre? o cosa nova imprende?
Quando de’ mali suoi men si ricorda?
Piacer figlio d’affanno;
Gioia vana, ch’è frutto
Del passato timore, onde si scosse
E paventò la morte
Chi la vita abborria;
Onde in lungo tormento,
Fredde, tacite, smorte,
Sudàr le genti e palpitàr, vedendo
Mossi alle nostre offese
Folgori, nembi e vento.

O natura cortese,
Son questi i doni tuoi,
Questi i diletti sono
Che tu porgi ai mortali. Uscir di pena
È diletto fra noi.
Pene tu spargi a larga mano; il duolo
Spontaneo sorge: e di piacer, quel tanto
Che per mostro e miracolo talvolta
Nasce d’affanno, è gran guadagno. Umana
Prole cara agli eterni! assai felice
Se respirar ti lice
D’alcun dolor: beata
Se te d’ogni dolor morte risana