All the Names: Jose Saramago, Margaret Costa: posavski-obzor.info: Books
BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA By Jose Saramago. Such sardonic interventions suggest that in relation to Padre Bartolomeu's fantasy of flight. Claudinha's parents are unhappy in marriage. . Try "Balthasar and Blimunda", " The History of the Seige of Lisbon", or "The Year of the Death. After his divorce in , he initiated a relationship which lasted till. with . with the blasphemous and humorous love-story Baltasar and Blimunda, a novel set in .. are complete, 'The Center' recants: there is no market for them.
The explicit sexuality of the book which may have kept it from being considered for publication in Salazar's Portugal in is remarkable now only because it is so compassionate. Frustration, moral squalor, insecurity, all at close quarters, inevitably breed competition and malice. Moving from character to character, the loosely plotted story includes a good deal of mean-spirited evildoing, quite in the tradition of Balzac and the naturalists.
It also includes dry humour, and at least one tranquil domestic scene revealed suddenly as almost visionary: Four women sitting round the table. The steaming plates, the white tablecloth, the ceremonial of the meal. On this side — or perhaps on the other side too — of the inevitable noises lay a dense, painful silence, the inquisitorial silence of the past observing us and the ironic silence of the future that awaits us.
In later Saramago novels careful, honest workmen like him will appear, always significant, always wearing their significance lightly. Silvestre is married to Mariana, "so fat as to be comical, so kind as to make one weep" — a thoroughly good marriage of calm-souled, generous people. The reactionaries who now control his country crushed Silvestre's fierce social and political hopes, but not his spirit.
He is a patient man, and his patience, his contentment, come across as far more than mere accommodation to defeat. His disregard for his own safety during the struggle against the Salazar dictatorship is remembered by the Lisbon novelist Mario de Carvalho: His political convictions and ideals go on, they don't change, they don't twist.
He was a communist when it was very difficult to be a communist. According to the Wall Street Journal more than 20 years later, the Stalinist future Nobel laureate "was a strident promoter of 'true socialism' against 'bourgeois democracy', overseeing the saneamento or purges of so-called fascist elements from the Portuguese media". Saramago was the voice of the typographers, of the printers, of the sellers on the streets. For several months he lived in a village in the Alentejo, one of the poorest parts of Europe, a province of harsh weather and poor soil and a prime target for land reform.
The novel that resulted, Levantado do Ch"o, a chronicle of three generations of a peasant family, was the first fruit of his long wait to have something "worth telling".
It introduced his characteristic narrative method - an astringent discursiveness, a style that is omniscient and restrained, a musical and apparently ageless language, a light touch with irony, and dialogue that dispenses with the rules of punctuation.
According to Zeferino Coelho, his editor, "Saramago was known mainly as a political activist, and when Levantado do Ch"o was published it was a book with a strong political message, but its literary value was evident.
Nobody had written a book like it before. In the late s he sided with a reformist rebellion whose protagonists were expelled, but he remained within the party, cultivating a personal friendship with the party patriarch Alvaro Cunhal; in Octoberreturning to Lisbon to receive the freedom of the city, he stayed the following day to take part in a vigil by the left-wing union confederation CGTP-IN against revision of the employment laws, and the same month in Oporto took the stage with Fidel Castro to protest against the Cuban blockade.
How can a writer, who has described his own literary advice as "Begin with the imagination, but from then on let reason prevail", continue to be a communist after Stalin and the gulag - after the Berlin Wall has crumbled? I carry inside me a hormone that means I have no other choice than to be a communist.
You can ask, 'against everything'? What about the barbarities and crimes committed? My answer is that there is probably no difference between the negative, criminal, horrendous, horrible things done in the name of communism and everything that the human being has done throughout history in the name of the best intentions.
Christianity is a good example: Forgiveness, love and compassion are things we're able to show now and then, but they have ended up being submerged by the mass of badness that we also carry.
That is why I logically continue to be what I am. Despite his political disclaimer, strong messages are passed to his readers. In Baltasar and Blimunda, we are educated in the vanity and cruelty of the 18th century, extenuated by love and the dreams that "hold the world in its orbit"; in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis we are led back to Lisbon into the creation of Salazar's fascist militias, to confront Pessoa's poet with his own bitter aphorism: In his latest novel, The Cave, we are drawn into a village potter's struggle against 21st-century economic forces.
But we know what globalisation is like. Nobody can delude themselves any longer about what its final project is.
José Saramago. Baltasar and Blimunda
Today human mentality is formed within another large space called the shopping centre. And the illusion there is constant. He radiates a courtly calm and is capable of great warmth in gesture and conversation. Read around the world, he is probably read least in France and Britain. John Banville suggests that this might be due to an "involuntary small sigh of foreboding" among British readers at the European vagueness of his narratives.
