Jose Saramago on Carlos Fuentes

Now for a confession. Personally I am not easily intimidated, quite the contrary, but my first encounters with Carlos Fuentes, which of course were always polite, as one would have expected of two well-brought-up people, were not easy, not through any fault of his but because of a kind of resistance on my part to accepting naturally something which in Carlos Fuentes is extremely natural–that is, his style of dress. We all know that Fuentes dresses well, with elegance and good taste, his shirt never wrinkled, but for some mysterious reason I thought that a writer, especially one from that part of the world, should not dress in that way. My mistake. Carlos Fuentes managed to make the greatest critical demands and the greatest ethical rigor–both of which he has–compatible with a well-chosen tie. Believe me, that’s no small thing.

translated by Amanda Hopkinson & Daniel Hahn

Jose Saramago’s response to the question of his role as a blogger on November 25, 2008 at a press conference in Brazil.

Could it be, to put it more clearly, that it’s here that we all most closely resemble one another? Is this the closest thing we have to citizen power? Are we more companionable when we write on the internet? I have no answers; I’m merely stating the questions. And I enjoy writing here now. I don’t know whether it is more democratic, I only know that I feel the same as the young man with the wild hair and the round-rimmed glasses, in his early twenties, who was asking me the questions. For a blog, no doubt.

translated by Amanda Hopkinson & Daniel Hahn

untitled poem 8 by Fernando Pessoa

If sometimes I say that flowers smile
And if I should say that rivers sing,
It’s not because I think there are smiles in flowers
And songs in the rivers’ flowing. . .
It’s so I can help misguided men
Feel the truly real existence of flowers and rivers.

Since I write for them to read me, I sometimes stoop
To the stupidity of their senses. . .
It isn’t right, but I excuse myself,
Because I’ve only taken on the odious role, an interpreter of Nature,
Because there are men who don’t grasp its language,
Which is no language at all.

translated by Richard Zenith

from Small Memories by Jose Saramago #2

The rain is pouring down, the wind is shaking the leafless trees, and from times past comes an image, that of a tall, thin man, an old man, I realise, now that he draws nearer along the sodden track. He is carrying a crook over his shoulder and wears an ancient, muddy cape from which drip all the rains of heaven. Before him go the pigs, heads down, snouts to the ground. The man approaching, blurred amongst the teeming rain, is my grandfather. He looks weary. He bears on his back seventy years of a hard life full of privations and ignorance. And yet he is a wise man, taciturn, one who opens his mouth to speak when necessary. Indeed he speaks so little that we all fall silent to hear him when a kind of warning light illuminates his face. He has a strange way of gazing into the distance, even if the distance is only the wall in front of him. His face, fixed but expressive, seems to have been carved out by an adze, and his small, sharp eyes shine sometimes as if something he had long been pondering had finally been understood. He is a man like many others on this earth, in this world, perhaps an Einstein crushed beneath a mountain of impossibilities, a philosopher, a great illiterate writer. Something he could never be. I remember those warm summer nights, when we slept under the big fig tree, I can hear him talking about the life he’s led, about the Milky Way, or the Road to Santiago as we villagers still called it, that glowed above our heads, about the livestock he reared, about stories and legends from his remote childhood. We would fall asleep late, well wrapped up in our blankets against the dawn chill. But this image I can’t shake off at this melancholy hour is of that old man advancing beneath the rain, stubborn, silent, like someone fulfilling a destiny nothing can change, except death. This old man, whom I can almost touch with my hand, doesn’t know how he will die. He doesn’t know yet that a few days before his final day, he will have a presentiment that the end has come and will go from tree to tree in his garden, embracing their trunks and saying goodbye to them, to their friendly shade, to the fruits he will never eat again. Because the great shadow will have arrived, until memory brings him back to life and finds him walking along that sodden path or lying beneath the dome of the sky and the eternally questioning stars. What word would he utter then?

translated by Margaret Jull Costa

from Small Memories by Jose Saramago

There you were, grandma, sitting on the sill outside your house, open to the vast, starry night, to the sky of which you knew nothing and through which you would never travel, to the silence of the fields and the shadowy trees, and you said, with all the serenity of your ninety years and the fire of an adolescence never lost: “The world is so beautiful, it makes me sad to think I have to die.” In those exact words. I was there.

translated by Margaret Jull Costa