My grandparents got married in September 1948. This was their wedding cake figurine.
Not for me a youngman’s death
Not a car crash, whiplash
John Doe, DOA at A&E kind of death.
Not a gun in hand, in a far off land
IED at the roadside death
Not a slow-fade, razor blade
bloodbath in the bath, death.
Jump under a train, Kurt Cobain
bullet in the brain, death
Not a horse-riding paragliding
mountain climbing fall, death.
Motorcycle into an old stone wall
you know the kind of death, death
My nights are rarely unruly. My days
of allnight parties are over, well and truly.
No mistresses no red sports cars
no shady deals no gangland bars
no drugs no fags no rock’n’roll
Time alone has taken its toll
Not for me a youngman’s death
Not a domestic brawl, blood in the hall
knife in the chest, death.
Not a drunken binge, dirty syringe
“What a waste of a life” death.
Not for Me a Youngman’s Death
By Roger McGough
Espáduas brancas palpitantes:
asas no exílio dum corpo.
Os braços calhas cintilantes
para o comboio da alma.
E os olhos emigrantes
no navio da pálpebra
encalhado em renúncia ou cobardia.
Por vezes fêmea . Por vezes monja.
Conforme a noite. Conforme o dia.
embebida num filtro de magia.
Aranha de ouro
presa na teia dos seus ardis.
E aos pés um coração de louça
quebrado em jogos infantis.
Again I wish I could translate poetry without committing some kind of murder. I can’t.
This is the self-portrait of a bird in exile, whose arms know that they are wings trapped in a human body. Whose eyes migrate but never leave. A ship stranded by cowardice and abjuration. A Woman. Sometimes a female, sometimes a nun.
From night to day.
Strong, fragile, beautiful, talented and contradictory. They said. Very dark and very tender. A force of nature is the appropriate cliché. Unjust for someone who lived like a true original. In full. Strident in controversy, provocative and original, strong, excessive and forceful. Witch and Lark of the abolition of opposites.
My words could never come close
a heart of china
broken in childish games
Era uma mulher inigualável. Nos caprichos, nos excessos, nas iras, nas premonições, nos exibicionismos, na sedução, na coragem, na esperança. Cantava, dançava, declamava, improvisava, discursava, polemizava como poucos entre nós alguma vez o fizeram, o somaram.
She was an unrivaled woman. In whims, in excesses, in anger, in premonitions, in exhibitionism, in seduction, in courage, in hope. She sang, danced, recited, improvised, discoursed, polemicized as few among us ever did and ever added.
Acho que a missão da mulher é assombrar, espantar. Se a mulher não espanta… De resto, não é só a mulher, todos os seres humanos têm que deslumbrar os seus semelhantes para serem um acontecimento. Temos que ser um acontecimento uns para os outros. Então a pessoa tem que fazer o possível para deslumbrar o seu semelhante, para que a vida seja um motivo de deslumbramento. Se chama a isso sedução, cumpri aquilo que me era forçoso fazer.
Natália Correia, in Entrevista (1983)
I think a woman’s mission is to haunt, to amaze. If a woman does not amaze … Besides, it is not only the woman, all human beings have to dazzle their peers, they have to be an event. We have to be a momentous event for each other. So one has to do one’s best to dazzle one’s fellow human, so that life can be a cause of wonder. If this is called seduction, I accomplished what I had to.
10.06 am Train 122 to Lisbon
The woman wearing a green polyester dress and a fake fur jacket is a lawyer. She needs a plumber because the faucet in her bathroom is leaking. She hang up that call and is now talking to her friend Ritinha about her marriage and how taking confession at the Vatican with a Spanish priest has helped to cope and forgive even though she is still hurt. Maybe he cheated on her. She has decided to start her master’s degree. Maybe she will get to be a judge. She needs to work on her resume and then move to do a Doctorate, something on tax and fiscal law. Her friend has a better resume, it seems. Anyway, she wants to base her studies in practical cases so she doesn’t feel the pressure of the doctrine. Her son, Francisquinho stayed with her mother-in-law. Her husband António stayed in Porto. She doesn’t like to be alone. She is going to Coimbra to fix her diploma, the silver seal and the ribbons are missing. She had the diploma framed the minute she got it. She couldn’t resist. She hangs up. Her friend is probably busy.
We have arrived at Santa Apolónia Station. The smart looking old gentleman seating across the corridor has a beautiful engraved cane. I offer to take his bag down. He tells me that the only good thing about growing old is the young people who are willing to help. He reassures me that he was young once.
1 pm blue line subway train
The lady wearing a tropical print maxi skirt is on the phone explaining she is late and that she has forgotten her check book. She will have to pay the deposit in cash.
1.20 pm Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
I register for the conference and buy the ticket to see the Almada Negreiros exhibition. I stop listening. Chance encounters and unexpected company bring out the chatterbox in me.
4 pm international congress on Fernando Pessoa
The session is on “Fernando Pessoa the classicist”. I seem to not really be listening to most of it. Athena magazine and the supreme art form. Inferior art is meant to please, average art should elevate you and the superior art sets you free. It makes your soul rise above everything that is narrow in life, by freeing you it goes beyond elevation which can only occur outside oneself. The supreme art frees you from within. Ricardo Reis and the classic form, syntactic analyses of five odes to a boy who is dead. Homoerotic poetry or simply a lyrical lament for the person that was and is no longer. Questions from the audience in academic conferences always tend to be transformed into frustrated presentations.
The beautiful blonde lady with flawless skin seating next to me comes to the conclusion that the more she searches for knowledge, the more she realizes that there’s just too much to be learnt.
