You should have known, Oriana Fallaci. It is one thing to be in love with heroism, and something else to fall in love with the hero himself, Alexander Panagoulis, and join with him in fate.
At first it was not love that drew you to him, but journalism, the provocative journalism of a diminutive Italian woman who is now, let us face facts, the most famous interviewer of politicians in the world, whose sharp-pointed question-and-answer style has challenged Khomeini, prodded Deng and extracted from Kissinger the self-image of a cowboy leader "alone on his horse," an image that haunts him still.
It was 1973 when the legendary Greek resistance fighter came into your life. Not by accident, for you do not believe in accidents. You were walking down the corridor of your magazine office in Italy preparing for a session with Willy Brandt. A colleague remarked in passing, have you heard? They've let Panagoulis out of jail, and I'm off to Athens to see him.
You had never met Panagoulis, the hero of the Greek resistance against the military dictatorship that seized power in 1967, but immediately you said: "You go nowhere! It is I who will go to Athens!" The two of you went, squabbling, to the editor's office. But of course it was you, Fallaci, the star, who went to Greece.
Panagoulis, the poet and unsuccessful assassin. On Aug. 13, 1968, he had tried to blow up the limousine of George Papadopoulos, premier of the military dictatorship, but the bomb detonated late. He was caught and sentenced to death. He told his judges, "I will be your tomb." In prison he was tortured, and in prison his legend grew, for he was the One Man in Ten Thousand: the one who would not break.
Five years later, as the junta disintegrated, he was released in a general amnesty. That first meeting, you saw in him elements of heroism and tragedy. To you he was a thin, almost ugly man, thick mustache black against the pallor of his face. His eyes were badly matched, one open wide and projecting harshness, the other, half-closed, almost tender. He walked with a limp from the torture called the falange, and the tortures had deformed also his wrists, and left on his left cheek a scar that bloomed, you thought, a violet excrescence.
Yet you fell in love with him, knowing even as it hapened that you were writing yourself into his drama. You had three years together, until Panagoulis' own fate tracked him down at the garage with the Texaco sign on the Vouliagmeni Road in Athens. Panagoulis' role was to die, for, as he told you many times, borrowing from Camus, the only happiness for him was the happiness of stones.
And your role, Fallaci, was to tell his tale, which you fulfill now with a book called simply, "A Man." A book about two people in love with heroism, and so with each other. A book that has already sold one million hardback copies in Italy in 11 months. You call it a novel, but it is in fact a documentary love letter 463 pages long. It is a book addressed directly to Panagoulis, and to the frieze of Greek history, in which you would engrave his exploits for all time.
The style is overtly dramatic, antique, without relief -- and it is in your own style, Fallaci, that we address you now.
Your style is just as Panagoulis' life with you: punishing, impossible, illogical, almost crazy -- yes, crazy: the craziness of the mythological hero who knows he will find rest only in the grave. The craziness of a man who would wait in a bathing suit on a beach road to push the detonator himself, to blow up Papadopoulos. Not in the name of any party, but just in the name of freedom. Who, caught, would mock his torturers, egging them on. Who, freed, would mock those who gave him freedom: would charge that members of the new Greek government were no better than the old. Always, in one way or another, Panagoulis held a detonator in his hand. This fascinated you. This made you love him. And then, because you loved him, you didn't want him to push it.
In a Washington lounge the other night, sipping ouzo, worn out by airplanes and explanations, you relived your time with Panagoulis once again.
"I didn't fall in love with him," you insisted. "It was Alekos who fell in love with me. He fell on me, the first time we met. When he wanted something, a cause or a person or a bit of food, he always got it. But I did understand the danger between him and me. Yes, I understood it at once. No! No! I told myself. Beware!
"I had my interview, I left. Then the telegrams came. He was in the hospital, they said. He was dying. I must come quickly. So I bought an airline ticket to go to him. Let's face it, it's a love story already when I buy this ticket. I find him in bed in the hospital, in his pajamas. His mouth is open. Ahhhgg, he says, a dying man. Then suddenly a bottle of champagne. He had fooled me. I was trapped."
You were animated, demonstrative, telling this. As you spoke, your arms gestured grandly. You leaned forward and back, making faces like an actress. Touching your companion's arm. Drawing diagrams on a napkin. "This is the way it looked. Just like this." At 50, the energy of an effusive girl. But pride, the pride of a true Florentine.
