Saturday, November 26, 2011


10. Bearding the Poet in His Den

When Ricardo Reis, one of Pessoa's alter-egos, returns to Lisbon from Brazil in the Saramago novel, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, after receiving the following telegram from another alter-ego: "Fernando Pessoa has died Stop I am leaving for Glasgow Stop Alvaro de Campos", he goes on the tram to find the tomb in the Prazeres Cemetery in the Campo de Ourique barrio of the city, the same barrio in which Pessoa lived from 1920 until his death in 1935 at the age of 47 at Rua Coelho de Rocha Number 16, in a room on the first floor right of the stairs facing the street.

The cemetery is the same cemetery visited on a very hot Sunday when an old gypsy woman sends Tabucchi's narrator in Requiem in search of his best friend, after telling him that he cannot continue living in two side, that of reality and that of dreams, because it provokes halllucinations. Tadeus' grave is number 4664, while Pessoa's is 4371.

Since I have never had much luck finding graves in cemeteries, I am disinclined to have a go at finding Pessoa's, but I did visit the house where he spent the last 15 years of his life, as it has been a cultural center since 1993.

I decided to arrive there by taxi and walk back, and the taxi driver found the house without difficulty--a plain, four-storey white house on a very ordinary street.

Just inside the entrance, I avail myself of a brochure to read what it says about Pessoa's room: "Some of Pessoa's furniture is there, which he kept with him throughout his various changes of residence--16 in all. This includes the chest of drawers where, on the night of March 8th, 1914, the poet wrote three of his greatest works: "The Keeper of Sheep" by Alberto Caeiro, "Oblique Rain" by Fernando Pessoa, and "Triumphal Ode" by Alvaro de Campos.

In the ground floow exhibition space there was a show of color photographs accompanying some quotes from letters Pessoa wrote to Ofelia Queiroz, apparently his only romantic partner. The photos are not too large, but are in the style of the eye-popping photo collages of David La Chappelle. They are easily dismissable--by me, anyway--and my eyes focus instead on the quotes from Pessoa's love letters. Unfortunately, my eyes stop early on, when reading the English translations, they hit upon the word "rattletrap", but spelled "ratletrap", and as I skim through the rest of the English version I notice quite a few more errors in spelling and syntax.

The English versions are quite unfortunate, I advise the museum staff, as they contain many errors. Although speaking in English is a bit uncomfortable for me, hence I am speaking to you in Spanish, nevertheless I am a native speaker of English, and as I am a "fan" of Pessoa's works, I would be happy--more than happy--in the future to make corrections to any translations from his writings if you send me the texts in both languages by email.

One man is skeptical, and wonders why I dislike speaking in English, in which he claims fluency, if I am a native speaker, and I simply advise him that I have lived for nearly 20 years now in Mexico, where people speak Spanish.

That seems to satisfy him. Meanwhile a woman on staff who only speaks Portugese, but claims to understand a lot of Spanish and I have begun one of those syncopated and highly animated conversations in two languages, which ends with an exchange of kisses on both cheeks before I proceed up the stairs to see Pessoa's room.

The room is small, and very reminiscent of my room at the Geres pension, except that his bed is individual size and mine is matrimonial. The rest of the furniture primarily consists of two chests of drawers and a wardrobe. I am taken by the plain white linen panels curtaining the windows--certainly not at all what would have been used in the 1920s and 30s, but which I decide I want to replicate in beige for the french doors in my mini-loft in Mexico (and I did find a wonderful linen a few days later in the Baixa, and even for half price.)

In the hallway outside the room is a settee, with a telephone table on one end holding a 1920s style black rotary telephone, and a coffee table in front with a large ashtray containing perhaps a dozen and a half butts, as well as an open black lacquer box containing several unflitered cigarettes of dubious origin.

Also in the Pessoa House is another exhibition space on the top floor, as well as a library and administrative area on the east side of the ground floor and floors 1 and 2.

The other visitors are a young man and his son, and as the man sends a text message on his cell phone I ask the boy if he would like to have a telephone like Pessoa's, from the epoch of my great-grandmother. Either he is not sure if he wants one, or he is unsure of my question in Spanish.

The walk back to the Rossio is a bit long, but it is largely downhill and my bag of camera equipment is not all that heavy. On the way I stop in several parks to rest in the sun on benches, have several conversations about politics with shopkeepers (who clearly don't receive much foot traffic this time of year), pause for a toasted cheese and serrano ham sandwich llike I make frequently at home and finally climb aboard the funicular Elevador da Gloria, which takes me rapidly down from Bairro Alto to Restauradores, a few blocks from the pension.

