Friday, 22 January 2010

In the Manner of Jose Saramago

Having walked over a Roman bridge and sat down outside with his coffee in the shade of a 13th-century castle, the traveller, you will notice, even if like him you woke, short minutes ago, shown into light in the manner of a grandparent escorting his six-year-old grand-daughter onto the stage of a school concert at an hour already one or two past her usual bedtime, is not in Hillsdale.

Here the traveller, as if anticipating your next observation, that, to repeat the common expression, as a corollary to what you’ve already observed, you can’t take the country from the man, withdraws a packet of photographs, from Hillsdale, you assume, though couldn’t they just as logically, perhaps more so, contain newly printed images of Mertola, ten days and six time zones from home, from a compartment of his backpack on which the zipper has given out, the significance of which will soon become apparent.

What could be in these photographs? What could be in any photograph, you might just as well ask, knowing that only repeated viewing, accompanied by textual interventions, make sense, if that’s what you’re expecting, of such images. Couldn’t we crane in to have a look? But why does he not open the packet, perhaps show the young woman from the Turismo, dark-haired, like almost all the women here, not that the traveller has paid much attention, although no attention need be spent on such a mundane matter, who just now has sat down, they exchange the customary bom dia, a table or two behind.

She’s been kind, patching his broken Portuguese, during his daily visits, even Sundays in winter, when even most of the cafes close, to say nothing of the shops, for free internet access at the Turismo where the young woman, he must find out her name, answers the phone with a cheery Sim and his queries at her desk with a polite Yes, often expanded to Oh yes, let me show you, with accompanying unfolding of maps or getting up from her desk to retrieve a brochure from the display behind the traveller, who rotates on his spot like some kinetic sculpture left out too long in the garden this rainy winter, to follow her, uncertain where she’s going, his body thus mirroring the occasionally clumsy machinations of his mind, a reversal of the usual order.

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