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30th Anniversary
Interview with Roberto Canessa: July 1974
- What repercussions had the book “ALIVE”?
- People saw, through the book, the things just as happened. They realized that our intention wasn’t to exhibit ourselves, but that we were just poor guys that had to save their lives to survive.
Our appearance at the European and American media wasn’t in vain: We wanted people to realize that the story is real, and that behind the book there are real people. The book is the answer to that special sensitivity to the cannibalism that prevailed for a while: the book proves that just with that wasn’t enough to get by.

- How were you received in Europe and in The United States?
- In United States we did almost eighty interviews on radio, in news papers and television. We were at the David Susskind’s Show: there we received 3.500 letters sent by the audience. In France, it was said, that we had the problem of the electoral campaign: It was thought that people were paying attention to other things; It wasn’t like that: on a T.V program attended by a professor, a priest, and Mr. and Mrs. Nicolich (parents of a partner who didn’t return), program which has 250 telephonic lines, we received 4 thousand calls. A hundred of thousand books were sold just on its coming onto the market, while in Spain were completely sold out.

- Did you go there taken on by the editorial?
- Not at all. We went to say what we feel, really. That was what impressed people, our spontaneity: they saw that we are, in fact, in love with life, in whatever situation we may have to live. Our past experience helped us to live the present.

- How is your contract with the editorial?
- It includes all the rights, from making a T-shirt with our faces to making a film about the tragedy. Just for the right of publishing the story on a book 250thousand dollars were given to us, and then there are thousand of other rights. This book has turned; there is no reason to hide it, into a huge amount of money. Many people think that we are traders… but from the moment we left the mountain we already knew that we’ll have to face the reality. And among other things, money is a reality.

- What did you do with so much money?
- It’s much more difficult give something when you have it than when you don’t have it. At first I thought: “This is mine, they are giving this to me because it’s a book about my life and, besides they are using it too”. I didn’t want to give anything to anybody, but then we built some schools and helped some people who really needed. The money belongs to me and I know that nobody is going to give me anything. I’d rather people saying “look Canessa how well he is” than people saying “look Canessa, poor guy, how bad he is”.

- Did you find any difficulty in taking the decision of publishing a book?
- Yes, relatively. At first there were some difficulties, but then we realized that it was the shortest way to stop the rumors, the misunderstandings and the out-of-place questions. We pretended the truth to be respected. If somebody ask me now what happened, I answer: “read the book”. Besides there is another thing: there have already appeared eleven pirate books in which the story is supposedly told and they have even involved sexuality. The theme was open to jumble and the opportunists never miss opportunities. With the book we could, between others things, defend the truth which was pretty hard.

- What’s your opinion about the book?
- Some of us think that the solidarity we had with each other at the mountain wasn’t properly reflected, that some of our personal experiences and the spirit we had while we were there were missing. Read, the author, said that it was his writing style and that the readers have to make their own conclusions. I believe that the book is a true recount about our seventy days on the mountain, although Read haven’t took the feelings into account. “The most important thing of the book is that everything is there, all the truth is there, and that there is no fact hidden. Every macabre part that people could imagine is there. Anybody can see that behind all the sad material there is solidarity and generosity. The book is a bit hard, but it would have been horrible doing a rose-colored story. And above all conjecture there is an irrefutable truth; a person has three different views: the fist one is how the others see him; the second one is how he sees himself; and the third one is how he really is.
The book is done in this way because apart from this particular version there are other fifteen versions.

- Ho do you feel about this sudden international popularity?
- What’s important, as I don’t know who said it, is not being a known person, but a person who is worth being known. That’s what I feel: lots of people look at me thinking about the past. Now I want to be valued for what I am. But on the other side the popularity makes some things much easier: for example, when I go to the bank they immediately recognize me and they don’t make it difficult for me at all. But there are other days in which I want to be alone, to be the owner of myself. People believe they are your owners and that they have the right to know even the most banal things of your life. Anyway, with the book you are entering into the readers, you are leaving something in them. Some people told me “When I started to read the book I couldn’t stop reading it, and when I finished it I thought I had to value my life”. That’s good.