Despite my fairly extended visit to Pessoa's digs, I felt very strongly that he was not at home.

Friday, November 25, 2011


9. Casa do Alentejo

Tabucchi's narrator in the novel, Requiem, goes to the Casa do Alentejo an hour or two before the hour set for the "date" he has made with his deceased partner, Isabel, via his best friend, Tadeus, also deceased.

When he arrives he is greeted by the manager of the place who tells him that it's for members only, but that he has been bored and alone all day and would like to invite him to play billiards to pass the time, a game which ends up in a wager over a difficult shot, with the object being a bottle of port from 1952, as well as an internal wager made by the narrator: If he makes the shot, Isabel will appear, and if he misses it, he will never see her again.

He makes the shot, the bell at the entrance rings, and it is Isabel. In the novel that's as far as the re-encounter goes. (In the Tanner film we actually get to see Isabel and watch them dance in the Arab-style patio.) After all, Isabel is just one of the time-killing encounters during the day, as the narrator waits to see if Pessoa will appear on the dock at midnight.

At this moment, my Alentejo-style soup, an "açorde" arrives: bread, cilantro, garlic, olive oil and a poached egg. Hopefully it will keep me from falling into the pit of a raging cold that seems to be ubiquitous here, where it's damp and they don't heat the buildings and everyone is sneezing and desperate, to the point that before I sat down at my table in the elegantly old-fashioned restaurant, complete with wood-paneled walls up to about 4 feet hight and the best examples of Portugese tile murals to the ceiling showing daily life in the rural Alentejo of more than 100 years ago, my right hand beat another woman's right hand to the radiator in the fireplace by about 10 seconds. It was cold.

I am not even close to understanding this lack of heating, given that the presence of fireplaces and radiators indicates that it was not always the case here. Perhaps, in hallucinatory Lisbon, this is what they are employing as an austerity measure to save themselves from the scowls and jowls of Angela Merkel within the Eurozone? I doubt that in Germany they are doing without heat. Who knows?

Perhaps it's just easier to blame it on the bossa nova, or on the dreadfully squeaking horror film front door that sets my teeth on edge as I pass through it, leaving.


8. Rua da Saudade

"Saudade is essentially untranslatable to any other language. No other language, not even Spanish, carries with it the same fixed load of cultural baggage--although Spain does come close with its empire that collapsed under its own greed for gold and silver, as well as the nocturnal emissions of Napoleon, and was finally blown away as the final straw when Teddy Bull Moose Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill.

In Spanish there is the word "añoranza", but it doesn't have the same blue-hearted heaviness of "saudade", nor does "nostalgia" in English. Throw in "yearning" and a big dose of fantasy and maybe you're getting warm, as "saudade" is just as much yearning for a past that never existed as for one that did. One can have "saudade", for a love affair that was nothing but a day dream.

When I first saw the cut-stone sign, Rua da Saudade, on the end of a house between the Alfama and the Sé (cathedral), it appeared that the street was only one house long! Talk about truncated dreams. Then I consulted my map, courtesy of Yellow Bus, and discovered that no, it is longer, that Rua da Saudade actually turns the corner and heads uphill to the Castle of St. George.

For me, it would have been more poetically just at one house long, but considering Portugal's unrelenting saudade for the days of empire--to the point that it even translated the seat of power to one of its colonies, Brazil, for awhile, I suppose all routes of saudade may well lead to the castle. In the same way that all roads in the empire once led to Rome, and that King Arthur's Camelot myth even changed countries and prevailed, briefly, in the 1960s in Washington DC, until its forever young king's head was blown apart in the backseat of a slow-moving convertible in Dallas, TX, 48 years ago.

48: The age of the alter-ego Ricardo Reis when his creator Pessoa died, his age when Saramago takes him up and turns him loose in Lisbon to pack in as much saudade as he can stand until the spirit of Pessoa pulls his plug.

But that's another winding street to explore later.


7. NYC 1972 Arrives in Lisbon

In the Castle of St. George--built by the Arabs in the 11th century and from which they were expelled after a 5-month-siege toward the end of the 12th, there is an historical overview in which the clay pots of the founding Phoenicians and the occupying Romans are better-preserved than those of the Arabs who actually developed this city. Why is that? Was Samuel Huntington clattering around in the armor of a 12th century lifetime?

The castle grounds are swarming with tourists, even at this chilly tag-end of November. I'm swaddled in layers and shocked by a couple climbing up to a cannon--the young man in knee-length plaid surfer shorts, the young woman in a sleeveless pink floral tank top--who remind me of the purple-legged tourists that used to show up in shorts to Birkenstock the snow-laden Santa Fe plaza in January. Almost.

This is the mirador spot of the city, yet suddenly I crave the perspective that Harry Lime put forth at the top of the ferris wheel/wheel of fortune in the Graham Greene/Sir Carol Reed collaboration filmed in post-war Vienna, The Third Man. Harry was on the run from his criminal trampling of the people he saw as ants from the height of his flight, before his imminent crash and scramble through the sewers to his death.

All very sober cinematography, the negative perhaps from which the sunny positive image of Lisbon is printed?

I go out through the turnstiles, and cross the tiny street to enter a souvenir shop, where suddenly it is the end of December--not of 1936 when Saramago's novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis dumps Reis back on the streets of Lisbon, but of 1972, as I walk down a New York City street just south of Lincoln Center wearing a vintage Peck and Peck raspberry tweed suit and matching over-the-knee-suede boots, on my way to an MLA convention interview with Vassar College, when from the swinging doors of a record store wafts the Jimmy Cliff song that was a hit that year for Johnny Nash:

"I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blilnd
It's gonna be a bright bright sunshiny day"

and it's the same old song, but with a different meaning here in Lisbon, a day after the frustrated general strike, where everybody claims to speak English--and nobody does. Except me, of course. And I prefer not to.

We are perverse ants, Harry Lime, and none of us will survive this life; more to the point, we will soon be frozen in time, as in amber. Or, if we are exceptional ants, our ashes will be spaded into the earth to fertilize an apparently dead olive tree in front of the Casa dos Bicos, just in a bit from the river's edge, as the ashes of José Saramago recently were.

Perhaps the ashes of such a creative man, militant leftist to his last breath, will bring the tree back to life. Then again, his having received the Nobel Prize for Literature may put the final nail in the olive tree's figurative coffin. We shall see in April, when the Saramago Foundation opens its doors.

The odds, after all, are the same for all living beings, including olive trees: 50/50; either we live, or we don't.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


6. A Missed Connection

My "appointment" with Tabucchi's narrator in the Casa do Alentejo didn't come off, as some restaurants DID keep the general strike called for today. No blue neon sign, dead end. I will, like Tabucchi's narrator, have to be flexible and see what, if any, spirits are about tomorrow ev ening.

I don't know what Pessoa would say about the supposedly "very traditional" caldo verde soup I tried at a restaurant that would be called The Pearl in English, but I found it much too cornstarchy, although the chorizo slices were flavorful.

I also found it disturbing that this was the second restaurant in as many days where they were playing a lethargic version of "It's a Wonderful World", so I ask the waiter who is singing and he checks and tells me it is Stacey Kent, apparently a hit on the easy listening Portugese radio stations, despite the songs all being in English. She seems to be having a go at imitating Billie Holiday's lethargic unease, but turning it into ease.

A pork with sauteed onions dish is a considerable improvement over the soup, despite the kitchen having a heavy hand with oil. It may be a cultural fetish, as in several of Pessoa's Alvaro de Campos poems he mentions oil disparagingly, as in the phrase, "Falstaff's oily love of life".

It won't get me down. The forecast indicates sun for the next three days at least, and in the pension the signals to CNN, CNBC, TVE(spaña) and the two French channels are down--leaving only Portugese and German channels, all of which seem to be earnestly dedicated to soap operas. So I will b e reading an Egyptian novel, in honor of the heroics in Cairo, where the people are trying to bounce themselves loose from military tyranny.

I also don't know how Pessoa, who called himself a proponent of "mystical nationalism" would see the efforts of Arabs to turn around the train that has been barrelling down the same track for what seems like a geological era. But I suspect he might claim that it's the nature of those nations to live under tyranny, just as he claimed that due to Portugal's imperialist history, it was best suited for a monarchical government.

5. A Ricardo Reis Moment

Ricardo Reis was one of Pessoa's heteronyms--a poet and physician, his biographer says he spent time in Brazil. In the 1980s, José Saramago wrote a wonderful novel, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, in which Reis returns to Portugal because he learns that Pessoa has died, and his first moment of awareness that Pessoa's spirit is out and about walking in Lisbon as usual occurs when a thin man wearing a hat and round spectacles passes him in the street.

This morning, it appears I had a Ricard Reis moment. I had taken a taxi to the Decorative Arts Museum on the edge of the Alfama, the old Arab quarter, and was walking back to the downtown and was about to cross a street from Rua Santo Antonio da Sé to enter a folk art shop, when I stopped to check my watch and heard soft footsteps behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a man shorter than myself wearing a hat, but when I turned completely around there was no one there.

So much for the power of suggestion. But if Pessoa suddenly turns up in my room, like he did in the novel, my raven will be cooked, for sure.

An ironic roasting on the day the gringos celebrate genocide by first stuffing a turkey, and then stuffing themselves.

But here in Lilsbon the sun is still out, and the general strike called for today has fizzled. Indignation isn't gathering much steam here, where reality clearly is not heartily welcomed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


4. Atomic Fog

Approximately twenty years before the Hanford nuclear reactor (read plutonium factory) cranked up in Washington state on land torn loose from the Yakamas, Pessoa's transmuted element Alvaro de Campos wrote about the "atomic fog" of things, employing "atomic" in its Aristotelian sense. Since fog is frequently hovering over the river in Lisbon, contributing to its hallucinatory image, it is unsurpising that Pessoa chose it to represent obfuscation.

The current condition of atomic fog is clearly a subelement on the periodic table of what Robert McNamara called The Fog of War, and is being spread around to fertilize the notion that by making war on Iran, that the bankrupt West will pull itself out of the abyss through which it has been plummeting in free fall since making war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Islamic world's version of the Easter Bunny, the latest victim of the neo-Sodom of Deliverance Country, Muoamar Gadafi. Homepathy applied to the economic crisis--aka, cure it with more of the same sickness.

Back in 1966, the author of Deliverance, James Dickey, still known then solely as a boisterously not-half-bad poet poised to inherit the overcoat of Robert Lowell, gave a reading of his poems in Meany Hall, on the campus of the University of Washington. All I remember from that evening 45 years later is the recommendation he made: "If you're bored with your life, risk it."

It strikes a chord, as at this moment the West seems determined to risk the lives of every being on the planet--regardless of whether the being in question is bored or not--in its desperate search for the philosopher's stone which can turn deficits into healthy capital--and which is by all accounts hidden somewhere among the billions of grains of sand in the deserts of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Alvaro de Campos, based on the pessimistic poems Pessoa left stuffed in a trunk when he died, would probably have given this clear advice to the leaders (sic) of the West:

"You want to kill yourself? Why not go ahead and kill yourself?
What good to you is the screen of successive external images
that we call the world?
The cinematography of the hours represented
by actors of predetermined conventions and poses,
the polychrome circus of our endless dynamism?"

Would that the suspects in questions could even understand what he wrote.

The atomic fog is only the current smokescreen they have thrown up to convince us (or someone) that Iran, from night to morning, will produce of flotilla of nuclear weapons pirouetting on the noses of missiles and poised to b last us out of our lethargic lemmingness into a black hole waiting several galaxies away from us--a scenario which can only be circumvented by bombing the bejeezuz out of its nuclear development facilities and taking possession of its production of hydrocarbons.

Welcome, therefore, to the atomic fog of Deliverance Country, brought to you by the duelling banjos of Netanyahu and Oboma; meanwhile Pessoa, as Alvaro de Campos, brings to a close "Lisbon Revisited (1923):

"This night in which I do not sleep, serenity surrounds me
like a truth to which I am not party,
and outside the light of the moon, like the hope I do not have,
is invisible for me."

(translation by moonraven)


Pessoa, Fernando, Paginas Escogidas. Grupo Editorial Tomo, Mexico, D.F. 2003.

Monday, November 21, 2011


3. Pessoa, via His Heteronym (Alter Ego), Alvaro de Campos, Answers the Question Asked in Part 1, Is Lisbon a Hallucination?

"Finally, the best way of travelling is to feel.
Feel everything in every way.
Feel everything excessively,
because everything is, in fact, excessive
and all reality is an excess, a violence,
an extraordinarily clear hallucination
that we all live in common with the fury of our souls;
the center that pulls the strange centrifugal forces
that are our human psyches in accordance with our senses."

