Archive for September, 2008

Berlusconi & Co.

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on September 17, 2008 by jkiparsky

The following text was written by Jose Saramago, and appears in Portuguese on his blog, O Caderno de Saramago (“Saramago’s Notebook”,, dated 17 September 2008. The translation is mine.

The original may be found at

Berlusconi & Co.

According to the American magazine Forbes, the Gotha of worldly wealth, Berlusconi’s fortune reaches about 10 thousand millions of dollars. Honorably earned, of course, although not without outside help, as, for example, mine. As I am published in Italy by Einaudi, property of said Berlusconi, I have earned him some money. The tiniest drop in the ocean, obviously, but at least I must be giving him enough to pay for his cigars, assuming that corruption is not his only vice. Except for what is common knowledge, I know little of the life and miracles of Silvio Berlusconi, il Cavilieri. The Italian people, who have once, twice, three times set him in the Prime Minister’s chair, must know much more than I. Now, as one often hears, the people are sovereign, and not only sovereign, but also wise and prudent, above all since the continued exercise of democracy got the citizens accustomed to certain useful understandings about how politics functions and about the various ways of reaching power. This means that the people know very well what they want when they are called to vote. In the concrete case of the Italian people, of whom we are speaking, and not of any other (their time will come) it is demonstrated that the sentimental leaning that they feel for Berlusconi, shown three times, is indifferent to any consideration of moral order. Really, in the land of the mafia and the camorra, how important can the proven fact be, that the prime minister is a lawbreaker? In a country in which justice never enjoyed a good reputation, what more does it matter that the prime minister can approve laws in accordance with his interests, protecting himself against whatever attempt at punishment of his defiances and abuses of authority?

Eça de Queiroz said that, if we were to walk around and institution laughing, it would fall over, reduced to pieces. This was before. What do we say of the recent prohibition, ordered by Berlusconi, of the showing of Oliver Stone’s film “W.”? Have the powers of il Caviliere come this far? How is it possible that he has committed so arbitrary an act, despite our knowing that however many belly-laughs we throw at the Quirinal, it won’t fall? Our indignation is justified, although we must make an effort to understand the complexity of the human heart. W. is a film that attacks Bush, and Berlusconi, a man of heart as a mafia chief may be, is a friend, colleague, pal of the still-president of the United States. They are good for each other. What would not be good for anyone is if the Italian people came to put Berlusconi’s buttocks a fourth time in the seat of power. There would not be, then, a belly laugh that could save us.

George Bush, or: The Age Of Lies

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on September 17, 2008 by jkiparsky

The following text was written by Jose Saramago and appears (in Portuguese) on his web site at

The translation is by me, the words are Saramago’s.

The original text may be found at
George Bush, or, The Age of Lies
I wonder how and why the United States, a country large in every way, has had, so often, such small presidents. George Bush is perhaps the smallest of them all. Of mediocre intelligence, abysmal ignorance, confused verbal expression and always drawn to the irresistable temptation of sheer nonsense, this man is presented to humanity with the grotesque pose of a “cowboy” who has inheirited the world and got it confused with a spread of cattle. We don’t know what he really thinks, we don’t even know whether he thinks (in the noble sense of the word), we don’t know if he isn’t just a poorly programmed robot that constantly mixes up the messages he carries recorded within him. But, let honor be done to him at least once in his life, there is in the robot George Bush, president of the United States, a program that functions perfectly: the lie. He knows he is lying, he knows that we know he is lying, but, being by nature a compulsive liar, he continues to lie even when he has the most naked truth before his eyes, he continues to lie even after the truth has exploded in his face. He lied to make the war in Iraq as he lied about his turbulent and equivocal past, that is, with the same barefacedness. The lie, in Bush, comes from very far off, it is in his blood. Like a liar emeritus, he is the choir-master of all the other liars that surrounded him, applauded him, and served him in the last years.

George Bush expelled the truth from the world in order, in its places, to bring to fruit the age of the lie. Human society today is contaminated with lies like the worst of moral contaminations, and he is one of the most responsible parties. A lie circulates with impunity everywhere, and now even becomes a sort of “different truth”. When a few years ago a Portuguese prime minister, whose name I omit out of charity, claimed that “politics is the art of not telling the truth”, he could not imagine that George Bush, some time later, would turn the shocking affirmation into a naive naughtiness of peripheral politics without real awareness of the value or the significance of the words. For Bush, politics is, simply, one of the levers of business, and perhaps the best of them all, the lie is like a weapon, the lie is like the advance force of tanks and cannons, the lie stands atop the ruins, atop the dead, atop the miseries and always frustrated hopes of humanity. It is not clear that the world would be safer today, but we can’t doubt that it would be much cleaner without the colonial and imperial politics of the president of the United States, George Walker Bush, and of some, conscious of the fraud they’ve committed, who laid his path to the White House. History will demand an accounting.

Saramago: Forgiveness For Darwin?

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on September 17, 2008 by jkiparsky

To be quite clear: the text below was written by Jose Saramago and published on his blog ( on 17 September 2008. The translation is mine, the words are not. Comments on either the words or my rendering of them are welcome.

Original text can be found at

    A pardon for Darwin?