"I wasn't in love with his body," you said. "I was in love with what he was, and what he wanted to be, and what I wanted him to be. There was a tremendous complicity between us. Yes, I've been accused of loving heroism too much, and I can't deny it. I have an irresistible admiration for courage."
You found Panagoulis' courage in your reconstruction of his life in prison. Your chronicle of his tortures is intense, a provenance of the cigarette burns on his flesh, a diary of his days waiting for execution, the knitting needles in his urethra, the electrodes attached to his genitals, his entombment in a tiny hole for three years.
"This man had an inhuman courage," you said. "But it was when I learned that he was capable of fear that I really fell in love. When he had the fever, he would relive his imprisonment. I came to him, put out my arms to him, and he looked at me like I was Theophiloiannakos, his jailer. He recoiled. So I knew he had been afraid. This impressed me, for I too am brave. But I am always afraid, and I must force myself.
"He was also afraid that when the junta fell, as he knew it would, he would be finished too. Talking with a man of the resistance once, he said, 'When finally we have democracy in Greece, then you and I will be unemployed.' Let's face it, in fairy tales we never learn what happens to the hero. At best, he marries the daughter of the king and lives happily ever after.But what's he do? Does he hunt? Does he play chess? You never know. Many heroes of the resistance became alcoholics."
You were with him, Fallaci, when he tried not to be finished after the junta fell, when he entered politics himself, was defeated in an election, but was then named to the honorary post of deputy. As an honorary deputy, his idea of politics was to blow up the Acropolis with TNT, and to reveal documents proving the complicity of the new government with the despised old.
"Politically, he was a disaster," you admitted, mixing the ouzo and water. "But I tell you this man had fallen in love with ideas, where before he had known only action. No compromise! Like him, I have a childish approach to politics. When I was 13, I was told by my father that politics was the highest form of human activity. The same thing I was told about love. Alekos and I both had these Platonic ideas. Like idiots. This nourished the thing between us."
The thing between you began with an idyllic week together, running in the sea at Glyphada, making love while in a neighboring house a child was born, helping Alekos relearn to cross streets, listening to music and watching the wounds of imprisonment heal. But that was your last week of peace.
From then on, when you wanted to celebrate life with fine food or good accommodations, he demanded to suffer. You protected his tenuous freedom as an expatriate, but he insisted on sneaking back into Greece on a ludicrously forged passport, just to insult the police. The huge, self-destructive gestures subverted your love more than his degradation with whores and drunken companions. Later, when you accompanied him to Greece, there was constant danger. Scores of times, you said, cars chased yours from town to town, trying to run Panagoulis off the road. After a while you have had enough. You no longer loved him. You wanted to get away, back to your own international life, your career. But always you came back, because you knew that if you left him, a new companion would take your place, and that new companion would be Death, and you were very, very jealous of Death.
You continue to relive the story. You rewrote the book four times, and you speak of insomnia, and pills, and the impossibility of freeing yourself from it. It is a novel, yes, but the facts are correct, you say. No names have been changed. You have condensed, done things a historian would not have done, "for the theatricality." "It's an ideological novel," you said, "in the sense that it has a political thesis: that political parties shouldn't lead, the people should lead. Yes, it's a furious attack on all political systems. Whether it's a so-called great democracy like the United States, or whether it's the Russians, clearly they are two sides of the same s---."
As you told your story in the lounge, and your voice alternately filled with fury, amusement, bitterness, laughter, outrage, heads turned to the commotion. And saw only a small woman in a sweater, with a large pocketbook.
It was the same woman scores of statesmen have seen, tape recorder in hand, eyes flashing, unleashing questions that begin, "Are you trying to tell me, Dr. Kissinger . . . ." and "Forgive me if I insist, Imam Khomeini . . . ." and "Gen. Ky, are . . . .?" and "You never answer to the point, Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] . . . ." More than once, drawn into such battle, your subjects have wished to be somewhere else. Henry Kissinger, for one, remarked after your chat in 1972, "Why I agreed to it, I'll never know."
Yes, you are a tough interviewer, you said, but the better word is "fair." "They know I have no party behind me, just questions. They know I use a tape recorder." And they never simply walk out on you, they never simply depart these politicians.
On the contrary, you exclaimed, "It is I who walk out! Never they! I walked out on the first president of Bangladesh. I walked out on Baby Doc in Haiti. He was sitting there like a great ball of fat in a chamber filled with 20 deputies. The had asked for my questions written down, but when the first one was read it began, 'You in your greatness, sir . . .' So I left. I went to my ambassador, and he said, 'You're crazy! Now they'll kill both of us!'
