Adele Cambria

he first time I saw Adele’s blue eyes was on the landing of her house, in Rome, in Via de’ Pettinari, several years ago.
I was hot, had a backpack on my shoulder and a bunch of sunflowers in my hand, brought with me to thank
her for her hospitality. Adele was waiting on the top floor of the building, in front of the elevator: when the doors opened, she smiled at me.
From that moment onwards I had access to the ‘wonderful world of Adele,’ made of meetings, stories, books, email exchanges, evenings at the theatre and lunches on the terrace that oscillated between the past and the present: born during a sweltering summer in Calabria in 1931, Adele’s childhood unfolded in the ‘30s in Reggio Calabria. She was only 14 years old when, from an open window, she glimpsed American soldiers crossing the city on Liberation Day.
It was her stubborn desire to study to become a journalist that made her leave the South (‘I’ll come back, but as a tourist,’ she had said since she was a little girl). But in order to study, it was necessary to take the ferry every day and go to the Faculty of Messina (accompanied by her mother: it was not appropriate for a girl to travel alone), already moving away from a Calabria that, in those years, had neither newspapers nor universities.
Adele would have liked to study Literature but, with the clear-sightedness that would forever guide her, she realised
that that would not be the shortest way to leave home. ‘I would have been stuck there as a substitute teacher in the
suburbs forever,’ so she decided to go to law school. At the age of 22, after graduating (magna cum laude), Adele
applied for the public competition to join the Judiciary, but the answer she received after a few months was lapidary: she had all the requisite qualifications but one: being male.
In fact, prior to 1963, Italian law precluded women from having a career as magistrates because they were ‘unfit for
judgement and balance, and subject to the capacity for emotion.’ Verbatim.
But Adele was stubborn, courageous and shrewd: in 1955 she left Calabria (her case was more unique than rare, at the time of the Wilma Montesi case) with permission to move to Rome to participate in an INPS competition for law graduates (INPS is the largest social security and welfare institute in Italy).
Armed with a typewriter and a black patent leather bag full of articles, she undauntedly pursued her goal of becoming a journalist.
And she became a journalist, one of the few female journalists in Italy at the end of the fifties, together with the great Camilla Cederna and Oriana Fallaci.
‘…But only I had the courage to have 2 children,’ she loved to emphasise, smiling, but not joking.
Together with the 2 writers we find her again, a few years later, interviewed by her friend Pier Paolo Pasolini in Comizi d’amore (1965).
Adele threw herself headlong into her work, visiting art galleries (‘They were the only places I could go to even without an invitation’), meeting and hanging out with intellectuals, writers, editors, artists.
Initially, she wrote about costumes and fashion (the only topics granted to women by the editorial staff) but, little by little, her interests grew, her gaze was refined and her pen became unstoppable.
Her first article for a national weekly was published in Leo Longanesi’s Il Borghese in 1955, where she described with sarcasm and irony the ‘good’ girls of Reggio Calabria. Because of this article she was then offended on the front pages of a Calabrian weekly with close ties to the DC, her virtue questioned. It was insinuated that her presence in such an important newspaper (Il Borghese) was not due solely to competence (then, as now, discrediting a woman in the professional sphere does not pass through her professional life).
Adele’s father suffered terribly and decided to sue the journalist.
(The Cambria family would go on to win the lawsuit; Adele went on to ask, as symbolic compensation, for one lira: how classy!).
But the lawsuits continued. Nineteen in the first year of her apprenticeship alone! Adele took the assignment given to her by her director, Baldacci, literally: ‘Cambria, you go, see, and write.’ And she obeyed, without filters or frills.
In the first few months, she tolerated having to sign off with the male pseudonym Leone Paganini but, as time went by, her by-line became well-known and she worked for increasingly important newspapers, such as Il Giorno, by Enrico Mattei (directed by Gaetano Baldacci), a very important daily newspaper that has the merit of having modernised the Italian press; Il Mondo (by Mario Pannunzio), Paese Sera, La Stampa, Il Messaggero, L’Espresso…
Adele caught the last flashes of Roman literary society and dove into it: she was the only ‘gazzettiera’ admitted to the tables of Elsa Morante, Alberto Moravia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Goffredo Parise, Luchino Visconti…
It was the year 1969 when she went ‘back home’, for the first time in 15 years, and she did so for work: she wanted
to follow the revolt underway in her place of origin, the popular uprising that has passed into history as ‘the hundred
days of Reggio’, triggered by the dispute between Catanzaro and Reggio Calabria regarding the allocation of the capital.
The urban guerrilla warfare lasted over 3 months and Adele followed it on behalf of l’Europeo, a prestigious weekly she worked for (after refusing to become the editor because she had 2 children and was divorced).
On that occasion she met and became friends with Adriano Sofri, sharing his point of view on the revolt: Adele’s article did not support, therefore, the disavowal that the left exhibits towards the Calabrian uprisings, she did not think it was a fascist regurgitation, but a search for identity… but her writing was censored and Adele decided to resign.
