MINA DI SOSPIRO’S AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
MINA DI SOSPIRO’S AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
The Frankish Charlemagne,
Spain’s Charles V, Maria Theresa of Austria among
others--every time a foreign monarch invaded Italy, he
deemed it judicious to confirm my family in its title,
or bestow a new one. But, Italy is now a republic and
titles of nobility there are anti-constitutional;
moreover, I was born in Buenos Aires, of all places;
and, devoid of landed privileges, this tradition has
been an obligation with none of the benefits.
I was raised in Milan, amid an
assortment of nannies and languages spoken at home. In
my childhood, I was forced to study much too much (and
play much too little) for a child, and engage in
interminable fencing lessons, and outright saber duels
from the age of five; French; Latin; grammar; catechism;
solfeggio; genealogy; etc. My father died when I
was eleven. I remained the only surviving Mina male.
Feeling the burden of history and the necessity of
continuing the lineage did not stifle my polemic
temperament. In the thick of the Red Brigade craze
(Italy was in a state of civil war), I, possibly the
only teen-ager to do so, used to turn up at my school
wearing a neck-tie, "the noose of the
bourgeoisie", as the Marxist-Stalinist-Maoist
called it. Once, five of them got so irritated by my
"irreverent provocation" that they made me eat
my tie, literally. (Their iron bars made the urging
quite persuasive.) Luckily, it was made of silk.
I trained as a classical
guitarist and studied orchestration with a friend of the
family, the Swiss conductor Antoine-Pierre de Bavier,
who had been Furtwängler’s favorite pupil. At
eighteen I divided my time between a film set and the
ancient University of Pavia. Ancient indeed: its school
of jurisprudence was founded in 835. I had chosen this
university because the city is shrouded in fog from
October through April, and getting off the train to
disappear in thick clouds of mist was surreal enough to
be worth the frequent trips from Milan. As it turned
out, the university boasts one the best Classics
Department in Europe. So, I learnt an abundance of
nugatory notions. I was more sanguine about my film, Heroes
and Villains, or rather Villians, misspelled,
since there could be no villains in my film, only
heroes. It premiered in May 1979 at the National Cinémathèque,
in Milan. Surprisingly, it was a triumph, it had to be
shown the next night, and so on for a week. Critics
loved it too. But here came the irksome part: if I
wanted to have a career in film-making, I had to become
affiliated with a political party, not unlike Bernardo
Bertolucci (I was candidly told as much by big power
brokers from an assortment of Italy’s major parties).
What to do?
The Hungarian composer Micklos
Rozsa used to spend the summer across from our seaside
home. He composed his "serious" music there,
and then returned to Hollywood to work on soundtracks.
Among others, he set in music Ben Hur, El Cid,
Double Indemnity, etc., and won three Academy
Awards. We became fast friends and discussed music
incessantly. He acquainted me with the University of
Southern California, where he and Arnold Schönberg
among others had taught composition. After various
exams, the Department of Cinema Production, where
Spielberg and Lucas had studied, accepted me.
In Los Angeles, while coping
with culture shock, I still hugely enjoyed the teachings
of Ernest Lehman, Hitchcock’s favorite screenwriter.
All things considered, America was a respite after an
overdose of culture and politics in Europe.
When I met her, planets
collided. It happened at a party in honor of Prince
Charles’s engagement to Lady Diana. Ours was
love at first sight, the stuff Frank Sinatra could only
sing about. Stenie was descended from an ancient Spanish
family, and born in Havana months before the revolution
which forced her family to resettle, not in Spain, but
in New York.
Even before graduation we
became the correspondents for several European
entertainment magazines. It was marvelous therapy
against intellectualism, but I was surprised by how
seriously people take actors, singers and what have you.
The entertainment industry pampered us thanks to our
countless interviews, reviews, articles and photos.
Meanwhile, we traveled extensively across America and
Europe, and I continued to study furiously--philosophy,
literature--and write a great deal. I was developing an
allergy to Hollywood’s mindlessness.
Stenie and I married in New
York on April Fools’ Day in 1984, in honor, or
mockery, of Orwell’s novel--we are yet to decide.
