17 October 2010


~ Six subplots ~

Bravo! What a triumph! If you wrote it as a movie scenario, the ignorant Hollywood stiffs would tell you to get stuffed for peddling feel-good fantasy.

Now the deluge, now the crass publicity and vulture agents move in.

I suppose the instant shrinks we heard endlessly pontificating about the dangers of the media suffocation to come are too young to remember the Andes crash on October 13, 1972, of the Uruguayan rugby players in the Andes, well documented in Piers Paul Read's Alive!

"Read interviewed the survivors and their families for an extensive period of time before writing the book.

He comments on this process in the Acknowledgments section:

'I was given a free hand in writing this book by both the publisher and the sixteen survivors. At times I was tempted to fictionalize certain parts of the story because this might have added to their dramatic impact but in the end I decided that the bare facts were sufficient to sustain the narrative ... when I returned in October 1973 to show them the manuscript of this book, some of them were disappointed by my presentation of their story.

They felt that the faith and friendship which inspired them in the cordillera do not emerge from these pages. It was never my intention to underestimate these qualities, but perhaps it would be beyond the skill of any writer to express their own appreciation of what they lived through' "

I handled the publicity and UK author tours for that Alison Press/Secker & Warburg publication and I trust that whoever is promoting Piers' books now has the marketing savvy to be touting him as The Man to talk about the effects of the international attention to come.

If I was in England, they'd be touting me.

Of the 16 survivors, Nando Parrado and Roberto 'El Musculo' Canessa were the ones who came to promote the book in the UK and they were a joy to work with.

Mischievous, over-confident, divinely spoiled, deadlines-skirting joys.

Thank God for Piers' austere school-teacherly primness that kept them in line - just.

I remember on a train journey up to Leeds for their Yorkshire Post Literary Luncheon gig, Roberto (it was always Roberto, the scamp) started to demolish the carriage, taking to pieces the seating and they eyeing the baggage rack.

I was dreading the ticket collector's reaction and wondering if I had enough cash on me to pay for the damage when Piers looked up from his book and explained,

"You see, Roberto thinks he's still up the mountain and is using what he has to build his protection."
After that it was no fun, so Roberto settled down and regaled me with descriptions of being mobbed by 'cannibal' groupies during their New York promo.

I'm sure Piers's cuttings agency will trace this posting in a trice so I'll stick to the bare facts in re the publicity fall-out.

The miners came up, our boys made it down.

Once safe, the talk was of a book and mega riches.

Out of the question, of course, that they themselves were capable of agreeing on let alone literate enough to bash out an agreed account - but there were plenty of 'agents' to take up their cause.

The Andes survivors were 16, the Chileans are twice that number and lambs to a meedja slaughter way more ruthless than 40 years ago. It will be ugly.

The Andes survivors - and Piers will correct me on this - started with 16 differing accounts, each one showing the teller at his/her best and the others as grateful weaklings saved only by their companion's decisive leadership.

Such was the pig's breakfast they made of their collective self-serving money-grabbing accounts that they agreed to appoint a single author to tell the truth.

According to Barley Alison, when she put it to Piers he turned it down flat. The waters too muddied, the central characters too unruly and untruthful.

Barley again: "It was only because Piers was a Roman Catholic and a rugby player [Indeed? Svelte Mr Read?] *and* so intolerant of their antics that they set out to woo *him* as the recordist.

When I met them, they had conquered America and a prissy British publicity director for the puny UK market was a pushover.

I can't remember how I did it but I was a martinet in those days and also knew how to drop to one knee and beg.

One radio interview with Nando revealed that he was a keen amateur racing driver. By the end of the broadcast, a message had come in from Jackie Stewart that he was welcome to join him at Brands Hatch for a guided spin. I tell you, it took some persuasion to get Nando into the cab to meet his next media appointment. Good times.

Meanwhile, from back home, mega-stardom was washing over everyone connected, yea down to the umpteenth generation, and jealousies and disinformation infecting everyone.

The ridiculous amounts of cash being paid out for any tidbit - tipota compared to what the miners will face - was grotesque.

These were simple honest humble types suddenly taken up the mountain and shown all the devil's largesse.

Mario Sepulveda: The moment that eloquent mouther started shooting his mouth off about wrasslin' with the devil and family values (meanwhile his own family looking distinctly glum as he rambled on), looking in his shades exactly like a demented Stevie Wonder ... my spirits fell.

You heard it here first, that man is and will be trouble and there will be a cat-o-nine tales backlash from his more modest fellows.

Yonni Barios: He of the wife of 28 years and the mistress about whom wifey only found out while Yonners was down t'mine? Oh poh poh.

Back in my precocious salad days I actually wrote a paper on careful handling of the publicity we drum up for our charges, and the responsibility that comes with placing the unwary in the spotlight. I laugh now at the small fry fame we conjured up, compared to the juggernaut maw today's 'stars' face - that dumpy singing Susan, those soccer saps ...

I worked it out that my efforts had killed two marriages, suicided a daughter, and got a fox's head shot off as his highland keeper was down in London shooting his own wad with a cute TV researcher with whom I'd hooked him up to clinch a second interview.

Nosh ~ The miners were sustained by expertly prepared meals cooked to fit in customised tubes and zoomed down to the 33. Nevertheless, everyone is surprised and impressed by what good nick they are in.

When the Uruguayans finally descended after 90 days, the medics were astounded and not a little suspicious of their fit condition. They should have been badly lacking in protein. What no one knew and what the survivors had prayed would never emerge was the grisly truth that they had been reduced to eating slivers of their dead companions.

Robert was the medical student and he was the one who put to his companions the blunt truth that there was only one way out. He was the one who cut slivers from the snow-preserved bodies and placed them on the fuselage to dry. When he passed the pieces out, he did not reveal from which body that particular snack had been sliced.

The first question put to the lads by the ghoulish english press was 'what does human flesh taste like?" A bit like chicken was the reply.

The Movie - or, It ain't over til the fat lady blogs.

I'm just amazed how few people are cottoning on to the exemplary Andes crash as the best clue to what lies ahead.

More psychologically fragile than was thought: what utter bilge. The miners are exactly as - and more - fragile as we've all known all along.

Talk about the danger of repeating history.

The Beat Goes On: When Marta met Susana - and, mining that seam as we knew they would, $100,000 to speak for cheats.

It can only get better.

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