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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A purse of kisses (#54 Jose Saramago)

Tonight I went out with a yellow orchid in my hair. It has been a colourful evening of turquoise slips, red lips and vivid blue—all of Tretchikoff’s Chinese women and Balinese fruits were hanging over me as I sipped herb-flavoured water and ate edemame beans with my fingers and four-leaf salad with chopsticks. I only eat plants; leaves are very enjoyable and what’s more they are the thrifty choice. Now the crowd and Miss Wong are gone, and the orchid is out of my hair, but I’m still smitten with flowers, leaves and a plant: Raphanus Raphanistrum, a pungent raddish, known as Saramago in Portugal. ‘Saramago is a wild herbaceous plant, whose leaves in those times served at need as nourishment for the poor’. This is what José Saramago once explained. Saramago it seems to me is an excellent name for an author—the leaves of books, the pages, also at need, serve as nourishment for the poor.

I marvel at this plant-man’s words:

“The day will come when I will tell these things. Nothing of this matters except to me. A Berber grandfather from North Africa, another grandfather a swineherd, a wonderfully beautiful grandmother; serious and handsome parents, a flower in a picture – what other genealogy would I care for? and what better tree would I lean against?”

And he says too:

“Besides women’s talk, dreams are what hold the world in its orbit.”

I agree, José Saramago! You wild, herbaceous dreamer, author of this kiss from Baltasar and Blimunda

Blimunda drew near and placed her two hands over that of Baltasar and, with a concerted gesture, as if this were the only way it could be done, both of them pulled the rope. The sail veered to one side, allowing the sun to shine directly on the amber balls, and now what will happen to us. The machine shuddered, then swayed as if trying to regain its balance, there was a loud creaking from the metal plates and the entwined canes, and suddenly, as if it were being sucked in by a luminous vortex, it went up making two complete turns, and no sooner had it risen above the walls of the coach-house than it recovered its balance, raised its head like a seagull, and soared like an arrow straight up into the sky. Shaken by those rapid spins, Baltasar and Blimunda found themselves lying on the wooden deck of the machine, but Padre Bartolomeu Lourenço had grabbed one of the plummets that supported the sails, which allowed him to see the earth shrink at the most incredible speed, the estate was now barely visible, then lost amid the hills, and what’s that yonder in the distance, Lisbon, of course, and the river, ah, the sea, that sea which I, Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, sailed twice from Brazil, that sea which I sailed to Holland, to how many more continents on land and in the air will you transport me, Passarola, the wind roars in my ears, and no bird ever soared so high, if only the King could see me now, if only that Tomás Pinto Brandão who mocked me in verse could see me now, if only the Holy Office of the Inquisition could see me now, they would all recognise that I am the chosen son of God, yes, I, Padre Bartolomeu Lourenço, who am soaring through the skies aided by my genius, aided, too, by Blimunda’s eyes, if there are such eyes in heaven, and also assisted by Baltasar’s right hand, Here I bring you God, one who also has a left hand missing, Blimunda, Baltasar, come and look, get up from there, don’t be afraid.

They were not afraid, they were simply astounded at their own daring. The priest laughed and shouted. He had already abandoned the safety of the handrail and was running back and forth across the deck of the machine in order to catch a glimpse of the land below, north, south, east, and west, the earth looked so vast, now that they were so far away from it, Baltasar and Blimunda finally scrambled to their feet, nervously holding on to the cords, then to the handrail, dazed by the light and the wind, suddenly no longer frightened, Ah, and Baltasar shouted, We’ve done it, he embraced Blimunda and burst into tears, he was like a lost child, this soldier who had been to war, who had killed a man in Pegões with his spike, and was now weeping for joy as he clung to Blimunda, who kissed his dirty face.


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