Being moderate or tolerant or open is not a sign of weakness but of civilization and strength … It means we can all live in the same house as equals.
My dear readers, today I’m very pleased to introduce you one of the most elegant pen in journalism, Mr. Alain Elkann. Before we begin, I’d like to thank Mr. Elkann on behalf of our audience for granting this interview.
Here you can find his short biography:
Alain Elkann is an author, intellectual and journalist who was born in New York,23rd March 1950. Internationally well-known, his books have been translated into languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish and Japanese. Interview work in English includes dialogue with Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan, To Be A Muslim, and The Voice of Pistoletto with the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, published autumn 2014 by Rizzoli Ex Libris.
Alain has maintained a weekly interview column for the Italian national daily newspaper La Stampa since 1989. His archive encompasses an impressive range of celebrated subjects, including award-winning writers and editors; film stars and directors; fashion designers and businessmen; artists, collectors and museum curators; politicians and diplomats; economists and historians; thinkers and human rights activists. Two books of classic interviews have been published by Bompiani.
Alain teaches Jewish 20th century writers – from Franz Kafka to Primo Levi, from Philip Roth to Aharon Appelfeld – at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He has lectured on art, Italian literature and Jewish studies at the Universities of Oxford, Columbia, Jerusalem and Milan’s IULM. He is President of The Foundation for Italian Art & Culture (FIAC) in New York and in 2009 Alain was awarded the prestigious Legion d’Honneur by the French Republic.
(This biography is from the website http://alainelkanninterviews.com/alain-elkann/about-alain-elkann/)
Thank you for this interview. I located your project “Alain Elkann Interviews” on Social Media, and I find it a very interesting way of sharing culture online. Would you like to tell our readers, how did this project start?
My online interviews are published in English, because it is a way to expand my audience. Also, when the interviews come out in printed newspapers, sometimes they are cut, because they adjust the length for the print space. The interviews that I publish on the Internet can be longer, and I can add many original photographs; and, of course, they are in English. The fact is that with the English language they can reach a larger audience, in the US, in England, in China, Ukraine, in France and many other countries. This is a good thing, because it makes my interviews better known, and in many more places and by many more people. Therefore this is the aim, especially with Sunday’s new interviews. On Wednesdays I usually publish classic interviews from the past on the site, where I have talked with very significant historical figures, some of whom are not still alive. So I am building a kind of bulletin board about these great celebrities. Whoever has access to my website can read these interviews at http://alainelkanninterviews.com/
I know you are a great admirer of Classical Music. I read a very touching interview that you made with the Maestro Luciano Pavarotti. Would you like to tell our readers some anecdotes about him?
Pavarotti, unexpectedly, was a person that impressed me so much. Over time I interviewed him twice: once at his home in Modena, when he was married to his first wife (Adua Veroni), and a second time I met him in Pesaro, when he was married to his second wife (Nicoletta Mantovani). He had a nature that was so lively, sharp and full of anecdotes. One of the things he said that struck me very much was a story that he told me about his early career. It was a life lesson to me, and I always like to share this story with other people. He was very poor, he came from a humble family of Modena, and when he was a young tenor he started to work with Mirella Freni (the famous soprano) and the conductor Von Karajan. At some point, after a long tour and training very hard, Luciano asked Von Karajan, “What about money?” The Conductor answered him, very calmly,“You must preoccupy yourself with singing well, and you’ll see that money will come.” So it was. This is a lesson to remember, that you should try to do your best and you’ll see that the result will come. I have always kept this in mind, it is almost like an economics lesson.
(The beautiful interview to the great Maestro Luciano Pavarotti: http://alainelkanninterviews.com/luciano-pavarotti/)
As a journalist, what do you think about this new era of communication?
I see the new media as multiplier of news. It is not that newspapers, television and radio have vanished, but Social Media are another way to communicate. Those who cannot read the papers today have the possibility to read and share news, and I believe in this way we can all stay immediately connected to the world. As far as I’m concerned, I feel less isolated. For example Alida, if you care about this interview, you must translate it into the English language, and I will explain why: most of the world population speaks English. Maybe language is not the most important thing, but everyone, more or less, can speak and read English. If you use the English language you can spread news and articles around the globe, and you will see how many countries your content will be read in. We are living in a better world, because using English is like a sporting event, it’s a live worldwide broadcast. Starting from this concept we can also transport the analogy and refer to content and all news. My interviews are in the newspapers, but, thanks to the New Media, are also all around the globe. That’s my motivation and why I think new media are a good thing.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for a young student who wants to pursue a career as a journalist and writer?
Writing and journalism are not the same thing. You’ll have to consider that there are a lot of beautiful journalistic books, but writers are generally fiction writers, or novel writers or story tellers. We can find comedy or poetry writers, or essay writers on history, on philosophy, on science and so forth. They are very different fields. Those who write fiction, generally, are not scholars or researchers. Those who write fiction, usually they have to be storytellers, which is somewhat the same as movie writers. Those who write for the theater, for example, tell stories of fiction, and they have to invent their characters. In an essay you have to study already known characters, those of History.
