Georgie Geyer covers it all -- from Angola to El Salvador
Fidel Castro boasted to her that Cuba had as many flavors of ice cream as the ''imperialist tool,'' Howard Johnson's. Col. Muammar Qaddafi confided to her that Libya was in a jungle surrounded by howling wolves. Former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza scolded her for getting him into trouble with his wife over a passage in her book ''The New Latins.'' Anwar Sadat assured her that the Palestine Liberation Organization would not try to assassinate him because ''they know my family.'' PLO leader Yasser Arafat mourned to her in 1977, ''Georgie Anne . . . I am down. I am finished.''Skip to next paragraph
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She is Georgie Anne Geyer, who tells all in ''Buying the Night Flight'' (New York, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, $16.95), her new book about her life as a woman foreign correspondent. For instance, it had taken her eight years to get her first interview with Arafat, in 1976. And when they finally met she was surprised: ''For one thing,'' she said, ''he was far less harsh in person than in his pictures. He smiled and laughed easily, his face expressive and his odd, poppish eyes cushioned by the pouches that lay underneath them. There was, of course, the heavyset body, the head scarf or kaffiyeh, and the self-conscious khakis. He looked like a cross between GI Joe and the Buddha.''
Georgie Anne Geyer, who has been a foreign correspondent since the early 1960 s, covers it all, from El Salvador to Angola to Iraq. She has risked her life more than once - but never her deadline - and pulls the reader along in a fascinating book that reads more like a novel than a 331-page dispatch from the front. ''Buying the Night Flight'' is, as they say in the trade, a real page-turner.
The title is from a line of the French writer and flier Antoine de Saint-Exupery: ''There is no buying the night flight, with its hundred thousand stars, its serenity and its moments of sovereignty.'' It was after an interview with one of the hardest men in the world to see, Tareq Aziz, spokesman for Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, that the theme of the book occurred to her. It was 3 a.m. and she was speeding through a red-brown, rocky plain inhabited by fierce Iraqi tribesmen, on her way from Baghdad, Iraq, to Amman, Jordan. Without the foreign correspondents, she realized, ''the world would be without its couriers, not carrying St. Exupery's mail, but conveying messages through the night that at best allowed people to know one another.''
We talked about that, late one violet afternoon as twilight fell on the view of the National Cathedral from her Washington apartment.
She says of foreign correspondents, ''I have felt that we're like couriers between cultures, we're missionaries, we're neutral. . . . It's not an easy age, at any rate, for the foreign correspondent. I would say it's a particularly dangerous age, the most dangerous in modern times.'' Ruth Gruber, the United Press International correspondent, had just been expelled from Poland, and three other foreign correspondents around the world had been detained, questioned, or expelled.
''I think within a broader picture I see this happening all over the world,'' Ms. Geyer said. ''And I see whole countries closing down to us as foreign correspondents and journalists in general. In some ways I see the gates coming down around whole countries and peoples. . . .''
She pauses for a moment. ''I do think . . . of the information as a kind of amulet, a kind of magic I was carrying at times, a little bit overromantic. . . . But the fewer (foreign correspondents) we have - and there are fewer and fewer all the time - the fewer interpretations we have, the fewer analyses. I look at a lot of people as couriers between cultures, not only the journalists, but also the diplomats, the missionaries, the Red Cross workers, the neutrals. It's something I feel very very strongly about,'' says Ms. Geyer, now a syndicated columnist for the Universal Press Syndicate.
Unlike the legendary woman correspondent Dickey Chapelle, who showed up in Santo Domingo wearing marine gear and hiking boots, ''Gee Gee,'' as she's known outside her byline, preferred to wear sun dresses and sandals. More feminine. The day of our interview she lounged around her comfortable apartment in a glittery gray knit sweater with puffed sleeves, muted rainbow paid skirt, white, cable-knit, knee-high socks, and low-heeled persimmon suede pumps. She is a statuesque woman of the world with shoulder-length blond hair, high cheekbones, a wide mouth, and Nordic good looks which are actually German-American. On one finger, a huge turquoise ring, on her ears, hooped earrings of turquoise and white beads. She speaks in a throaty voice with a transatlantic accent: