Manual of painting and c.., p.23

Manual of Painting and Calligraphy, page 23


Manual of Painting and Calligraphy

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  THERE HAS BEEN an abortive military uprising. Troops from the Fifth Infantry Regiment stationed at Caldas da Rainha have marched on Lisbon, but finally returned to their barracks. There is much disquiet everywhere. M. gave me a copy of the manifesto issued by the Officers’ Movement. Here is the closing paragraph: “We hereby declare our solidarity with our comrades who are under arrest and we shall continue to defend them, whatever the circumstances. Their cause is our cause, however much we may deplore their hasty action. The revolt they have staged has not been in vain. It has served to awaken the conscience of those who were perhaps still wavering. It has served to define the existing factions and provides valuable lessons for the immediate future. It has served to give us a sharp reminder of the glaring conflicts within the army itself, and—since the army is regarded as the mirror of the nation—of the general turmoil throughout our country. Finally, it has served to demonstrate the methods to which our ‘leaders’ resort, their lack of any scruples and the alliances they form in their attempt to crush and paralyze a process which has already become irreversible. Under this last heading we must denounce the intervention of the secret police (directly instigated by the minister and undersecretary of state for defense) arresting comrades and, at least in one case, forcing entry into a comrade’s house at five o’clock in the morning, abusing his wife and children physically and mentally, and searching the house without a warrant. This intervention by the military police is repugnant and intolerable and constitutes a further violation of our civil rights. Such actions cannot be allowed to continue, otherwise they will become accepted practice and we shall lose forever any remnants of dignity and self-respect. Nor did our so-called leaders stop here. Summoning the national guard, they dispatched them against our comrades with an inadmissible and outrageous mandate authorizing them to besiege the military academy! For its part, the Portuguese Legion, revealing the existence of an active military and police network, collaborated with the security forces and the national guard by helping to pursue the men of the Fifth Infantry Regiment as they made their way back to Caldas da Rainha. Could it be that the government and their ‘military chiefs’ have finally found in the Portuguese Legion, the national guard and security forces those valiant soldiers needed to carry out their overseas policy in Africa? Comrades from all three branches of the armed forces: the march of the Fifth Infantry Regiment on Lisbon, together with the events preceding it, have renewed our determination to promote our movement with even greater confidence and resolve. We are relying on your spirit of comradeship and on your support for those imprisoned (nearly two hundred men in all, including officers, sergeants, corporals and conscripts), who gave the first real sign to the country and the armed forces that we are not prepared to tolerate this state of affairs. Finally, we appeal to you to remain faithful to the declared objectives of the movement. We must stand together and reinforce our organization, convinced that if we remain coherent and lucid we shall soon achieve our goal.”

  M. COULD NOT remain in Lisbon. I took her to Caxias. (Antonio has been interrogated again and kept without sleep for four days. Could have been worse, commented M. He’s received everything except the books, which were confiscated.) We then took a drive around Sintra, which she scarcely knew. We did not speak much. I have noticed that her moments of silence (and therefore our moments of silence) cause no embarrassment. They simply create a different time scale during pauses in conversation. I believe it is possible (and even desirable) to remain silent for ages at her side and that silence becomes another way of continuing our conversation. I write the same thing in two different ways, to see if one of them gets it right. The thing is said, yet is somehow inadequate. It is not entirely true, however, that we have not spoken much. But to write (as I have learned) is a matter of choice just as with painting. One chooses words, phrases, snatches of dialogue just as one chooses colors or determines the length and direction of lines. The traced outline of a face can be interrupted without the face ceasing to exist; there is no danger that the matter contained within this arbitrary borderline will vanish through the opening. By the same token, when one writes, one eliminates the superfluous even though those words might have proved to be useful when spoken; the essence is preserved in this other interrupted line, which is writing.

  We dined in Sintra. It was already agreed that I would drive her to Santarém. We took a short stroll around the Palace Square. It was fairly cold and I instinctively put my arm around her shoulders. The gesture was meant to be fraternal and so it was, but I was conscious that the warmth I felt as our bodies made contact was anything but fraternal. With her left hand M. gripped mine as it came to rest on her right shoulder and like this we walked back to the car. Darkness had fallen. As we left the town under the tunnel of trees picked out leaf by leaf in the headlights, she repeated, “I enjoy your company.” She could not have said anything nicer, and those words were all I wanted to hear. What should I do? Park the car in some rest stop, switch off the headlights, pull her toward me, get her excited, pull up her skirt, open her blouse? A sad adventure. As if reading my thoughts and guessing my intentions, M. said, “We mustn’t rush things.” And I replied, “I’m in no hurry.” The road was now straight all the way and I could drive faster, but we were not referring to the journey.

