This week my AP colleague, 35-year-old Simone Camilli, was killed in Gaza while he was filming a Palestinian bomb squad disarming an unexploded bomb from an Israeli airstrike. The bomb blew up also killing AP translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash, and four Palestinians from the bomb squad. AP photographer Hatem Moussa was badly injured. The news left us in the AP Rome Bureau shocked and devastated. He was one of us. Simone is the second staffer to die while covering the news this year and the 33rd since AP began in 1846, but he was the only one I knew well.
On Friday I travelled with many of my colleagues from Rome, London, New York, Paris, Brussels and Jerusalem to the small Tuscan town of Pitigliano for the funeral. Much has already been said about Simone, but I wanted to add just a few of my own thoughts.
Simone came to our office in Rome in 2005 to work as an intern. He was tall, with long gangly legs and a messy mop of hair which he held in a pony tail. I remember my boss Maria Grazia and I teasing him that we would loan him hair clips or pony-tails for covering events at the Vatican. He would laugh, give us that sweet smile and tie back his hair. It is that gentle smile and easy going style we will miss the most.
Simone had a way of getting everything done that was asked of him while absorbing information and learning new skills with amazing speed. Before we knew it Simone had learned how to shoot video, edit, feed, write in English, do interviews in English and Italian and set up complicated stories and event coverage. He made himself so useful in the period when Pope John Paul II was dying that APTN hired him to help us with the funeral and the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI. He worked long hours, pitching in wherever he was needed, never complaining, always getting the job done well.
Simone had the perfect combination of great humility, serenity and unusual technical and editorial abilities. He was the epitome of the perfect video-journalist, he could do it all – edit, shoot, write, do interviews, run a live truck. In addition he was incredibly easy going. I never saw him angry or stressed out, and he never raised his voice. As my London colleague Toby Goode wrote, “I remember Simone as a kind, gentle soul, hugely talented, always unassuming. Whether running around the streets of Rome with him or discussing coverage plans from the desk in London, Simone was a joy to work with.”
At the time Jerusalem Bureau Chief Chris Slaney was in Rome coordinating our coverage of the Pope’s funeral and I remember over a coffee at the Caffe’ Doria below our office Simone telling me that he was studying Arabic and really wanted to go to the Middle East. Simone asked me if he thought he could approach Slaney about eventual work in Jerusalem after the Conclave.
As Chris Slaney described it himself yesterday at the funeral, “Simone– young, intelligent, enthusiastic– called me in the spring of 2006 asking me if I could find him a temporary position in Jerusalem. We had met a year earlier when I was working in Rome. Simone wanted to expand his experience dedicating himself to something different and more demanding. Despite the difficulties, the Holy Land was a place that fascinated Simone, and Simone immersed himself in it, not just as a journalist. Its people, its history, its music, the food — his interests were wide and profound. Three months became a year, than three years, and then more.”
During his years in Jerusalem, Simone often came back to Rome to work with us on stories. In June 2009, I was asked to coordinate the G8 Foreign Minister’s meeting in Trieste, Italy from June 25-27. I had several cameramen and a truck engineer but I was anxious that I needed more help, Hillary Clinton was expected and other political big shots would be there and I didn’t want to blow it. Simone was in Rome and AP’s Senior Producer Maria Grazia Murru assigned him to work with me. I was relieved. Simone could handle anything, with him present I felt secure. I made up a coverage plan for door-stepping the leaders, filming their photo-opportunities, one and one meetings, and press briefings. In addition we had to do scene-setters, filming flags, beauty shots of the city of Trieste, and interviews with analysts.
On the morning the summit was to begin, we were up early doing our set-up piece, when it was ready to go I called into London. Tanya, the APTN’s Editor-of-the-Day, answered the phone, “Didn’t you hear Trisha?” she said. “Michael Jackson has died. It’s huge. Forget about what the Ministers are talking about, we need comments on Michael Jackson. Ask them about that.”
SIGH! There are the moments when working for a TV News Agency can become extremely frustrating. I called everyone on the team, time to re-set, switch gears, we still had to cover everything but with a Michael Jackson focus. Simone laughed, shrugged his shoulders and headed out with AP Rome cameraman Gianfranco Stara to get the job done. Unfortunately, we all failed miserably. The Minsters were not game. We could not get the UK’s David Milliband to tell us if he preferred “Thriller” or “Billie Jean” and France’s Bernard Kouchner was not prepared to show us his version of Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk. We covered everything, but did not get a comment on Michael Jackson. APTN used nothing.
At the end of the day, we shut down the satellite truck and most of the APTN team had headed back to the hotel. “Come on Trisha, relax,” Simone said. “Tranquilla- nothing you can do about it. There is nothing left to do. Let’s go for a walk back towards the hotel and I will buy you a beer.” Walking along the spectacular port of Trieste we entered the magnificent Piazza Unita’ D’Italia and Simone began telling about a beautiful Dutch woman named Ylva he had met in Jerusalem. He declared he was in love and eagerly pulled out his phone to show me a photo of her. She was beautiful. He got so excited that he decided he wanted to talk to her right then and asked if I minded. We stopped in the Piazza and I stood there with my computer bag looking out past the elegant, classical buildings, towards the sea. The famous Bora wind was blowing and the air was refreshing. I was still feeling grouchy and aggravated about the wasted day. I looked over at Simone talking on the phone with his new love Ylva and thought, “here is a guy who has his priorities straight.”
Yesterday during the funeral Ylva was a picture of dignity in her simple blue dress, her blond curls circling her face as she came into the church with their three-year-old daughter Nour. At one point during the funeral Ylva stood to read her message to Simone. She began, “I remember so well the very first time our eyes met as we walked towards each other from opposite directions in a street in Jerusalem, this month exactly eight years ago. I was immediately attracted by your beautiful warm eyes and your shy and kind smile. We spent the following hours together talking about the Middle East and your work for AP that you had just started and you were so excited about. By the end of the evening, I had simply fallen for you and we have been together every since.”
Ylva and Simone had just moved to Beirut with their daughter Nour. Last May Simone stopped by the Rome bureau and we went again to the Caffe’Doria for a coffee. Simone told me how excited he was about his contract with AP in Beirut. He was so pleased to be going with Ylva and Nour. I told him that I wanted to give him a little advice as a mother and that was not to cross the Lebanese border into Syria. I said there were enough stories on the border and it was too risky to go into Syria. It would have never occurred to me to tell Simone not to go to Gaza. He knew the story there. He knew the Israelis, he knew the Palestinians, he knew how to move, where to go and what to avoid. Simone was never one to look for risks, he wanted to tell the story. Simone looked at me and gave me that easy-going, sweet Simone smile and said, “tranquilla Trisha.”
It is Simone’s gentle smile and laid back style that none of us will ever forget.
For anyone interested in seeing the two documentaries from which I took the video, “About Gaza” and “Gaza 22”, shot by Simone, you can find them here: Opacomedia
Post in: Italiano