But without the grist of quotidian reality, the mills of fiction grind very dull. In her view "the roots of Saramago's tales run deep, tapping into a European tradition of exemplary fictions, in which the human soul resists the encroaching forces of dehumanising bureaucracies". But she also thinks that "for a reader raised on the English-language tradition of the novel, Saramago's passionate and insistent moral messages can sometimes feel coercive".
In an interview two years ago he admitted, not without irony, that "Probably I'm an essay writer who, as he doesn't know how to write essays, writes novels instead. But any ideology is ruinous for a novelist. Carlos Reis, the author of Dialogues with Saramago, says that "From the dramatic point of view this is an important and accurate novel [but] when a new situation arises, like this shopping centre, you tend to ask 'what now?
I must confess that I prefer his first books. The altar lamps were duly returned to Xabregas, and the reader may believe what he likes. In the end, the student would have been completely exonerated, had he not become involved in yet another dubious episode.
Given similar precedents, because the Franciscans are so well endowed with means to change, overturn, or hasten the natural order of things, even the recalcitrant womb of the Queen must respond to the solemn injunction of a miracle. All the more so since the Franciscan Order has been petitioning for a convent in Mafra since the year sixteen hundred and twenty-four, a time when the King of Portugal was a Felipe imported from Spain, who had little interest in the religious communities of Portugal and persisted in withholding his permission throughout the sixteen years of his reign.
The judges of the Court of Appeal reserved the right to determine what those inconveniences dictated by human wisdom might be, but now they will have to hold their tongues and bury their dark thoughts, for Friar Antony of St Joseph has promised that once the friars have their convent there will be an heir to the throne. A pledge has been made, the Queen will give birth, and the Franciscan Order will gather the palm of victory, just as it has gathered so many palms of martyrdom. A hundred years of waiting is no great sacrifice for those who count on living for all eternity.
We saw how the student was finally exonerated of blame in the episode of the stolen altar lamps.
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But it would be folly to suggest that because of secrets divulged in the confessional the friars knew of the Queen's pregnancy even before the Queen herself knew and could confide in the King. Just as it would be wrong to suggest that Dona Maria Ana, because she was such a pious lady, agreed to remain silent until the appearance of God's chosen messenger, the virtuous Friar Antony.
Nor can anyone say the King will be counting the moons from the night the pledge was given until the day the child is born, and find the cycle complete.
There is nothing to add to what has already been said. So let not Franciscans be impugned, unless they should become involved in other equally dubious intrigues. I N THE COURSE OF the year some people die from having overindulged during their lifetime, which explains why apoplectic fits recur one after another, why sometimes only one is needed to dispatch a victim to his grave, and why even when spared death they remain paralysed down one side, their mouths all twisted, sometimes unable to speak, and without hope of an effective cure apart from continuous blood-lettings.
But many more people die from malnutrition, unable to survive on a miserable diet of sardines and rice along with some lettuce, and a little meat when the nation celebrates the King's birthday. May God grant that our river yield an abundance of fish, and let us give praise to the Holy Trinity with this intention in mind. And may lettuce and other produce arrive from the surrounding countryside, transported in great baskets filled to the brim by the country swains and maidens who do not excel in these labours.
And may there be no intolerable shortage of rice. For this city, more than any other, is a mouth that gorges itself on one side and starves on the other, and there is no happy medium between ruddy and pale complexions, between bulging and bony hips, between great paunches and shrivelled bellies.
But Lent, like the rising sun, is for everyone. The excesses of Shrovetide could be seen throughout the city, those who could afford it stuffed themselves with poultry and mutton, with doughnuts and fritters, outrages were committed on every street corner by those who never miss an opportunity to take liberties, derisive tails were pinned to fugitive backs, water was squirted on faces with syringes meant for other purposes, the unwary were spanked with strings of onions, and wine was imbibed, accompanied by the inevitable belching and vomiting, there was a clanging of pots and pans, bagpipes were played, and if more people did not end up rolling on the ground, in the side streets, squares, and alleyways, it is only because the city is filthy, its roads full of sewage and rubbish, crawling with mangy dogs and stray cats, and mud everywhere even when there is no rain.
Now the time has come to pay for all these excesses, the time to mortify the soul so that the flesh may feign repentance, the depraved, rebellious flesh of this pathetic and obscene pigsty known as Lisbon. The Lenten procession is about to commence.