"Lisbon Revisited (1923)" (translation by Moonraven)

So, there we have it from one of the horse's many mouths.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2. The Banker in Gramsci's Pyjamas

This skinny volume by Pessoa called The Anarchist Banker sounds like a joke: the sly writer's version of a whoopie cushion shoved under our butts for the duration of the global economic meltdown.

But, it isn't. The story presents itself as a serious piece of dialog over supper between Pessoa the narrator and a successful banker who claims to be an anarchist. It is really more of a monolog, as the banker unfolds his life story to justify his claim, beginning with his humble beginnings as a son of the working class.

The idea of reading a banker's monolog sounds considerably more daunting than it actually is. The guy is intelligent and engaging, and he's a cigar smoker, which although I have had to give up cigars, makes him immediately sympathetic. His syllogisms are not as scrambled and perverse as I anticipated. In fact, he's considerably more analytically skilled than the persona offered by Pessoa as his sparring partner, who does little more than burble, bumble and but but but in response to his clever antagonist.

Of course, I have to remind myself that all Pessoa characters are autonomous aspect of his own self. And I have to bend myself at an inclination to suspend disbelief, as well, given that at this time bankers are on the shit and hit lists of everyone but other bankers (and even in that quarter they may not all have a card to pass Go on the big monopoly board), and are, more to the point, perceived to be the monster masters behind the monstrous Simon Legree that is government, regardless of which capitalist cockup country one chooses to examine and which presentation they put on it.

Synchronistically, with Billie Holiday on the sound system of this 8th-floor trendy rooftop hotel restaurant, the creme brulée I ordered arrives, not in its traditional rustic rectitude, but dumped like bechamel sauce down the side of a poached pear and joined on the plate by a sliced slarwberry and a mini-cognac glass of something pink and very mean looking. Fruits I am thankfully allergic to and an offensive bit of perverse creativity all round. Not unlike the banking system anywhere you sample it--no matter how it's sliced, diced and disguised, a capitalist cockup is simply that.

So I am on the alert right from the get-go for sneaky bits from the banker in Gramsci's pyjamas.

Finally a recognizably mediocre but traditionally presented creme brulée arrives at my table, and the sun sneaks behind a building across the avenida da Liberdade, leaving my eyes free to return to the banker's grubby origins that set him on the road to usury, success, skullduggery and self-satisfaction as a self-proclaimed authentic anarchist.

Before we are pulled into the troglodyte cave of his the banker's childhood, he takes the trouble to define what an anarchist actually IS:

"A man rebelling against the injustice of our being born socially unequal." (p. 25)

(Pessoa published The Anarchist Banker in the first issue of the magazine Contemporánea in 1922, well before the Gini Coefficient became the measure of social inequality and an efficient way to glimpse the headlights of genocide before its runs us over.)

The banker inhales deeply from his cigar, and proceeds to contextualize the need for anarchy:

"The real evil, the only evil, are the conventions and social fictions superimposed on natural realities; from family to money, from religion to the State: Everything. Why? Because they are fictions, they are not natural." (27)

When Pessoa's narrator asks him why he chose an extreme form of reacting, and not an intermediary form such as socialism, the banker explains:

"Because any system that is not pure anarchy, which is based on the abolition of all fictions, is equally a fiction. To use all our efforts, all our intelligence to implant one social fiction in place of another, is absurd, even a crime, because it produces a social disruption with the manifest goal of leaving everything as it is." (27)

Those of us who live in Latin America are all too painfully aware of the process known as Gatopardism. The term is taken from the Lampedusa novel, THE LEOPARD, which was made into a film in the 60s starring Burt Lancaster as a Sicilian prince who jumps on the bandwagon of inevitable revolution in order to control its outcome, to "change everything so that everything can remain the way it is", in his words.

In just one case, that of Mexico, there have been two revolutions--one starting in 1810 and another starting in 1910, and the same folks are in power that were in power during the so-called Colonial Period. That's how insidious Gatopardism is. The process is being tested now in several countries, most notably in Egypt, where yesterday 3 people were killed and almost 700 injured as the military tries to hang onto the control it had before the revolution in the spring and which it snatched from the hands of the revolutionaries. It's incipient in the U.S., where the titans of Wall Street appear to be undecided whether to foment the suppression of the Occupy movement by the police and the national guard, or to use their power to take over the movement so that everything seems to change and so that they, like Lampedusa's prince, can have everything just the way it is.