This was neither the first nor the last time that, out of principle or solidarity with others, she would decide to resign from a newspaper.
Speaking of ethical principles, journalists and resignation, I invite everyone to read one of her last books, perhaps the most beautiful and ironic. It is an autobiography, entitled Nove dimissioni e mezzo (Nine and a half resignations), [published by Donzelli editore, 2010], in which she outlines with skill and sarcasm the high price that one pays to be a journalist and citizen guided by professional ethics and a conscience.
Adele’s journalism career spanned the decades between the 1960s and 2015. Yet… Adele Cambria was not as renowned as other female journalists of her time. Some have never heard of her. She is a woman who didn’t rock the boat, she didn’t push to get ahead, she didn’t ‘shoe-horn’ anyone. She was sober, elegant and patient.
I wish I could define her as a ‘woman of another time,’ but that would be the worst injustice I could do her, because no one knew how to be contemporary better than she did.
Contemporary, in fact, refers to ‘a person who belongs to, lives and operates in the present age.’
And so, Adele was a loving mother even when being a mother meant necessarily giving up work; she was a passionate worker when that meant, necessarily, neglecting her children.
She was a wife and an ex-wife; she was a feminist when women’s right to self-determination was not even taken seriously, and she took to the streets for the right to abortion and divorce when machismo and patriarchy were commonplace.
She was director of the newspaper Lotta continua in the ’70s, when the murder of Luigi Calabresi and the article written by Adriano Sofri cost her a summary trial for crime apologia and the withdrawal of her passport for 7 years.
She was a co-founder of the Casa Internazionale delle Donne (which won a dispute with the Municipality of Rome just 3 days ago, on September 18, 2021, and which, therefore, will remain in its headquarters in Via della Lungara for quite a while).
She was one of the founders of the theatre La Maddalena, along with Dacia Maraini and many others, and Director of Effe, a weekly that offered counter-information to women.
She was the first in Italy to write about assisted reproduction in a weekly magazine; her play Nonostante Gramsci made it to New York. She acted in 2 films by Pasolini (Accattone, 1961 and Teorema, 1968), she was the author of 14 books and thousands of interviews. That is how Adele was. Always on the ball. Contemporary. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I spent the summer in Rome at Adele’s house, working together on editing a book, while my future husband walked across Italy. I would get up in the morning and she was, of course, already ready.
Some people wake up early to buy bread. Adele would buy the newspaper. Or rather, she would compare 3: La Repubblica, Il Messaggero, L’Unità. (Oh, I forgot: Adele also wrote for L’Unità from 2003 until April 2009).
She would read, underline passages and arrange them on a large table in the hallway, after having placed several post-it notes on them to be able to find the articles again easily.
I would find her in the kitchen, with a small radio on in her robe pocket, listening to the press review while drinking a
cup of coffee. She would smile and say, ‘Good morning dear,’ addressing both me and the baby bump, ‘now let’s get to work.’
The memory of that summer in Rome, that last summer as a non-mother that brings back so many feelings and reflections, is made of many laughs, of lemon ice creams bought from the Sicilian shop downstairs, of evenings at the theatre (I remember, in particular, a reading by Iaia Forte in the gardens of the Acqua Paola fountain on Janiculum Hill), Adele’s reckless driving along the capital’s avenues (without ever shifting into second gear), episodes of Ballarò on the couch in the evening, home-style dinners with potato gâteau and ‘sgaloppine’ (escalopes) in white wine.
‘Adele, we say scaloppine.’ ‘Scaloppine? But are you sure?’
‘Pretty sure.’
‘Scaloppine it is.’
Now that Adele is gone, we miss her, I miss her. I miss her ability to be contemporary. Human. Funny.
Thinking about her today does not change my idea of her, it only makes it more tender and nostalgic. I would like to have her opinion on so many issues; I would like to hear her talk about the time she interviewed Cocteau, Fellini, Sartre, Susan Sontag, Peggy Guggenheim (in a gondola) … of the time when, at the age of 18, she attended a Traviata with Maria Callas in flesh and blood (and voice) or of her friendship with Goliarda Sapienza or again of the time when, in Milan, her roommate was Anna Maria Ortese and, at night, she heard her crying.
I have so many memories of Adele and in all of them there is her voice narrating, her eyes searching, witty and clear.
I treasure excerpts of stories that cannot yet be shared, not here. A picture of my daughter hangs on the door of
her kitchen cabinet, a thought that moves me every time it comes to me.
Dedicating a cover story to someone who is no longer with us is not easy, and it’s even less easy to frame the relationship with Adele; many years separated her birth from mine, and in a company this friendship would perhaps be called ‘reverse mentoring’…
But she loved to call me/us ‘the northern piece of my family,’ and I think that’s the description I love best.

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