"I walked out on the chief of the Italian neo-fascist party. 'Wait! Wait!' he begged. 'You'll find it interesting!' No, I told him, my mother would become sick. I walked out on Cassius Clay. Yes, that's his name, no other. I was using a hand-held microphone. He answered my first question with -- what do you call that sound the food makes? Yes, a belch. Three belches in a row from him. So I threw the microphone at his fat stomach, and left. His people chanted at me, 'Evil, evil, you come for evil.'
"I punish them, you see, when I don't like them."
"I know how I am," you said. "Alekos was the same way. Both of us unbearable, abrasive people. Too proud. I like to be sweet, you know? But I can't help it. Alekos and me, our fights were Homeric. Everything would get broken. Once I was sure he would break my nose. He advanced on me, his one bad eye flaming. So, I didn't know what to do, I went into a Kung Fu stance, like in the movies. Come on, you bastard! But he burst into laughter."
Your view of life and politics is so Vesuvian it strike Americans as eccentric, but you have a disdain for disengagement that approaches scorn. You watched the Carter-Reagan debate in your hotel room in Los Angeles, and you thought Reagan won, or at least that "of two very bad performances, the less bad was Reagan's.He displayed real, honest emotion, at least, when he said, 'There you go again' . . . . Primitive, but good. A 'good politician." Carter you found to be a "cold man, like a cold Sicilian. The southerners, when they are cold, are colder than anyone in Sweden or Finland."
Next week, when "A Man" is published here, Americans will come to know your politics better. That is a lesson Europe has already learned. In fact, you have sued Italian TV for its dramatization of Alekos and Oriana, which offended you in many ways, not the least that you were portrayed by an actress "two meters tall, with a fat a--, wearing skirts. I never wear a skirt, always pants," you explained.
Because you are so well known there, it is often assumed that you are also rich. "No, I like to be paid in offices -- my office in New York, my office in Rome. If I have money, maybe I give some to my relatives. But not the first time they ask. It is easy to spend money. I have no trouble. But I do not ask much pay. If you pay me much, and then ask me to do something, I must do it. But this wayt, I say 'no.'"
That is why, depite "six or seven" offeres, "A Man" is not yet on its way to becoming a movie. It is a natural movie, with the resonance of Costa-Gravras' "Z." "I don't know, I don't know," you mused. "I would give up much money in return for artistic control. But I do not think they will give me artistic control."
Control. How can you seek it so strongly, Fallaci, when fate looms so large in your life? When, from the beginning with Panagoulis, you should have known better. Should have realized that Alekos was the emotional bullet with your name on it. Should have known that his politics of crazy mythological courage would draw you into his tragedy. But you couldn't avoid it, could you, Fallaci?
His appointment as a politician caused you no hope, for you knew that he had a greater appointment that he would never seek to avoid. An appointment on the Vouliagmeni Road outside the gas station with the Texaco sign. The place where, at 1:58 a.m. on May 1, 1976, Panagoulis would end his storybook life in a car accident. Where would inexplicably drive at high speed into a wall. An accident that was no accident, you have ascertained, but an assassination. The funeral in Athens drew four million mourners. They chanted "Zi! Zi! Zi!" He lives! He lives! He lives!
One question you never seem to ask, Fallaci, of all your may questions, is why ? Perhaps because, in a tragedy, the ending is known from the beginning, and you knew from the beginning yours was a hero in a tragedy. King Hussein told it to you as a parable during an interview with him, and this is the way you wrote it in "A Man":
"His Majesty seemed sadder than usual that morning and at a certain point, talking about his fatalism, he asked me: 'Do you know the legend of Samarkand?' Then he told it to me. Once upon a time there was a man who didn't want to die. He was a man of Isfahan. And one evening the man saw Death waiting for him at the door of his house. "What do want with me?" the man shouted. And Death said, "I came to --" The man wouldn't allow Death to finish the sentence, he leaped onto a fast horse and fled full tilt toward Samarkand. He galloped for two days and three nights, never stopping, and at dawn of the third day he reached Samarkand.
"Here, convinced he had put Death off his track, he dismounted and went to seek an inn. But when he entered his room he found Death waiting for him, sitting on the bed. Death stood up, came to him, and said: 'I'm happy you have come, and so punctually. I was afraid we could miss each other, that you would go somewhere else, or arrive late. In Insahan you wouldn't allow me to make an appointment with you, at dawn of this third day, in this room, in this inn, here in Samarkand.'"
You should have known, Fallaci. And, perhaps, all along, you did.