At twenty-seven, a car driver
and his passenger decided to perform a U-turn on a
superhighway, and, oddly, came to a full stop--in front
of me. I survived the crash; they, did not. Suddenly
acquainted with the usefulness of bones, I missed their
support for the following year. After much surgery,
pain, calcification and rehabilitation, I got back on my
feet. I had been spared. Why?
We wanted out of Los Angeles,
and had a dual aim: to produce children, and, I, novels.
Florida proved as fertile as its name promises. Ill at
ease in sweltering Miami, I achieved the
isolation/contemplation which is indispensable to
writing, while the children--three, all boys--could
still grow up in a quasi-civilized environment. Outside
my hurricane-tested, soundproof studio shaded by live
oaks, enveloped by creeping fig, and visited by
squirrels, opossums, raccoons, foxes, etc., I learnt
Spanish, and perfected it by lecturing rabid right-wing
Cuban exiles on the merits of Castro’s revolution.
I have written and revised many
novels, mastering for each a different subject. For
example, natural history and botany (this won me the
admiration of David Bellamy, and the friendship of Sir
Ghillean Prance, the legendary ethnobotanist); or,
Jungian and post-Jungian psychology; cryptology, and the
history of piracy; the politics of the Indian
subcontinent; Sufism; hydrography and mythology; and so
During these twelve years of
exile and furious novel-writing, there have been many
battles, campaigns, and voyages, both to distant (and
hazardous) places for research, and inside my psyche.
Fasting, I have discovered, boosts one’s inspiration.
And so does a regimen of cigars and coffee--and little
else. Like a shaman, I have heeded my calling, trained
and worked frightfully hard, gone into the cave to
receive the revelations, and come out of it to divulge
them to my tribe. Substitute "cave" with
"studio", "revelations" with
"inspiration", "tribe" with
"readership", and the analogy is no longer
In 1998, I posted a long essay
on the Web, On Novels, which can be best
characterized as a literary insurrection. I made it
deliberately dense, yet, to my surprise, it was well
received. It was born out of thick epistolary exchanges
with Joscelyn Godwin, Rupert Sheldrake and Christopher
Sinclair-Stevenson. The first two honor me with their
friendship, and listen carefully to my ideas. The latter
is my editor and friend.
Down the years, I have attended
many novelists’ book-readings. Unfailingly, these are
cures for insomnia. I wonder why? Is it because the
authors have taken no risks, fought no battles, explored
or pioneered nothing, and, consequently, have little to
say? Much as my novels are unique, so are my
book-readings, at which, by the way, I do not read,
since I assume that readers can do that on their own. My
aim is not to put readers/listeners to sleep, but to
energize them and jolt them back into life.
The Western world is suffering
a substantial hangover from modernism. Minimalism has
become an excuse for laziness, ignorance and imposture.
Sycophancy, and degenerate Platonism and
pyschologism have not helped. Prozac and hashish are
palliatives; sex is overrated, and banalized. Human
bondage has been glorified--to death, it would seem
judging from contemporary novels and films; much as the
characters dabble and dwell in it, their lives are
invariably miserable. How could this be? What should one
do? I am tempted to reply with some lyrics from a song
by Mike Scott: "Come with me / on a journey
underneath the skin / come with me / on a journey under
the skin / we will look together / for the Pan
within". What’s needed is a sort of mystical
vibrancy, or, simply put, Life. So, I sing the
anti-statistical, the only occurrences worth
remembering; celebrate life’s disconcerting
ambivalence and multiplicity, and seek immanence and
transcendence at once. Perhaps I herald a new cosmology.
Humanist man ought to have more dignity than religious
man--if he faced up to the implications of his attitude.
But, he does not (and, of course, could not). He takes
the road downhill: laxness, mediocrity, lack of
principles and testicles. I take the one uphill, and yet
am humble before the gods and the Mysterium Magnum.
Readers need authenticity and the exploits of active
imagination--and the ideas they shall never conceive,
the adventures they shall never live, the risks they
shall never take, the places they shall never explore.