Yesterday a crowd of six friends descended on us for lunch and I sent them all out into the garden to sit in the winter sunshine, listen to birds and learn again to just breathe and be. City life can make people so hectic. We sat outside in the sheltered garden and ate grilled eggplant and red bell peppers, some roast chicken, baked and spiced butternut, tossed green salads. A skinny girlish woman of 47 ate more than anyone else and finished the Tarte Tatin all by herself, which is one of the enviable mysteries of appetite and metabolism.
One of my favourite writers, the sceptioc and fantasist — what a combination! – Portueguese novelist José Saramago has died:
Blind. The apprentice thought, “we are blind”, and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures. Then the apprentice, as if trying to exorcise the monsters generated by the blindness of reason, started writing the simplest of all stories: one person is looking for another, because he has realised that life has nothing more important to demand from a human being. The book is called All the Names. Unwritten, all our names are there. The names of the living and the names of the dead.
For many years, during my childhood and adolescence, I lived in the borderlands of Portuguese East Africa and when I first read Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese writer born in Durban, South Africa a window opened on the world, Pessoa studied in Cape Town and then moved to Lisbon where he began to produce philosophical fictions written under different pseudonyms or heteronyms. He was in many ways a man of subtle and multiple identities, the forerunner of many post-modernist sensibilities. His noms de plume included: Chevalier de Pas, Dr. Pancrácio, David Merrick, Charles Robert Anon, Alexander Search, Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis. Reading Portuguese writers and poets, many of whom were profoundly concerned with the wars fought in Portugal’s colonies in Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau was my introduction into a Latino and European way of seeing the world, a way of interpreting Lusaphone Africa, I knew these jungly and war-torn countries, their towns and coastal cities, when they were under military dictatorship, places of great natural and architectural beauty with foul plumbing, cruel bull-fights and suppressed social violence. The works of writers like Saramago helped me make sense of what I saw and experienced as a child, the radicalised understandings and imaginative storytelling I w0uld find again in later writers such as Mia Couto and Ana Paula Tavares, as well as the magic realism of Latin American writers. They were like friends, writers who taught me to understand the inexplicable or unbearable.
Later today I am going to help an AA friend, sober seven years, move into a new seaside apartment. It is fiddly unpacking — sorting out linens and stacking bookshelves and hanging up tops and skirts. As we work, we will talk about the Steps. We always talk about recovery when we are together, it is that kind of a friendship: how we work the Steps in our lives, the struggles and unwillingness to change or let go and the new insights or ‘lightbulb’ moments that come to us as time passes and we come through different challenges and learning curves. The places in therapy we get stuck, the thorny question of faith, and patterns in relationships, the frustration and disappointments in work and family life. And we affirm for one another the freedom from that old shadow of addiction that makes it all worthwhile.