  We went back to talking about her brother and parents. “You said the other day that all your work is in Santarém. Such an odd way of putting it. What did you mean?” She smiled. “You’ve a good memory.” “It’s not bad, but in this instance it’s even better because I wrote down the phrase word for word.” M. remained silent. We passed through a village. The streetlamps lit up our faces as we passed. And when we plunged once more into the darkness of the countryside M. began to speak. “I work in a lawyer’s office. We went to live in Santarém for the reasons I mentioned. It was there I met my husband. We married, didn’t get on and separated. All this you already know. My parents like living in Santarém. I don’t mind, although the town is provincial and restricted. They built it on a hill, otherwise it might have been a fine city. House by house, street by street, those stones, it’s more beautiful than one imagines. But not the people. There are exceptions everywhere, even in Santarém, I’m glad to say, but the horizon of the people who live in Santarém is not what you’re likely to find in Portas do Sol. You’ve never seen a city appear to be so open while being so inward-looking.” “And are your horizons those of Portas do Sol?” “Of course they are those of Portas do Sol.” “I don’t know what you mean.” Once more she fell silent. Then she examined me closely: I could see her eyes, tense, wide open and lit up by the indicators on the dashboard. I drove at a steady speed, neither slow nor fast. M. went back to staring at the road. And then began speaking again. “Listen, we’ve only known each other for several weeks. All I knew was your name, address and telephone number. A few reassuring words from my brother. I contacted you, visited you in your apartment, told you about myself, we spoke as friends, which is only natural, and you have been honest. I’m not referring to anything sexual when I say you’ve been honest; I mean something else, much more complicated and difficult to explain. The kind of honesty one has no difficulty in recognizing. I enjoy being in your company, as I’ve already said. And I’m likely to say it again because it’s true. Unless I’m deceiving myself, I believe our friendship will last, become much more intimate. And I don’t mean sex.” “I know what you mean.” Resting her hand momentarily on my knee, she told me, “I’m in charge of a political operation in the region of Santarém. That’s why I said all my work is there. Santarém and district, as people used to say in the old days.” “Are you a Party member?” “Yes, I am.” “And what about Antonio?” I could feel her retract. “Antonio’s in jail. There’s nothing more to be said about him.”

  For some minutes we did not speak. “Thanks for telling me these things. You were under no obligation.” “I was under no obligation, but I wanted you to know. So there’s nothing to thank me for.” “What type of wor
k do you do?” I could feel her stretch out on the seat, even smile. “Oh, nothing special. I’m not important. I make contact with comrades in a number of villages, with various organizations—a job no one notices, but necessary just the same. Things blow hot and cold and I’ve had my troubles. But, believe me, as I look at these fields right now, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing. Don’t ask me to explain.” “You don’t have to explain anything. I’ve also read Marx.” She laughed. “Don’t tell me you’re another one who claims to have read the whole of Das Kapital.” “Not quite all of it.” We both laughed. She rested her arm on the back of my seat and I repeated the gesture she had made in Sintra. Holding the wheel with my left hand, I squeezed hers with my right hand. But a narrow bend in the road appeared and the steering wheel required my roaming hand. “Were you imprisoned because of these activities?” “No. For something much more obvious. But they couldn’t prove anything.” “If I’m asking questions you’d rather not answer, tell me.” “Don’t worry. You simply won’t get an answer. I might even call the police.” We were laughing again like a couple of adolescents. This miraculous sphere traveling with me inside.

  “Your job isn’t easy.” “No, at times it can be tough, but someone has to do it. The workers have an even harder time and they don’t complain; they just go on struggling. In 1962, when workers were campaigning for an eight-hour day, I was twenty-seven years old and had just separated from my husband. At that time I wasn’t even a Party member, but I was no less committed. My father is a veteran militant. I know he was extremely active in those days, mainly in the region south of the river: Almeirim, Lamarosa, Coruche, as far as Couço. Have you ever been to Couço? Anyone reading the newspapers at that time must have thought it was on some other planet. But that planet was right here. Let me try to explain: the workers didn’t go around pleading for eight hours, they didn’t go begging the government to release them from labor that lasted from dawn to dusk. There are Party documents to prove it. In Alcácer do Sol, for example—a story I read and will never forget—this is what happened: the workers decided to ignore their foreman’s orders and began work at eight o’clock. At ten-thirty, the normal time for lunch, the siren went, but they played deaf and went on working. At noon they downed tools and went off to have their lunch. By five o’clock they had been working for eight hours. Work came to a halt and everyone went home. Sounds simple, wouldn’t you say? But you have no idea how much effort went into making workers aware of their rights, organizing meetings and debates. One has to be involved to appreciate the problems. And I could quote other stories: such as that of the landowner at Montemor-o-Novo. When some men asked him for work, he told them, ‘If you’ve already eaten the food you earned in eight hours, then you can feed on straw!’ Whereupon the workers went onto his land and stole a lamb, leaving behind a note which read: ‘So long as there’s meat, why should we feed on straw?’ The authorities retaliated with arrests, torture, shootings. People were killed. Anyone who was there knows what it was like. I’ve only heard or read about these things.” “Has the situation improved?” I asked. “We go on. It’s rather like a river. It carries more or less water but goes on flowing. We’re much the same, we go on.” She looked very serious, her eyes fixed on the road. To the right the river shone. “Besides,” she said, “this regime can’t last much longer. The coup at Caldas won’t be the last. And we haven’t been idle. Our work goes on. Fascism is on the way out.”