5.30 pm coffee break
I run back to the exhibition room.I forgot to write down the references for some of the paintings. In a dark room Eros and Psyche shine from a rectangular stained glass panel. On the way out there’s a painting called “Family”. I have a replica bought at a jail art fair. It’s not very good, I just find it moving that it was painted by someone serving time in prison.
6 pm back at the conference hall
This is the session that made me travel today. Intellectual giants are still my superheroes.
Professor Eduardo Lourenço is 93. He is here, he says, as a ghost of himself. There is a new generation of experts who have the most admirable of qualities, they are alive and he had, for quite some time now, abdicated of giving presentations at events such as this one. But he came as “one of the victims of the fulgurating passage of that star, that absolute vampire who was Fernando Pessoa (…) because once the Pessoan Galaxy hits you, you are forever transfigured, blood and soul sucked out of you by the celestial vampire who bragged that he could be everything in every way”. And that makes him extraordinary and baffling. How can, Professor Gil, asks, one live with a shattered self? How is it that this person never sought to unify but could clearly understand himself and the world as parts without a whole, infinitely multiple. And the risk of madness, the divine folly of wanting to continuously devour everything, of becoming the interlocutor of everything by transforming even the most insignificant experience into an universal reaching reading of ourselves.
To feel everything in every way.
To feel everything excessively
7.50 pm the train will leave in 10 minutes
The man in scruffy blue overalls is telling the girl wearing a jersey in earthy tones that people now are very much attached to their pets because they know other people are going to be a disappointment. That is what’s wrong with the world. We are becoming irrational because of our egos and because of greed. We are losing our values, he says, we are losing our love for each other. And what happens when there’s no love? We live in terror, we loose ourselves. He has to go but before he does, he apologizes for his impassioned speech, “I can be a bit of a pain sometimes”.
10 pm we just left Coimbra. There’s never much talking in night trains, specially on a Friday.
Photo: Untitled, Almada Negreiros (1921) Watercolour on paper
By my beautiful friend Robby McMurtry (1950-2012). Today this makes sense.
[That] Magic moment so different and so new
Was like any other until I met you
And then it happened
You took me by surprise
Sweeter than wine
Softer than a summer’s night
References and inspiration
Pomus, Shuman, Reed, Auster, Coetzee, Vonnegut, Dostoyevsky, Kerouac, Rushdie, Gordimer, Camus, Pessoa, Hughes, Sá-Carneiro, Smith, Atwood, Plath, Faulkner, Shakespeare, Lampedusa, Maugham, Breyner, McCullers, Selby Jr., Williams, Morrison, Blake, Loriga,…………Dad
Everything I want, I have
In December 2001 Salman Rushdie visited Porto for one of the final lectures in a series of conferences about the “Future of the Future”. In 2001 Porto was, with Rotterdam, European Culture Capital and the discussion of a post future at the end of a year that forever changed the collective perception of our present seemed appropriate. “The Middle Ages trying to destroy the Third Millennium”, he said.
Three months after 9/11 and 12 years after the fatwa on him, Mr. Rushdie walked alone in Porto. No bodyguards. Carefree.
On the last week before Christmas shops in downtown Porto stay open at night for people like me who can’t plan their shopping in advance. As part of our mini-tradition, me and my best friend went out for some late night shopping that December of 2001. We stopped at a deserted Café Majestic for tea. In 2001 there were no lists of “the most beautiful coffee shops in the world”, there were no lines of tourists at the door, there was no Maître d’ trying to bring some kind of order to the process of sitting down. In 2001 you could actually go in and sit and be almost alone. It was late and the gentleman sitting at the far end table by the piano paid his check and got up to leave. As he made his way to the door, Mr. Rushdie walked past our table and looked at the incredulity on my face and winked and left. I was brought up in a house of books, my father is a Literature professor and meeting or just seeing one of these “giants”in person, still makes me feel as over the moon as a teenage girl coming face to face with her favourite rock star would.
In June 2010 Sir Salman Rushdie was the keynote speaker at a conference I was attending in Kansas City and spoke about freedom and the media and the power of Literature and novelists “who are able to probe the truth without being beholden to facts.” After his plenary address, I and few hundred others waited in line to have our books signed. Holding my copy of The Ground Beneath Her Feet, I approached his table and didn’t ask him if he remembered that night in December 2001. That was the fantasy conversation going on in my mind.
These line focus on Salman Rushdie because of a cold night in December 2001. They could easily be about Borges, Coetzee, Murakami, Pessoa, Auster, Cortazar, Sontag or many others. These are my superheroes. The ones with no x-ray vision but that are able to pierce into your soul and help you discover yourself. The ones that can’t fly but still make your imagination soar and plant the seed of invincibility in your heart. The fearless ones that keep fighting for their truth in a world that so many times keeps telling us that intellectualism is frivolous as if, paraphrasing Orwell, the only goal was to keep ourselves alive when the ultimate objective should be to retain our humanity. Or as Flexner, ten year before 1984 was published, questioned whether “there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.”
And because I am not superhero myself, I will keep borrowing the words
The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it’s a truth that’s in hock to nobody. It’s a single artist’s unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it’s incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book’s truth is slightly different in each reader’s inner world. These are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader’s imagination. And the enemies of the imagination, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down and can’t. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have. But good books do have effects and some of these effects are powerful and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance. Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.
Salman Rushdie, The Power of the Pen
Such is the power of Literature and the super power of writers. They may not be the kind of hero that braves against the violence of the natural world but they are of the same kind of the ones that “do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky!“
George Orwell, 1984
Abraham Flexner, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
Salman Rushdie, The Power of the Pen
Walter Lippmann, Amelia Earhart – Herald Tribune – 7/8/37