So, the banker appears to grab the moral high ground when he alerts us to the dangers of Gatopardism, and asks, further:

"Why should we dedicate our efforts to substituting one fiction for another, when we can dedicate our efforts to suppressing ALL the fictions?" (27)

He goes on to explain that "Either the natural society appears to be possible, and we will be defenders of anarchism, or it doesn't appear to be possible, and we will be defenders of the bourgeoise regime. There is no intermediate hypothesis." (29)

He asserts that there can be no gradual transition or adaptation to a more just system, as the only process of adaptation, by definition, implies adapating to a system that is already in place.

What then, of revolution? I mentioned earlier the case of Mexico, where two revolutions maintained the same folks in power. The banker claims that the only possible outcome of revolution is dictatorship of those who want to implant the free society and that "revolutionary regime means despotic miolitary regime, given that the state of war is imposed on the society by the part that has assumed the power through revolution." (30)

As examples he presents the military despotism of the Roman Empire, as well as the French Revolution:

"Something that will delay the realization of the free society for decades...and anyway, what could we expect from the nation of illiterates and mystics?" (32)

At this point the banker returns to describing his formation and that of his fellow workers--how they struggled for their anarchistic ideals the in the middle of difficulties, conflicts and even persecutions, only to arrive at the creation of tyranny within the group of approximately 40 comrades.

His hypothesis is that tyranny came about as a result of "the prolonged presence of humanity in the atmosphere of social fictions, all of them creators of tyranny and with the propensity, consequently, to the most natural use of the most natural qualities in an instinctively tyrannical process." (47)

His conclusion is that the only way to avoid creating some form of tyranny is to work for common goals, but separately. Unfortunately, his comrades were not in agreement with his recommendation, but he decided to fight the social fictions by himself.

As he was in no position to fight and successfully destroy any of those fictions by himself, he decided that what he could do was subjugate them so that they no longer controlled him, starting with money.

It seemed to him that the easiest way to neutralize the control money had over him was to "get away from the sphere of its influence, from civilization: go to the country and eat roots, drink water from springs, run around naked and live like an animal". (55)

Here I have to pause, as he is not only describing living like an animal, but also at least some aspects of the lives of indigenous peoples, who lived and live with considerably more freedom than so-called civilized peoples, and did not need to wear Gramsci's pyjamas (prison-issue or otherwise) to do so.

However, he rejects this option as mere flight, and comes to the conslusion that there was only one way to avoid being tyrannized by money without avoiding contact with it, and that that was to acquire it in sufficient quantity to not feel its oppressive influence:

"Given that my procedure was the right one, I have legitimately used, as an anarchist, every means to get rich. And today I have realized my limited dream of a practical and lucid anarchist. I am free...I have created freedom; I have freed myself. I have freed that which I could free." (58-59)

In a world in which bankers have even captured the high moral ground, what is finally left for the rest of us but to make known our preference for a bang, or a whimper?

As Jim Morrison sang, "This is the end, my friend".

The end of history and the end of capitalism, it appears, arrive when capital--which in its process of multiplication is constantly in flight, whether returning to its First World matrix from its Third World theater of exploitation, or fleeing to a fiscal paradise to escape taxation by absenting itself from the balance sheet--has become so fugitive that it can no longer be used.

In the situation that we have now, which Pessoa's story prefigures in its underpinnings, given that it was written and published a few years before the bubble of capitalilsm burst at the end of the 1920s, a time which contained many of the exact same anomalies prevailing today, capital is always absent, always in flux, and what is present are debts--debts that are constantly being wagered against their own impossibility of repayment.

In short, the end arrives when in the shell game, the pea is unable to be found under any of the shells on the table, but is in flight to the Cayman Islands--where, in fact, it may never arrive, and from which, therefore, its return is singularly unlikely.

A parallel irony, it seems, has recently reared its head. What for roughly 100 years has been regarded as a law of physics, that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, may well be revealing itself as nothing more than a rule of the game cooked up by the anarchist physicist, Albert Einstein, as ongoing experiments appear to indicate that at least one category of particles can travel faster than the speed of light.

If that does prove to be the case, can nearly-weightless capital, capable of turning itself from black to white in less than a billionth of a second, be anything but one more revolutionary proof?


Citations: Pessoa, Fernando. El banquero anarquista. Editorial Leviatán, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2005.


