Oriana Fallaci, Reaching for Color and Light Journalist Oriana Fallaci challenged world leaders and drew criticism for her vehement attacks on Islam. In person, she was every bit as elegant -- and incisive -- as her questions and commentary.
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Oriana Fallaci, Reaching for Color and Light

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Oriana Fallaci, Reaching for Color and Light

Oriana Fallaci, Reaching for Color and Light

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In 1991 the first Gulf war had just ended and reporters who had been in the field were surging back into the few hotels of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I came down to the dining room one night. The staff was seating people everywhere but had pointedly left a slender, elegant woman alone at a small table, smoking and reading.

I spent a few minutes standing, reading my own book before the woman looked up, probably while tapping an ash, and motioned for me to join her. She lifted her large-eyed tinted glasses onto her elegantly silvering head and held out a long, tapered hand with immaculate nails smudged by cigarettes. It was Oriana Fallaci.

Oriana Fallaci died yesterday at the age of 77. She had cancer.

Like many journalists of my generation, I was in awe of Oriana, who seemed fearless not only in where she went but what she wrote. She'd covered wars from Vietnam, when the French were there, to Latin America, getting wounded when Mexican soldiers opened fire on protestors in 1968.

She interviewed Henry Kissinger and somehow provoked him into comparing himself to the cowboy who leaves the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse. He later called it the most disastrous conversation I ever had with any member of the press.

She stripped off her chador in front of the Ayatollah Khomeini. He was so surprised, she said, but I told him, I will not speak to any man while I am in prison, and he laughed. She laughed while telling me this story, an unexpectedly bubbly giggle.

She talked about growing up in fascist Italy and helping her father, a resistance leader. When the Allies invaded and an uprising began, she said her family took shelter in a church and she began to cry. Her father held her close and whispered, try to cry only out of love, not fear.

She said the next time she cried was for Alekos Panagoulis, the Greek poet and anti-fascist with whom she lived and who she was sure had been assassinated in 1976. I cried when I met him, not when he died, she said, because I knew I was conquered by love.

When a waiter came over to ask if she enjoyed the meal, Oriana replied, it is as wonderful as it can be without wine. She said a member of the Saudi government had invited her over for wine but she had refused as long as no regular Saudi could drink with her. She told the waiter, you must visit me in New York or Tuscany some time. I will show you how wine can improve even your good food.

She asked me why some Americans were surprised when she, who had opposed the war in Vietnam, became so critical of the communist regime there. I know fascists when I see them, she said. I have known them from the cradle.

Oriana Fallaci wrote journals, novels and interviews, even poetry, but said that in a way it was all portrait painting. All I do is reach for color and light.

This is NPR News.

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