Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Requiem for Antonio Tabucchi (September 24, 1943 – March 25, 2012)


"Don't come to me with conclusions!
The only conclusion is to die."
 Alvaro de Campos (Fernando Pessoa)

I have taken your
death very personally.
After pursuing
Pessoa down the streets and
up the hills of Lisboa,

where he is nowhere
and everywhere to be
found--with my only
reliable reference
in hand your novels and one

of Saramago's
in which Ricardo Reis
enjoys 9 long months
of autonomous pleasure
after his host creator

died and cut him loose
to wander the rua do
alecrim killing
time before paying respects
to the imagination

dreaming his death in
Prazeres Cemetery--
you have left me in the lurch:
waiting for answers on the

dock of the Tejo--
just like your narrator in
Requiem, who shows
up at noon for a meeting
set for midnight and spends the

afternoon sweating
and hallucinating his
way though encounters
with his own dead creator,
best friend and phantom lover.


"I'm dreaming, but it seems to me that everything is real and I have to
meet up with some people who only exist in my memory."
A. Tabucchi, Requiem

My first encounter with Antonio Tabucchi was in Saltillo, in the north of Mexico. Only one f his novels was lurking in the public library:  Sostiene Pereira (something on the order of Pereria Maintains), which was made into a film starring Marcello Mastroianni in 1995 (one of his last, and which I have not yet seen).

The central aspect that I have found out about Mexican public libraries is that they are only sufficient for a little less than one school year of reading--by then I have read everything in their collection that I cared to read, and quite a few that I didn't.  So I don't know if Saltillo has ever added to its lone Tabucchi, but all the other novels I have read by him I purchased--either in internet, or trawling the used bookstores on calle Donceles in Mexico City's Centro Historico or in the Libreria Gandhi--also in Mexico City.  I still have not been able to lay my hands on a copy of The Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa--the one I desperately wanted to read before describing my own version of those days in Pursuing Pessoa, even though they have been documented and speculated about in other venues.

One of the aspects of Tabucchi and his work which most caught my attention was that he wrote in more than one language--something that we had in common.  Because of his interest in Pessoa, in pursuing Pessoa, a result of his time spent in Lisbon was his novel, Requiem, which he wrote in Portugese and which had to be translated into Italian in order to be published in his country of origin.  That novel was later successfully translated into francophone cinema by the Swiss director Alain Tanner.

Tabucchi continued to pursue Pessoa in Lisbon, eventually acquiring Portugese citizenship, and more recently, his ashes were placed in the Prazeres Cemetery.

I would have to make another trip to Lisbon to determine the location of his niche in respect to Pessoa's tomb, as well as its location in respect to the niche of the fictional Tadeus Slowaki, the best fiend of the narrator of Requiem--supposedly in First street, right side, number 4664.  That would mean making my first visit to the Prazeres Cemetery, as I did not visit Pessoa's tomb in November of 2011, given my almost uncanny rotten luck at finding people in cemeteries.  And that would also mean making the acquaintance of the current version of the cemetery guard from Requiem, who given the frequently surreal atmosphere of Lisbon, might well be eating a lunch of Feijoada, and might also tell me that he eats Feijoada every day because it is the only dish that his wife knows how to prepare.

If I were to make another visit, this time with the objective of pursuing Tabucchi--or at least looking for the niche with his ashes--I would feel obligated to take the train to Oporto and pursue there the gypsy caravans of his novelSo we'd be talking now about a longer visit than the two weeks I spent trudging up and down the hills of Lisbon in search of Pessoa's footprints.


"It seems that sometimes I wake up
and ask myself what I lived.
It was clear, it was real, it was true,
but how is it that I arrived here?"
Fernando Pessoa

I was visiting in Tucson, Arizona, when I saw the news that Tabucchi had died.  I was upset.  No more novels, no more essays on the order of Plato's Gastritis--unless, of course, he had also left an enormous trunk bulging with unpublished manuscripts in Lisbon, like Pessoa left in his room on the rua da coelho da rocha (coincidentally, an easy walk from the Prazeres Cemetery). 

During the past few years I have been left in the lurch by Manuel Vazquez Montalban (no more Pepe Carvalho mysteries, no more essays on gastronomia de Aragon, no more narratives of visits with controversial Latin American leaders such as Fidel Castro and Subcomandante Marcos), Jose Saramago (who must have taken his overcoat and gone off with Ricardo Reis and Pessoa, but whose ashes are buried at the base of an olive tree in Alfama not far from the river in Lisbon, in front of the Casa dos Bicos that is now opening as the Saramago Foundation) and Cuban/Mexican writer Eliseo Alberto (La eternidad empieza el lunes), for whom eternidad began with a bang and left me whimpering in my nostalgia for laughter.

But Tabucchi's death had an uncomfortably macabre aftershock here in Mexico, when a few days later (Saturday, March 31st) one of his translators, the poet Guillermo Fernandez, was murdered in his house in Toluca, capital of the state of Mexico.  He was found tied to a kitchen chair with brown packing tape wrapped around his head--the back of which had been caved in by a blunt instrument.  The newspapers always refer to that sort of occurrence as a brutal muder--as if there were kind and gentle murders--but this one more than qualifies for that banal description.

For me, it's more than a bad dream that the lights have gone out for both Tabucchi and one of his translators, Fernandez, although it's also a bit off that it was not his translator from Portugese to Spanish who was murdered, but a translator from Italian.  But murders are messy and occur in the real world, not in the surreal world of Lisbon--and their lack of symmetry is notorious.


"A Requiem should be written in Latin...but I am not very good at Latin."
A. Tabucchi, author's note to Requiem

Unfortunately, although I was for a time very good at Latin, that was nearly 50 years ago--which may as well have been in another lifetime--perhaps even during the time of the great North African pet Terence,, who was much better at Latin than I was.

A Requiem, by rights, should be SUNG.  I probably remember more of the Requiem Mass which I simply memorized in grade school than of its meaning:  Dies Irae (the 13th century Days of Wrath as the Black Plague closed in like a fist) and the more upbeat In Paradisum (as the body is carried out of the church)--both shoehorned into or tacked onto the ordinary of the mass.

If I still had my sweat-grubbied copy of Chants of the Church (in the 50s the spirit of ecumenism had not yet raised its head, and The Church was exclusively Roman Catholic) I could knock out a Requiem Mass for Tabucchi in almost nothing flat.  As it is about all I can do is thank his spirit for having written several exquisitely beautiful books (if the term exquisite has not been so debased as to no longer reside in the canon of acceptable modifiers), for having widened the channel of my interest in Pessoa that first opened when I read Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and for having convinced me that a pilgrimage to Lisbon to wait on the edge of the river Tejo for the phantom of Pessoa to appear might very well be one of the very few--if not the only pilgrimage worth undertaking in this depressingly virulent first century of a new millennium.

Things have, in fact, changed since the time of Terence, who wrote that he was human, and therefore nothing human was alien to him.  I have come to the conclusion, without yet dying, that I don't want any part of most of what passes for human these days.  About all that's left of that which is human that is of interest to me is the imagination, and there is such a sorrowful lack of that now that the passing of a truly imaginative writer such as Antonio Tabucchi leaves an enormous hole in the pattern of humanity's carpet.

Requiescat in pace.