Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Santa Catalina


José Saramago, in A Year in the Death of Ricardo Reis, describes the statue of Adamastor (a mythological force of nature, enemy to all Portuguese sailors, invented by 16th-century epic poet Camoes) as a “huge, roughly hewn block of stone” that “looks like an outcrop but is really a monument.”

The title character of the novel, which was published in translation in 1991, was an invention of the 20th-century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who himself appears as a character in the novel.

On a sunny day in February, 2010, I have the most sensational reading experience of my life when I walk up to the Santa Catalina viewpoint where the statue was installed in 1927 and read the scene set in that very place.

Today I do the same thing, which of course isn’t the same. Adamastor looks greyer than I remember. Or I’m the greyer one.

What I dig about Pessoa and Reis (who both lived and worked in a narrowly circumscribed area of Lisbon) and Saramago (whose travel and fictional writing manifest a deep, if not uncritical, love of Portugal and Lisbon) and revisiting this spot (such an attractive one too) at which we come together is the layering of focus on the local, which for me as a writer is everything.

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