Friday, June 18, 2010
Jose Saramago..... (1922-2010)..... (R.I.P.)
"The man at the ship's wheel looked for the cleaning woman, but couldn't see her, Perhaps she's in the bunk to starboard, resting after scrubbing the deck, he thought, but he was deceiving himself, because he knows perfectly well, although again he doesn't know how he knows, that, at the last moment, she chose not to come, that she jumped onto the quay, shouting, Goodbye, goodbye, since you only have eyes for the unknown island, I'm leaving, and it wasn't true, right now his eyes are searching for her and do not find her. At that moment, the sky clouded over and it began to rain, and, having rained, innumerable plants began to sprout from the rows of sacks filled with earth lined up along the bulwarks, they are there not because of fears that there will not be enough soil on the unknown island, but because in that way one can gain time, the day we arrive, all we will have to do is transplant the fruit trees, sow the seeds from the miniature wheat fields ripening here, and decorate the flower beds with the flowers that will bloom from these buds. The man at the wheel asks the sailors resting on the deck if they can see any uninhabited islands yet, and they say they can see no islands at all, uninhabited or otherwise, but that they are considering disembarking on the first bit of inhabited land that appears, as long as there is a port where the ship can anchor, a tavern where they can drink and a bed to frolic in, since there's no room to do so here, with so many people crowded together. But what about the unknown island, asked the man at the wheel, The unknown island doesn't exist, except as an idea in your head, the king's geographers went to look at the maps and declared that it's been years since there have been any unknown islands, You should have stayed in the city, then, instead of hindering my voyage, We were looking for a better place to live and decided to take advantage of your journey, You're not sailors, We never were, I won't be able to sail this ship all alone, You should have thought of that before asking the king to give it to you, the sea won't teach you how to sail. Then the man at the wheel saw land in the distance and tried to sail straight past, pretending it was the mirage of another land, an image that had traveled across space from the other side of the world, but the men who had never been sailors protested, they said that was where they wanted to disembark, This island's on the map, they cried, we'll kill you if you don't take us there. Then, of its own accord, the caravel turned its prow toward land, entered the port and drew alongside the quay. You can leave, said the man at the wheel, and they immediately all trooped off, first the women, then the men, but they did not leave alone, they took the oxen, the donkeys and the horses, and even the seagulls, one after the other, flew off, leaving the boat behind, carrying their nestlings in their beaks, something never seen before, but there's always a first time. The man at the wheel watched this exodus in silence, he did nothing to hold back those who were abandoning him, at least they had left him the trees, the wheat and the flowers, as well as the climbing plants that were twining round the masts and festooning the ship's sides. In the rush to leave, the sacks of earth had split and spilled open, so that the whole deck had become a field, dug and sown, with just a little more rain there should be a good harvest. Ever since the voyage to the unknown island began, we have not seen the man at the wheel eat, that must be because he is dreaming, and if in his dreams he fancies a bit of bread or an apple, it would be pure invention, nothing more. The roots from the trees are now penetrating the frame of the ship itself, it won't be long before these hoisted sails cease to be needed, the wind will just have to catch the crown of the trees and the caravel will set off for its destination. It is a forest that sails and bobs upon the waves, a forest where, quite how no one knows, birds have begun to sing, they must have been hidden somewhere and suddenly decided to emerge into the light, perhaps because the wheat field is ripening and needs harvesting. Then the man locked his ship's wheel and went down to the field with a sickle in his hand, and when he had cut down the first few ears, he saw a shadow beside his shadow. He woke up with his arms about the cleaning woman, and her arms about him, their bodies and their bunks fused into one, so that no one can tell any more if this is port or starboard. Then, as soon as the sun had risen, the man and the woman went to paint in white letters on both sides of the prow the name that the caravel still lacked. Around midday, with the tide, The Unknown Island finally set to sea, in search of itself."