Let us mortify our flesh with fasting and abstinence, let us punish our bodies with flagellation. By eating frugally, we can purify our thoughts, through suffering we can purge our souls. The penitents, all of them male, head the procession, and they are followed by the friars who carry the banners bearing images of the Virgin and of Christ crucified. Behind them comes the bishop under an ornate canopy, and then the effigies of saints carried on litters, followed by an endless regiment of priests, confraternities, and guilds, all of whom are intent upon salvation, some convinced they are already damned, others tortured by uncertainty until they are summoned to Judgment, and there may even be some among them who are quietly thinking that the world has been mad since it was conceived.
The procession wends its way through the crowds lining the streets, and as it passes, men and women prostrate themselves on the ground, claw their faces, tear their hair out, and inflict blows on themselves, while the bishop makes fleeting signs of the cross to right and left and the acolyte swings his thurible.
Lisbon stinks, but the incense bestows meaning on this putrid stench of decay, a stench that comes from the wickedness of the flesh, for the soul is fragrant. Women can be seen watching from the windows, as is the custom. The penitents walk slowly, with balls and chains twisted round their ankles, or with their arms holding massive iron bars across their shoulders as if they were suspended from a cross, or they scourge themselves with leather thongs ending in balls of solid wax spiked with glass splinters, and these flagellants are considered to be the highlight of the spectacle, as real blood flows down their backs and they give out loud cries, of pleasure as much as pain, which we should find a little strange if we did not know that some of the penitents have spotted their mistresses at the windows, and they are in the procession not so much for the salvation of their souls as for inciting carnal pleasures, those already experienced and those still to come.
As the penitent arrives beneath the window of his beloved, she throws him a haughty glance, she is probably chaperoned by her mother, cousin, or governess, or by some indulgent grandmother or sour old aunt, but they are all aware of what is happening, thanks to their own memories, recent or distant, that God has nothing to do with all this fornication, the ecstasies at the windows mirroring the ecstasies on the street below, the flagellant on his knees, whipping himself into a frenzy and calling out in pain, while the woman ogles the vanquished male and parts her lips to drink his blood and the rest.
The procession has paused, allowing the ritual to be concluded, the bishop has bestowed his blessing and consecration, the woman experiences languorous sensations, and the man passes on, relieved that he can now stop scourging himself with quite so much vigour, for now it is the turn of others to satisfy the cravings of their mistresses.
Once they have started to mortify their flesh and observe the rules of fasting, it seems that they will have to tolerate these privations until Easter and they must suppress their natural inclinations until the shadows pass from the countenance of Holy Mother Church, now that the Passion and death of Christ are nigh. The streets of Lisbon are full of women all dressed alike, their heads covered with mantillas and shawls that have only the tiniest opening to allow the ladies to signal with their eyes or lips, a common means of secretly exchanging forbidden sentiments and illicit desires, throughout the streets of this city, where there is a church on every corner and a convent in every quarter, spring is in the air and turning everyone's head, and when no breeze blows, there is always the sighing of those who unburden their souls in the confessionals, or in secluded places conducive to other forms of confession, as adulterous flesh wavers on the brink of pleasure and damnation, for the one is as inviting as the other during this period of abstinence, bare altars, solemn mourning, and omnipresent sin.
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By day their ingenuous husbands will be enjoying, or at least pretending to enjoy, their siestas, by night, when streets and squares mysteriously fill with crowds smelling of onion and lavender, and the murmur of prayers can be heard through the open doors of churches, they feel at greater ease as they will not have long to wait now, someone is already knocking at the door, steps can be heard on the stair, mistress and maid arrive, conversing intimately, and the black slave, too, if she has been brought along and through the chinks the light of a candle or oil lamp can be seen, the husband pretends to wake, the wife pretends that she has awakened him, and if he asks any questions, we know what her reply will be, she has come back exhausted, footsore, and with stiff joints, but feeling spiritually consoled, and she utters the magic number, I have visited seven churches, she says, with such vehemence that she has been guilty either of excessive piety or of some monstrous sin.
Queens are denied these opportunities of unburdening their souls, especially if they have been made pregnant and by their legitimate husband, who for nine months will no longer come near them, a rule widely accepted but sometimes broken.
Dona Maria Ana has every reason to exercise discretion, given the strict piety with which she had been brought up in Austria and her wholehearted compliance with the friar's strategy, thus showing, or at least giving the impression, that the child being conceived in her womb is as much a daughter for the King of Portugal as for God Himself, in exchange for a convent. The horse is startled, no doubt because of the clattering of the carriage on the cobblestones, but when the Queen compares these dreams she observes that the Infante comes a little closer each time, What can he want, and what does she want.