  We were approaching the city. I said, “You must trust me, telling me these things.” “Yes. I trust you. And I like you. I like you a lot.” A hundred and ten kilometers from Sintra I finally stopped the car. I pulled in to the side of the road and parked under a tree, listening to the leaves crackling beneath the wheels, and then silence. I turned to M. She was looking at me. She repeated, “Yes, I like you.” I pulled her toward me but did not open her blouse or pull up her skirt. We simply kissed until the world was full of constellations. And I told her, “I like you.” And then with one voice we said, “My love.”

  “MY LOVE.” To repeat these two words on ten pages, to go on writing them uninterruptedly without any clarification, slowly to begin with, letter by letter, carefully tracing out the humps of the handwritten m, the loops of the y and the l, the startled cry over that o, the deep riverbed excavated by the v and the slack knot of the e. And then to transform this slow operation into a single quivering thread, a sign on the seismograph as limbs shudder and collide, the page a white sea, luminous towel or extended linen sheet. “My love,” and I repeated the words, throwing my door wide open to receive you as you walked in. Your eyes opened wide as you came toward me, as if you were trying to get a better look at me, and you put your bag on the floor. And before I could kiss you, I heard you say quite calmly, “I’ve come to spend the night with you.” You arrived neither too early nor too late. You came at precisely the right moment onto that precise and precious platform of time where I could wait for you. Surrounded by mediocre pictures, by things painted and watching, we removed our clothes. Your body so fresh. Both of us eager but taking our time. And once naked, we looked at each other without shame, because paradise is to be naked and to know. Slowly (it could only be slowly, very slowly) we drew closer and closer until we suddenly found ourselves in a tight embrace and trembling. Our bodies were pressed against each other, my sex against your belly, your arms around my neck, our mouths, tongues and teeth, breathing and drawing nourishment, speaking without uttering a word, an interminable moan like some vibration, unformed letters, an interval. We knelt, climbed the first step, and then slowly, as if supported by air, you fell onto your back with me on top of you, both of us naked, and then we rolled over, naked, you now on top of me, your breasts elastic, your hips covering me, your thighs spreading like wings. We became as one and as one we rolled over once more, with me back on top of you, your hair glistening, my hands now spread on the floor as if I were supporting the world on my shoulders, or the heavens, and in the space between us tense looks, then blurred, the noise of blood ebbing and flowing in our veins and arteries, beating in our temples, surging beneath our skin as our bodies came together. We are the sun. The walls go around, the books and pictures, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, tiny Pluto, the earth. And now here is the sea, not the great wide ocean, but the wave from the depths trapped between two coral reefs, rising up and up until it explodes in frothing spume. The quiet murmuring of waters spilling over mosses. The wave retreats into the mysterious recesses of submarine caves, and you whisper, “My love.” Around the sun, the planets resume their slow and solemn journey, and here from afar we now see them at a standstill, once more there are pictures and books, and instead of that deep sky there are walls. Night has returned. I lift you naked from the floor. Resting on my shoulder, you tread the same ground as me. Look, these are our feet, a mysterious inheritance, soles which leave imprints as they claim the little space we occupy in the world. We are standing in the doorway. Can you feel the invisible veil which has to be penetrated, the hymen of houses, torn and renewed? Inside there is a room. I cannot promise you the clear sky and drifting clouds of Magritte. We are as wet as if we had just come out of the sea and were entering a tiny cavern where you can feel the darkness on your face. The faintest of light. Just enough to see each other. I lay you on the bed and you open your arms and hover over the white sheet. I bend over you. It is your body that is breathing, the mountain ledge and source. Your eyes are open, forever open, wells of glistening honey. And your hair is shining, a golden harvest. I whisper “My love” and your hands travel down from the nape of my neck to the small of my back. There is a fiery torch inside my body. Once again your thighs spread like wings. And you sigh. I know you, I recognize where I am: my mouth opens on your shoulder, my outstretched arms accompany yours until our fingers clasp with a superhuman strength. Like two hearts our bellies throb. You call out, my love. The entire heavens are calling out above us, everything seems to be dying. We have already unclasped our hands, they have lost
and found each other on the nape of our neck, in our hair, and locked in embrace we now await approaching death. You are trembling. I am trembling. We shake from head to foot and cling to each other on the brink of the fall. It is inevitable. The sea has just swept in, rolls us onto this white shore or sheet and explodes over us. We call out, close to suffocation. And I whisper, “My love.” You lie sleeping naked beneath the first light of dawn. I see your bosom outlined against the light of that intangible veil covering the door. I slowly rest my hand on your belly. And sigh peacefully.

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