- Probably with the trip, the popularity, and the thousand of interviews you are leaving what you lived at the mountains behind…
- Yes, sometimes I feel that talking so much is making me lose that courage. But other days I feel that it happened to me but that it’s over now.
What I liked it most from the trip was going to know the cities, but I had to reach the editorial expectations as well. I concluded that the best thing to give for them was to give something that is mine. The person who talks is me, and if I do it it’s because I believe that behind all this there is something that talks about the man, about all of us. Before the mountain I was just like the others, and when we were on the mountain I wasn’t different from the others: that’s good for people to know, it could be useful for somebody.

- Did the rest of your partners agree in that you two travel?
- Well, we were the ones invited, but I think they took it o.k.
We received letters from them in which they said: “Hey, how great is everything going to you!” There was a good envy, nothing more than the normal wish of being there with us.

- Tell us something about the trip.
- I spent incredible moments during the trip. I met people and places that I had never imagined to meet. For example we formed a really good friendship with Jackie Stewart. We went to see the motor races in Montecarlo together, we went to lunch with him in England and we went to his house in Ginebra. At this moment Nando is there with him. He went to do a motor racing course (the 26th June he raced a tourism road race in London). Jackie is a generous guy, kind and nice, he isn’t just a good motorist. He knows lots of famous people: in Monaco he took the trouble to invite us to dinner with Carolina and Alberto de Monaco.

- ¿How are they personally?
- Carolina is a girl yet. She’s seventeen-years-old, but she’s very nice. Her brother was the one who impressed me the most. They treat us great. The following day they invited us to a reception in the palace. When Grace Kelly saw us, she hugged us immediately, and she said how happy she was about our meeting with her son and her daughter. That was something really incredible. There I met Elizabeth Taylor: she seemed arid to me, but David Niven is a great guy; he advised us about the people with whom we could do the film. Philip Niarkos Tina Livanos’ son, Onassis’ ex wife, invited us to sail in his ship. We received warm from straightforward people as well: At Portofino there was a fisherman that didn’t know what to give me, so he gave me a match-box in which he wrote: “To the mountaineer I gave my heart affection” (he wrote this in a mixture of Spanish and Italian language). A taxi-river, at our arrival to the hotel didn’t want to charge me but as I insisted he asked me to accept the only thing he could give me: a map of the city.

- What about the film?
- There is a big interest in doing it; too much interest, too many offers. Together with the rights of the book, Lippicott editorial bought any other rights; the rights of the film included. That’s why we can’t play part practically in anything but demand the film to be as closest to the truth as possible: Three of us are going to be at the film set as supervisors. We are looking for a director capable of making the truth worth. We don’t know yet weather the film is going to be in Spain or United States. What’s important to me is the truth; I want the film to be as deep as the book. We are not going to act.

- Almost two years after the accident; don’t you feel like it has happened to other person?
- Yes, I generally feel it that way, but suddenly some things appear, noises, the synthetic smell of planes, and that things make you remember and go back to those moments.

- Have you had bad dreams or nightmares after the accident?
- No, I’ve never had it. The problem was solved at the mountain, because the real problem is being afraid of the death; living with the death and being constantly surrounded by dead people and we passed through all that. You think that you are alive thank to the others, I mean, if we are all equals and I’m alive but the others aren’t, that means that maybe tomorrow I could be dead as they are. The fear of death just because it is something unknown, is what makes people very afraid about it.

- And; what about your fears?
- We were so used to the idea of dying that we hadn’t that problem. You get used to have the death so close to you that the thing which was once inexplicable turned into something else.
The mountain was always there. She let me out of there and I’m happy with that. Up in the mountains I wondered “How would I get out of here?” and I always answered myself “I have God with me, he’s my friend and he’s the owner of the mountain.”
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