For some Lent is a dream, for others a vigil. The Easter festivities passed and wives returned to the gloom of their apartments and their cumbersome petticoats, at home there are a few more cuckolds, who can be quite violent when infidelities are practised out of season.
And since we are now on the subject of birds, it is time to listen in church to the canaries singing rapturously of love from their cages decorated with ribbons and flowers, while the friars preaching in the pulpits presume to speak of holier things. It is Ascension Thursday, and the singing of the birds soars to the vaults of heaven regardless of whether our prayers follow, without their assistance, our prayers have little hope of reaching God, so perhaps we shall all remain silent.
He was dismissed from the army where he was of no further use once his left hand was amputated at the wrist after being shattered by gunfire at Jerez de los Caballeros, in the ambitious campaign we fought last October with eleven thousand men, only to end with the loss of two hundred of our soldiers and the rout of the survivors, who were pursued by the Spanish cavalry dispatched from Badajoz.
By great good fortune, or by the special grace of the scapular he was wearing around his neck, his wound did not become gangrenous, nor did they burst his veins with the force of the tourniquet applied to stop the bleeding, and thanks to the surgeon's skill, it was only a matter of disarticulating the man's tendons, without having to cut through the bone with a handsaw.
This was how he spent the winter, putting aside half of the money he managed to collect, reserving half of the other half for the journey ahead, and spending the rest on food and wine. Crafted leather fittings were skilfully attached to the tempered irons, and there were two straps of different lengths to attach the implements to the elbow and shoulder for greater support. The army was in tatters, barefoot and reduced to rags, the soldiers pilfered from the farmers and refused to go on fighting, a considerable number went over to the enemy, while many others deserted, travelling off the beaten track, looting in order to eat, raping any women they encountered on the way, in short, taking their revenge on innocent people who owed them nothing and shared their despair.
There was no one waiting to greet him in Lisbon, and in Mafra, which he had left many years ago to join His Majesty's Infantry, his father and mother, if they remember him, will think he is alive since no one has reported him dead or believe him to be dead because they have no proof he is still alive.
All will be revealed in good time. The sun shines brightly and there has been no rain, the countryside is covered with flowers and the birds are singing. And when he starts to dream tonight, if he catches a glimpse of himself in his sleep he will see that he has no limbs missing, and will be able to rest his tired head on the palms of both hands.
Baltasar keeps the irons in his knapsack for another good reason. He very quickly discovered that whenever he wears them, especially the spike, people refuse him alms, or give him very little, although they always feel obliged to give him a few coins because of the sword he carries on his hip, despite the fact that everyone carries a sword, even the black slaves, but not with the gallant air of a professional soldier, who might wield it this very moment, if provoked.
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And unless the number of travellers outweighs the fear provoked by the presence of this brigand, who stands in the middle of the road, barring their passage and begging alms, alms for a poor soldier who has lost his hand and who but for a miracle might have lost his life, for the solitary traveller does not want this plea to turn to aggression, coins soon fall into the outstretched hand, and Baltasar is grateful that his right hand has been spared.
The robber who escaped stalked him for another half-league through the pine groves, but finally gave up the chase, continuing to curse and insult him from a distance but with no real conviction this would have much effect. He ate some fried sardines and drank a bowl of wine, and with barely enough money left for the next stage of his journey, let alone for lodgings at an inn, he sheltered in a barn, underneath some carts, and there he slept wrapped in his cloak, but with his left arm and the spike exposed.
He spent the night peacefully. When he opened his eyes, the first light of dawn had still not appeared on the eastern horizon, he felt a sharp pain in his left arm, which was not surprising, since the spike was pressing on the stump. He untied the straps and, using his imagination, all the more vivid at night, and especially in the pitch-black darkness under the carts, Baltasar convinced himself he still had two hands even if he could not see them.
He tucked his knapsack under his left arm, curled up under his cloak, and went back to sleep. At least he had managed to survive the war. He might have a limb missing, but he was still alive. As dawn broke, he got to his feet. The sky was clear and transparent, and even the palest stars could be seen in the distance. It was a fine day on which to be entering Lisbon, and with time to linger before continuing his journey, he postponed any decision.
Burying his hand in the knapsack, he took out his shoddy boots, which he had not worn once during the journey from Alentejo and had he worn them, he would have been obliged to discard them after such a long march, and demanding new skills from his right hand and using his stump, as yet untrained, he managed to get his feet into them, otherwise he would have them covered in blisters and calluses, accustomed as he was to walking in bare feet during his time as a peasant, then as a soldier, when there was never enough money to buy food, let alone to mend one's boots.
For there is no existence more miserable than a soldier's. When he reached the docks, the sun was already high.