1. Is Lisbon a Hallucination?

Antonio Tabucchi's novel, Réquiem, which was also made into a film by Alain Tanner, is subtitled: A Hallucination because during the course of one Sunday afternoon in Lisbon, the narrator has a sequence of close encounters with dead people, including his father, his best friend, his mistress and even Fernando Pessoa, whose ghost appears to be more alive than ever on the pavingstones of this city. (Yesterday I even saw him, as well as his several alter-egos, clattering across the chests of tee shirts in a shop off the Praça do Commerciio where I had paused on my afternoon walk to buy a ceramic nacimiento for the upcoming Christmas in my mini-loft in Mexico.)

It has become almost a tradition to encounter Pessoa here, even though he died in the 1930s--the book that brought José Saramago to the attention of many readers, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, has his spirit popping up like a mushroom almost daily over the course of a number of months.

With so many dead people making their appearance here, I wonder if it is all a dream, or if Lisbon has simply floated loose from its moorings on the river Tajo, like the Iberian peninsula in Saramago's The Stone Raft, and is out there in the ozone somewhere preparing for its reinsertion once the economic crisis crunches to closure.

Pessoa pinned down at least the illusion of Lisbon's corporality by constantly pressing it under his feet. And just to add another layer, he even wrote a travel guide to Lisbon: What the Tourist Ought to See, in 1925.

Then , as now, Pessoa was right and the heart of the web is Rossio--Praça don Pedro IV--which takes its name from the statue of don Pedro IV and dates, according to Pessoa, from 1870. It is almost 27 meters high. As it happens, I am staying in a pension just off and just above the plaza. (In Lisbon pensions differ from hotels in that they usually occupy one or more upper floors of a building, but never the street level, and because of their apparent improvised character, one expects them to be cheaper than hotels.)

My room in the pension is long and narrow, reminiscent perhaps of the niches in the cemetery visted by Tabucchi's narrator in Réquiem in search of his best friend, Tadeus, and from it I look down on the Rossio which at most hours is teeming with unusually peripatetic immigrants from Portugal's previous African colonies, Angola and Mozambique.

Last night as I returned from eating a soporific saline solution of suckling pig in a "traditional" restaurant on the rua das Portas de Santo Antão, floating down the cobbles like an angel was a very tall African woman, dressed completely in white from head covering to toes. As she passed by me I noticed the infant on her back, also capped in white and tucked into a woolly knitted wrap resembling the rebozos used by the indigenous women in Mexico for the same purpose. The baby was silent as a doll as its mother answered her tinkling cell phone, not ever breaking pace as she drifted out onto the plaza.

Everywhere you look, something is floating (and I wonder if the very heavy food here is part of a strategy of anchoring folks who would otherwise all be up in the air without aid of the elevators and trams sprinkled around the city). Yesterday, I chose to spill out on the alternate plaza here in the center of it all. Pessoa wrote that the Praça de Figuiera is only two steps from the Rossio, but I have the sense that they actually overlap, as in several cases one enters a pastry shop or a clothing shop fromone plaza and exits into the other.

The Praça de Figueira in a light rain is like a silver platter in which the Castelo de Sâo Jorge, flapping about in the trees on a hill above the old Arab quarter, the Alfama, can admire its reflection. I sat on a bench facing east to take a photograph across the plaza toward the castle, with a crane bobbing in the middle distance as if it had been contracted to move all the pieces around in space: the touristic cable cars, the modern trams skating across the plaza, the castle slithering into the sudden sunlight on the hill.

From the Praça de Figueira it is an easy walk down to the river Tajo, and as along the rua da Prata I don't encounter many shops open on a Saturday afternoon to slow my progress, soon I am crossing the Praça do Commerciio toward the statue of king José I in the center, which Pessoa tells us was cast in one solid piece in 1774, with a height of 14 meters. Tourists of all types are waving digital cameras and cell phones skyward as I screw a red filter onto the lens of my old 35 mm. Olympus and set to work on the clouds floating around above the king's head.

The clouds above the river are heavy with imminent rain, and I decide not to walk out to the end of the dock, as it is only about 2:30, and in Tabucchi's Réquiem Pessoa doesn't arrive until midnight, anyway.

Instead, I decide to anchor myself with the mundanity of shopping for Christmas presents, ramble across the plaza--which Pessoa claims is one of the largest in the world, clearly not having visited either Moscow or Mexico City--and pass through the flamboyant triumphal arch (began in 1755, says Pessoa--without indicating whether that was just before or just after the earthquake--and completed in 1873) into the rua Augusta.