Monday, June 21, 2010

Tiny a tribute

Thus José Saramago began his Nobel lecture*:
The wisest man I ever knew in my whole life could not read or write. At four o'clock in the morning, when the promise of a new day still lingered over French lands, he got up from his pallet and left for the fields, taking to pasture the half-dozen pigs whose fertility nourished him and his wife. My mother's parents lived on this scarcity, on the small breeding of pigs that after weaning were sold to the neighbours in our village of Azinhaga in the province of Ribatejo. Their names were Jerónimo Meirinho and Josefa Caixinha and they were both illiterate. In winter when the cold of the night grew to the point of freezing the water in the pots inside the house, they went to the sty and fetched the weaklings among the piglets, taking them to their bed. Under the coarse blankets, the warmth from the humans saved the little animals from freezing and rescued them from certain death. Although the two were kindly people, it was not a compassionate soul that prompted them to act in that way: what concerned them, without sentimentalism or rhetoric, was to protect their daily bread, as is natural for people who, to maintain their life, have not learnt to think more than is needful. 
And these were his last words:
I conclude. The voice that read these pages wished to be the echo of the conjoined voices of my characters. I don't have, as it were, more voice than the voices they had. Forgive me if what has seemed little to you, to me is all. 

Well, I do have nothing to forgive.
José Saramago's voice to me was and is not all - and sometimes his style would cause me a frown - but his Seeing of the Blindness in the Cave we call progressing civilisation means much for me.
So much, indeed, that in the cathedral of this agnostic's heart there's been lit a candle of thankfulness.

And yes! Amongst the wisest (wo)men I ever knew in my (so far not) whole life were quite a few who could hardly read or write.

* The complete English translation is to be found here.

Anticipating some non-permanent readers' thoughts and answering them:

Ah, a communist. - Nah.
Ah, an atheist. - Nah. Although, I do like Buñuel's aphorism: I am atheist, thanks to god.

Ah, ... - Nah!  Why not come back and try harder?


  1. It's just occurred to me that I have never read any of his work. I must rectify that now

  2. like you jams, I have not read any of his work... must dig deeper now that I am intrigued...

  3. I don't know when the old Roman Catholic celibate men (who play at being the conscience keepers of the world) will learn that to put a book on a forbidden list is to guarantee it will become a bestseller, whether the book has a literary value of not.

    Amazing the little faith those religious men have in the God they pretend to represent. The God whom I know will survive any book against Him. He is not easily insulted and ultra sensitive. He is also always instantly forgiving.

    I have a lot more problems with José de Sousa Saramago's style than with his politics and anti-god stands. Actually, he shows a profound understanding of the struggles confronting our human life and spiritual soul.

  4. Sean, I'm much too shallow for you and José.

  5. Claudia,
    his style takes getting used to - to put it mildly - but ...

    Jams, Nevin,
    I commend to start with Blindness as certain protagonists do recur in Seeing.

    three out of x possible replies:

    - Apart from that rather than shallow I'd have expected to read sluggish, this implicates that I am shallow as I do enjoy visiting your blog. I am shocked.

    - As one of my teachers in such cases used to say: Understatement is at least as bad as overstatement.

    - :)

  6. RIP José

    forever quietly sitting reading in Azinhaga

  7. Calum,
    thus you took all (replies), i.e Omnium, as they were meant.
    May you tomorrow once again succeed in not falling off the ladder.

    welcome at Omnium; and thank you!
    The people of Azinhaga are privileged. And as I hear, soon they (and the tourists to come) will - so to speak - be able to visit parts of the village's most famous son. The ash of which part of his body has not been mentioned, though, in the article I read the other day.
    Anyway, who knows, Azinhaga might might become Portugal's Stratford on Avon. ... At least, I do see tourism-strategists being already at work.
    Again, thank you very much. And the peace of the night; after which we might (virtually) meet while listening to Calum's 'Music in the morning'.

  8. JD - How lovely! Thank you. If I could finally learn how to link, I would put my friend (Canadian Musician Glenn Gould) sitting on his bench in Toronto, next to José's reading in Azinhaga. Somehow, I know that they would enjoy one another's company, originality and genius, while respecting one another's privacy.

    We're so privileged that we're allowed to enter in the life of such people and get a glimpse of what moves their heart and mind.

  9. ha!

    he was named Saramago because the Registrar was drunk

    (it's a good story whether it is true or not)

  10. Ha ha, JD, whether the registrar was drunk or not, the story has (obviously) been told by Saramago [sic] himself.

    Quoting the following with thanks to Norbert Blei:

    "I was born in a family of landless peasants, in Azinhaga, a small village in the province of Ribatejo, on the right bank of the Almonda River, around a hundred kilometres north-east of Lisbon. My parents were José de Sousa and Maria da Piedade. José de Sousa would have been my own name had not the Registrar, on his own inititiave added the nickname by which my father’s family was known in the village: Saramago. I should add that saramago is a wild herbaceous plant, whose leaves in those times served at need as nourishment for the poor."

    Ah, aren't certain anecdotes spicing life?