Good news, the naive readers will say, supposing that after so many wrongs have been corrected, here is yet one more. The Anglican Church, that British version of  Catholicism established in the time of Henry VIII as official religion of the kingdom, announced an important decision: to ask forgiveness from Charles Darwin, now that we are commemorating the two hundredth year since his birth, for the wrong that was done to him after the publication of the Origin of Species and, above all, after the Descent of Man. I have nothing against the apologies that come about almost every day for one reason or another, unless it is to question their usefulness. Even if Darwin were alive and inclined to show his benevolence, saying, “Yes, I forgive you” the generous word could not extinguish a single insult, a single calumny, a single instance of scorn of the many that fell down on him. The only one that will gain any benefit from this will be the Anglican Church, which will see its capital of good conscience augmented, at no cost. Sill, they are to be thanked for their repentance, however delayed, that will perhaps spur Pope Benedict XVI, travelling at the moment on a diplomatic mission having to do with secularism, to ask the forgiveness of Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno, particularly the latter, tortured in a Christian manner, with much charity, to his own bonfire where he was burned.

This request for forgiveness of the Anglican Church will not please the creationists of the United States. They will feign indifference, but it is plain that it is not in accord with their plans. For those republicans who, like their vice-presidential candidate, wave the flag of this pseudo-scientific aberration, called creationism.

Words For a City

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on September 17, 2008 by jkiparsky

The text that follows was written by Jose Saramago, and posted at on 17 September, 2008.

(original text is at

The translation, such as it is, is mine – I welcome any comments on either the text or the translation….

Words For a City

Sorting through some papers that have lost the freshness of novelty, I found an article about Lisbon I wrote some years ago, and I’m not ashamed to say, it moved me. Perhaps because it’s not really an article, but a love letter, a letter of love for Lisbon. I decided to share it with my readers and friends, making it public once more, now on the infinite page of the internet, and with it to inaugurate my new personal space on this blog.

Words For a City

There was a time when Lisbon did not have this name. They called it Olisipo when the Romans came, Olissibouna when the Moors took it, which soon became Aschbouna, perhaps because they didn’t know how to pronounce the barbaric word. When the Moors were defeated, in 1147, after a three-month siege,  the name didn’t change in the next hour: if he who was to become our first king wrote to his family to announce the fact, most likely he wrote to the lofty Aschbouna, 24 October, or Olissibona, but not to Lisbon. When did Lisbon become Lisbon, in fact and by right? At least some years had to pass before the new name was born, as many as it took for the Galician Conqistadores to begin to become Portuguese…

These historical details are of little interest, you will say, but to me they are very interesting, not only to know but to see, in the exact sense of the word, how Lisbon has changed since those days. If the cinema had existed then, if the old chroniclers were camera operators, if the thousand and one changes through which Lisbon passed over the ages were to be born and move like a living being, like the flowers the television shows us, opening up in a few seconds, from the closed bud to the final splendor of forms and colors. I believe that I would love that Lisbon above all things.

Physically, we inhabit a space, but, sentimentally, we are inhabited by a memory. A memory of a space and of a time, a memory inside of which we live, like an island between two seas: one which we call the past, one which we call the future. We can sail on the sea of the near past thanks to personal memory that conserves the memory of its course, but to nevigate the sea of the remote past, we have to use the memories that time accumulates, the memories of an always changing space, as fleeting as our own time. This film of Lisbon, compressing time and expanding space, would be the perfect memory of a city.

What we know of places is that we coincide with them for a certain time in the space that they are. The place is there, the person appears, the the person leaves, the place is still there, the place has made the person, the person has transformed the place. When I had to recreate the place and time of Lisbon where Ricardo Reis lived out his last year, I knew beforehand that the two notions of time and space would not coincide: that of the timid adolescent that I was, sealed in his social condition, and that of the genial and lucid poet who frequented the highest reaches of the spirit. My Lisbon was always that of the poor neighborhoods, and when, much later, circumstances brought me to live in other environments, the memory I preferred to keep was that of the Lisbon of my early years, the Lisbon of people who had little and felt much, still rural in their habits and their comprehension of the world.

Perhaps it’s impossible to speak of a city without citing some notable dates from its historical existence. Here, speaking of Lisbon, only one was mentioned, that of its becoming Portuguese: the sin of glorification wouldn’t be very serious…. I would learn, indeed, to give up that patriotic exaltation that. lacking real anemies on whom to make our supposed power fall, tries the facile stimuli of rhetorical evocation. Rhetorical commemorations, not being necessarily an evil, belong however to a sentiment of self-complacency that brings one to confuse words with actions, when they gather in a place that belongs only to them.

On that day in October, the then still hardly begun Portugal took a big step forward and so firm was it that it didn’t turn Lisbon into a lost being. But let us not permit ourselves the Napoleonic vanity of exclaiming: “From the high castle let us contemplate eighty years”  – and applaud ourselves after a few more for having lasted so long…. Let us consider first that the blood spilled on one side and the other is made of the blood that we carry in our veins, we, the heirs of this city, children of Christians and Moors, of Indians and (Amarelos), of all races and creeds that call themselves good, of all creeds and races that are called evil. We leave in the ironic peace of the tombs those wandering minds that, in a not-distant past, invented for Portugal a “Day of Race” and reasserted the magnificent mixing not only of blood but also of cultures that founded Portugal and made it last until today.

Libson has changed in recent years, it was able to agree in consciousness with its citizens the renewal of strength that pulled it from the morass into which it had fallen. In the name of modernization, they raise concrete walls over the old stones, the profiles of the hills change, the panoramas are altered, the angles of vision are modified. But the spirit of Lisbon survives, and it is the spirit that makes cities eternal. Intoxicated with that crazy love and that divine enthusiasm that inhabit us poets, Camoes wrote one day, saying of Lisbon: “…city that is easily the princess of other cities.” We pardon the exaggeration. Enough that Lisbon simply be what it should be: cultured, modern, clean, organized – without losing anything of its soul. And if all of these blessings end up making her a queen, let it be so. In the republic we always welcome such queens.