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 on.

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 farfetched.

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.





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