In journalism you still have to follow or give news, and, for example, in Anglo-Saxon journalism opinions are distinct from news. There are reports in which we are told that “politicians have reached an agreement for Greece in Bruxelles” and the person who gives us this news is not a “journalist” in the strictest sense of the word, but a “reporter” (who reports the news) and it’s a whole different thing, he only tells us a piece of news.
After that we’ll find the news analysts or columnists, namely those who comment on this or that news, or write articles giving their personal points of view. They tell us their opinions. In some newspapers their columns, as happens in Italy, are signed. But in some newspapers, such as the New York Times or The Economist, the names of the columnists never appears, and their opinions are never signed, because they write opinions on behalf of the newspaper. Although it is not actually important who the journalists are that write on behalf of The Economist or New York Times, it is interesting that those opinions remain totally unsigned.
What one must do to become one of these things, I do not know. Slowly but surely, if you are in love with writing, if you love to express yourself through writing, I think you gradually find your way. There are those who began as a sports reporter, some people started as a novelist right away, some people started by doing an enlarged university thesis. There is no precise rule. There are many different ways of being in these two professions, so one finds one’s way. Some are more writers than journalists, and some journalists are columnists, some have a flair for music and art so they become music critics, some are more about chronicling war and have the potential to become a correspondent.
A book you’ve read recently and a museum that you liked.
I recommend a book by Stefan Zweig, the famous Austrian writer of the book “The World of Yesterday” which is his autobiography, and in that very good book the author recounts his life and how he was born into this middle-class family in Vienna and became a great writer in Salzburg. Then came the racial laws, and Hitler came, and Zweig explains how his life started to destroy itself, at which point he lost his identity and the ability to write, and at last he was forced to go into exile. But at the same time his country, Austria, was fast slipping over the brink: that glorious empire became a small province of Germany. Zweig describes the end of this world. It’s really a wonderful book. There is also a very beautiful quotation from this man who no longer has a language.
“Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.”
― Stefan Zweig, “The World of Yesterday”
Recently I saw the very beautiful retrospective exhibition of Luigi Ontani, in a small town of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, a small village that is both the birthplace of Luigi Ontani and the birthplace of Giorgio Morandi. It’s very interesting this exhibition, partly because it is presented in Morandi’s house, so it is like a game “Ontani-Morandi” as a teaser, as a wink “Ontani-Morandi- Morandi-Ontani”.
It’s very interesting when Ontani plays with ceramics and with his imagination reproduces the paintings and still lifes of Morandi. It is a little exhibition, a small show, but I would recommend seeing it because Ontani is a very special artist.
Then from there I went down towards Tuscany, and my first stop was at Arezzo, to Montichiari and then to St. Sepulchre, I did a kind of reunion, from Piero della Francesca in the church of San Francesco. I was astonished when admiring the wonderful frescoes in the Cathedral, and I went to see the “Madonna del Parto” in Montichiari. And that is the uniqueness of Italy. A village of a few houses in the province of Arezzo where there is this extraordinary masterpiece of humanity, this wonderful fresco that the Museum of Modern Art in New York would dream of showing. The picture symbolizes the beginning of modern art, but the city of Montichiari won’t authorize the transportation of the fresco away from the town. So, if you want to see it, you need to go there.
Tell us about your future projects and plans for this year, what’s cooking?
I don’t do television any more. As for future projects, I have a laborious and intense summer, because I’m still working on two books: the first book is about Italian cities and I’m writing it in Italian, the second one is a short novel that I’m writing in English instead. These are the two books that I am planning, and then there are various interviews at one time or another, the first one that is dedicated to Luigi Ontani is due out soon. I’ll spend my summer between Greece and America, and then I’ll go to Rome for the “Day of Jewish Culture” on September 6th. I’m going to talk about my book “Walking Together” which was released in May. In this book there are three interviews: with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and Rabbi Toaff. I decided to go to Rome to give a talk because Rabbi Toaff has unfortunately died, and this year there is a commemoration in his honour.
I agreed to go and talk in Rome because I was very close to Rabbi Toaff, who was a very enlightened, very good and special man. Speaking about enlightened men, I want to talk about Toaff and I’d also like to talk about and remember Father Arturo Paoli. I heard the news that he just died, he was a Pere de Foucauld. He died at 102 years old, in Lucca. As a young man he was the cultural director of “Azione Cattolica”, teacher of Gianni Vattimo, Umberto Eco, Minister Colombo and many others. I went to interview him for the first time when he had reached 80 years of age. I went to visit him at the Iguaçu Falls, we had a long conversation and we did a wonderful interview, and we had a beautiful Mass where there were children. I have a great memory about that, it was a very nice thing. We remained friends and he was an extraordinary man, as Toaff also was, so I remember him.
Thanks to Mr. Elkann for this instructive interview.
A very special thanks to David Hughes and again to Mr.Elkann for this beautiful inscription: