Archive for the From Saramago’s Notebooks Category

Saramago: Five Films

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on July 23, 2009 by jkiparsky

Five Films
(Jose Saramago, July 23, 2009)
(Originally published as “Cinco filmes” on “O Caderno de Saramago”

I was asked to recall five films. I didn’t have to worry about whether they were the best or not, or the most famous, or the most-cited. It would be enough that they had struck me in some particular fashion, as we are struck by a look, a gesture, a tone of voice. It was not difficult to choose them, on the contrary, they came to me in a completely natural fashion, as if I could not have thought of any other thing. Here they are, then, but the order in which I name them is not and should not be taken as a classification of merit. In the first place (one of them had to open the list), “The salt of the earth”, by Herbert Biberman, which I saw in Paris at the end of the 1970s, and which moved me to tears: the story of the strike by Chicano minersand their brave wives shook me to the deepest parts of my soul. To follow it, I mention Ridley Scott’s “Blade runner”, which I also saw in Paris in a little theater in the Latin Quarter a little after its world debut and which, at this point, doesn’t seem to promise a great future. About Fellini’s “Amarcord”, nobody has any doubt, there was an absolute masterpiece, for me perhaps one of the best films by the Italian master. Next comes “The rules of the game” by Jean Renoir”, which dazzled me with its impeccable production, the direction of the actors, with its rhythm, its polish, ultimately with its “tempo”. And, to finish, a film that leaps to my memory as if it came from the first night of the stories by the fire, “Pat & Patachon as Millers”, those sublime (I’m not exaggerating) Danish actors who made me laugh (I was six or seven years old) like nobody else. Not Chaplin, not Buster keaton, not Harold Lloyd, not Laurel and Hardy. Anyone who hasn’t seen Pat and Patachon doesn’t know what they’ve missed….

(Translated by Jon Kiparsky, July 23, 2009)

“The first night of stories by the fire” – literally, “como se viesse da primeira noite da história dos contos á lareira”. I’m assuming he means something primeval, that this comes from way back before the dawn of time, but perhaps there’s a better explanation.

Pat & Patachon – I’d never heard of them either, but searching around I find that they were a comedy team duo, apparently in the early German film industry. Apparently they were Danish, according to Saramago, all I know so far is that the clips I’ve found are hilarious. Here’s one. And you don’t need to understand the German….

Saramago: Sastre

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on June 23, 2009 by jkiparsky

A commentary by José Saramago on the recent murder of a Spanish policeman and the reaction to it by playwright Alfonso Sastre. The original text appeared on Saramago’s Portuguese-language web journal, O Caderno de Saramago on 23 June, 2009.

by Jose Saramago

I met the playwright Alfonso Sastre more than thirty years ago. It was our only meeting. I never wrote to him, I never had a letter from him. I was left with the impression of a rough character, hard, in no way complacent, which did not make for light conversation, although he would not have made it difficult. I didn’t hear anything more about him, except for occasional and uninformative reports in the press, always in relation to his militant politics in the the ranks of the abertzales. In recent weeks, the name of Alfonso Sastre appeared as the head of the list of candidates in the European elections, as a member of a recently formed internationalist initiative. The assembly did not acheive representation in the Strasbourg parliament.

A few days ago the ETA murdered the policeman Eduardo Puelles by the almost infallible procedure of the bomb hidden in a car. The death was horrible, the fire charred the body of the unfortunate man, who was beyond help. This crime inspired a general wave of indignation all across Spain. No, not general. Alfonso Sastre has printed a threatening article in the Basque journal Gara in which he speaks of “times of much pain in place of peace” at the same time that he justifies the attacks as part of a “political conflict”, adding that there would be more attacks if negotiation were not opened with the ETA. I can hardly believe what I read. It was not Sastre who placed the bomb in Eduardo Puelles’ car, but what I did not expect was to see him as the supporter of murderers.


Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on May 16, 2009 by jkiparsky

The original of which the following text is a translation was posted, in Portuguese, to José Saramago’s “journal”, O Caderno de Saramago, on 22 September 2008.

The original text may be found at


I believe that all the words that we say, all the movements and gestures, finished or only sketched out, that we make, each of them and all together, can be understood as loose pieces of an unintentional autobiography that, although involuntary, or because of this, are no less sincere and true than the most detailed of the stories of a life transferred to writing and to the page. This conviction that everything we say and do in the length of time, even seeming bereft of significance and importance is, and it cannot be prevented from being, biographical expression, made me suggest one day, more seriously than it might seem at first, that all human beings should leave their lives told in writing, and that these thousands of millions of volumes, when they began to overflow the earth, should be brought to the moon. This would mean that the great, the enormous, the gigantic, the unmeasurable, the immense library of human existence would have to be divided, first, in two parts, and then, in time, into three, into four, or even into nine, supposing that on the eight remaining planets of the solar system, there would be ambient conditions so kind as to respect the fragility of paper. I imagine that the relations of those many lives that, being so simple and modest, could be acheived in only a half dozen pages, or even less, would be dispatched to Pluto, the most distant of the Sun’s children, where certainly researchers would rarely want to go.

Of course problems and doubts would arise when it was time to establish and define the criteria of the composition of these “libraries”. It would be incontestable, for example, that works like the diaries of Amiel, of Kafka, or Virginia Woolf, the biography of Samuel Johnson, the autobiography of Cellini, the memoirs of Casanova or the confessions of Rousseau, the equal of so many of equally human and literary importance, must remain on the planet where they were written, so they can be witness to the passage through this world of men and women who, for good or bad reasons that have lived, to leave a sign, a presence, an influence that, having lasted until today, would continue to leave the coming generations marked. The problems would arise when, in choosing what should remain or go into outer space one began to consider the inevitable subjective praising, the prejudices, fear, old or recent animosities, impossible pardons, delayed justifications, all that is terrible in life, despair and agony, in the end, human nature. I think that, in the end, it is best to leave things as they are. Like most of the best ideas, mine is also impractical. Patience.

Link: A profile of Saramago

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks, General on May 15, 2009 by jkiparsky

The nift-o-licious* WordPress feature which generates links between entries on this site has finally got one right. Behind this door, you will find an article by a Massachusetts journalist of Portuguese descent who conducted an interview with José Saramago some time back. This is much better than the time it linked from this to this.

In any case, anyone interested in reading amateur translations of Saramago’s journal is at least potentially interested in reading Senhor Cunha’s piece, to which I commend your attention.

*Ahem. Please notice hip, with-it coinage of stupid phrase for generic, unspecified, lazy approval.

Saramago: Pure Appearances

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on May 13, 2009 by jkiparsky

The following text is a translation from the Portuguese. It was originally published by José Saramago in his online “journal”: O Caderno de Saramago. The original text of this essay may be found under the title of Pura Aparência.

I suppose that in the beginning of beginnings, before we had invented speech, which is, as we know, the supreme creator of uncertainties, we weren’t tormented by any serious doubts about who we were and about our personal and collective relationship to with the place we found ourselves in. The world, obviously, could only be what we saw at each moment, and also, as important supplementary information, that which the remaining senses hearing, touch, smell, and taste – were able to perceive of it. In this initial moment, the world was pure appearance and pure surface. Matter was rough or smooth, bitter or sweet, bitter or tasteless, sonorous or silent, odorous or odorless. All things were what they seemed to be for the simple reason that there was no reason for them to seem to be anything else or to be anything else. In those ancient days, the idea that matter might be “porous” didn’t occur to us. Today, however, although aware that, from the last virus to the universe, we are nothing more than assemblages of atoms, and that inside them, besides the mass that they are and that defines them, there is space left over for nothingness (the absolutely compact does not exist, everything is permeable), we continue, as our ancestors in the caves did, to learn, identify, and recognize the world according to appearance that it presents to us. I imagine that the philosophical and the scientific spirit must have shown themselves one day when someone had the intuition that this appearance, while it is an exterior image the mind can capture and useable by it to map nknowledge, it could be, also, an illusion of the sense. If usually more referred to the moral world than the physical world, the popular expression is well known in which this took shape: “Appearances can be deceiving.” Or deceitful, which means the same thing. There is no lack of examples, if space permitted.

This scribbler has always been concerned with what is hidden behind mere appearances, and now I am not speaking of atoms and subatomic particles, which, as such, are always apprearance of something that is hidden. I speak, indeed, of ordinary, habitual, everyday questions, like, for example, the political system that we call democracy, that even Winston Churchill said was the least bad of the known systems. He didn’t say the best, he said the least bad. By what we are seeing, it will be said that we consider it more than sufficient, and this, I believe, is an error of perception that, without our noticing it, we pay for every day. I will return to this topic.

Saramago: Rosa Parks

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on May 13, 2009 by jkiparsky

This text is not written by me, it was posted (in Portuguese) by José Saramago to his blog on 9 November 2008.
( URL: )

The translation is mine, though.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, not Rosa Banks. A regrettable failure of the memory, which was not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, made me commit one of the worst slips that can be committed in the complex system of relations among people: to give someone a name which is not theirs. Except for the patient reader of these unambitious lines, I have nobody to ask forgiveness from, but it’s enough, to see myself punished for the mistake, the sense of intense shame that took hold of me when, soon afterward, I realized the gravity of the mistake. Still I thought of letting it go, but I resisted the temptation, and here I am to confess the error and to promise that from now on I will take care to verify everything, even if I think I am certain of the fact.

There are evils that come before the good, says the popular saying, and perhaps it’s true. I have thus the opportunity to return to Rosa Parks, that seamstress of forty-two years who, travelling on a bus in Montgomery, in the state of Alabama, on the first of December, 1955, refused to give up her seat to a person of the white race, as the bus driver ordered her. This offence took her to prison, accused of disturbing the public order. It must be explained that Rosa Parks was seated in the section designated for Negros, but as the section for whites was completely full, the white man wanted her seat.

In response to the jailing of Rosa Parks, Baptist preacher, relatively unknown at the time, Martin Luther King, led the protests against the Montgomery busses, which forced the public transit authorities to end the practice of racial segregation on their vehicles. That was the signal that unleashed other demonstrations against segregation. In 1956 the case of Rosa Parks finally came to the Supreme Court of the United States, which declared the segregation of public transit to be unconstitutional. Rosa Parks, who since 1950 had been a member of the NAACP, saw herself turned into an icon for the civil rights movement, for which she worked all of her life. She died in 2005. Without her, perhaps Barack Obama would not be President of the United States today.

The final blow (Saramago)

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on April 7, 2009 by jkiparsky

Following is a page from the notebooks of José Saramago (“O Caderno de Saramago“), published in Portuguese on 16 December 2008 under the title “O Golpe Final“.

The Final Blow
The laughter is immediate. To see the president of the United States hide behind a microphone while a shoe flies over his head is an excellent exercise for the muscles of the face that control one’s laughter. This man, famous for his abysmal ignorance and for his continuous linguistic follies, made us laugh many times in the last eight years. This man, also famous for other, less attractive reasons, paranoid stubbornness, has given us a thousand reasons to detest him, him and his acolytes, complicit in the lies and the intrigue, preverted minds that made international politics a tragic farce and simple dignity a target of absolute mockery. In truth, the world, despite the desolate spectacle offered to us every day, doesn’t deserve a Bush. We got him, we suffered through him, to the point that the victory of Barack Obama was considered by many people a sort of divine justice. Delayed, as justice usually is, but definitive. In the end, it wasn’t so, we lacked the final blow, we lack still that those shoes that an Iraqi television journalist threw at the lying and shameless facade he has on his forehead and that can be understood in two ways: either those shoes should have had feet in them and the target of that blow should have been that rounded part of the body where the back changes its name, or then that Mutazem al Kaidi (there is his name for posterity) would have found a more bruising and efficacious way of expressing his displeasure. By ridicule. A few kicks in addition would not be bad, but ridicule is forever. I vote for ridicule.

Saramago: The Watch

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on April 7, 2009 by jkiparsky

The following was originally published, in Portuguese, on José Saramago’s web site, “O Caderno de Saramago“, on 6 April 2009,  under the title “O Relogio”.

One of my friends has just offered me a pocket watch. Not just any machine, but an Omega. He promised to move earth and sky to get it, and he has been good to his word. You will say that fulfilling this promise wouldn’t present difficulties of any significance, all that is needed is to step into a watch shop and choose among the various models, including some which the buyer never imagined. The thing seems easy, but let the reader try to find in one of those watch shops an Omega made in 1922, the year of my birth, and tell me what happened. “Probably”, the employee would think, “this fellow has lost his balance wheel.”

My watch is spring-driven, every day it needs to have its store of energy renewed. It has a serious look which comes, I think, from the material, silver, of which is is made. The face is an example of clarity; to look at it consoles the heart. And the workings are protected by two covers, one of them hermetic, which not even the smallest particle of dust can penetrate. The worst thing is that the watch began to cause me problems of conscience from the first day. The first question that I asked myself was “Where do I put it? Do I condemn it to the darkness of a drawer?” Never, I haven’t got so hard a heart. “Then do I wear it?” I already have a wristwatch, of course, and it would be ridiculous to wear both, and it should be remembered that the ideal place for a pocket watch is a vest, which one no longer wears. I decided, therefore, to treat it as if it were a domestic animal. It spends two or three days lying on a little table beside where I work and I think that it is a happy watch. And, to consolidate our relationship, I decided to take it on my travels. It deserves it. It has a tendency to get ahead of itself a little, but that is the only defect I’ve found in it. Better that than falling behind.

The friend who gave me this present is named José Miguel Correia Noras and he lives in Santarém.

A bit of juvenile humor…

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks, General on January 5, 2009 by jkiparsky

Sometimes something strikes me as deeply funny, even while I know well that it is profoundly juvenile. This is one of those moments. To set it up, I have been reading, as a daily exercise in Portuguese, Jose Saramago’s published journals. I’m up to volume three now, and one of the threads he’s following is the terrier that showed up in late January. In the first entry of this volume, the dog, as yet unnamed, has leapt the wall and gone missing. So I come tonight to the entry for 4 January, and the first sentence is “A cadela está novamente em casa.” Naturally, I immediately read this in the most literal translation possible: “The bitch is back in the house”, and since then I’ve been unable to escape from the conjunction of Jose Saramago, Nobel Laureate and octogenarian, with the phrase “The bitch is back…”.
As a friend of mine used to say – it’s not funny, but it is.

To Anyone Interested (Saramago)

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on December 4, 2008 by jkiparsky

A brief note published on 4 December 2008, on O Caderno de Saramago, or “Saramago’s Notebook”.

In full, it reads:

    To Whom It May Concern
    I presented the Journey of the Elephant in Lisbon and I will take the opportunity to say that my head is spinning with the new book. Oof!

    The original text is almost shorter than the link, so here it is:

    A quem interesse
    By José Saramago

    Apresentei A Viagem do Elefante em Lisboa e aproveitei para dizer que a minha cabeça anda às voltas com um novo livro. Uff!