Requiem: A Hallucinationby Margaret Jull Costa (Translator), Antonio Tabucchi
In this enchanting and evocative novel, Antonio Tabucchi takes the reader on a dream-like trip to Portugal, a country he is deeply attached to. He spent many years there as director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Lisbon. He even wrote Requiem
A private meeting, chance encounters, and a mysterious tour of Lisbon, in this brilliant homage to Fernando Pessoa.
In this enchanting and evocative novel, Antonio Tabucchi takes the reader on a dream-like trip to Portugal, a country he is deeply attached to. He spent many years there as director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Lisbon. He even wrote Requiem in Portuguese; it had to be translated into Italian for publication in his native Italy.
Requiem's narrator has an appointment to meet someone on a quay by the Tagus at twelve. But, it turns out, not twelve noon, twelve midnight, so he has a long time to while away. As the day unfolds, he has many encountersa young junky, a taxi driver who is not familiar with the streets, several waiters, a gypsy, a cemetery keeper, the mysterious Isabel, an accordionist, in all almost two dozen people both real and illusionary. Finally he meets The Guest, the ghost of the long dead great poet Fernando Pessoa. Part travelog, part autobiography, part fiction, and even a bit of a cookbook, Requiem becomes an homage to a country and its people, and a farewell to the past as the narrator lays claim to a literary forebear who, like himself, is an evasive and many-sided personality.
Author Biography: Antonio Tabucchi is one of Italy's most acclaimed contemporary writers. In addition to Requiem, New Directions publishes six other books by him and a seventh is slated for publication in 2003.
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By ANTONIO TABUCCHI
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOKSCopyright © 1994 New Directions Publishing Corporation
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI THOUGHT: the guy isn't going to turn up. And then I thought: I can't call him a "guy," he's a great poet, perhaps the greatest poet of the twentieth century, he died years ago, I should treat him with respect or, at least, with deference. Meanwhile, however, I was beginning to get fed up. The Late July sun was blazing down and I thought: Here I am on holiday, I was having a really nice time at my friends' house in the country in Azeitão, so why did I agree to this meeting here on the quayside?, it's utterly absurd. And, at my feet, I glimpsed the silhouette of my shadow and that seemed absurd to me too, incongruous, senseless; it was a brief shadow, crushed by the midday sun, and it was then that I remembered: He said twelve o'clock, but perhaps he meant twelve o'clock at night, because that's when ghosts appear, at midnight. I got up and walked along the quayside. The traffic along the avenue had almost stopped, only a few cars passed now, some with sunshades on their roof-racks, people going to the beaches at Caparica, it was after all a sweltering hot day. I thought: What am I doing here in Lisbon on the last Sunday in July?, and I started walking faster in order to reach Santos as quickly as possible, it might be a littlecooler in the small park there." The park was deserted, apart from the man at the newspaper stand. I went over to him and the man smiled. Have you read the news?, he asked cheerily, Benfica won. I shook my head, no, I hadn't seen the news yet, and the man said: it was an evening game in Spain, a benefit match. I bought the sports paper, A Bola, and chose a bench to sit down on. I was reading about the shot that had given Benfica the winning goal against Real Madrid, when I heard someone say: Good afternoon, and I looked up. Good afternoon, repeated the unshaven youth standing in front of me, I need your help. Help? For what?, I asked. Food, he said, I haven't eaten for two days. He was a young man in his twenties, wearing jeans and a shirt, and was timidly holding out his hand to me, as if asking for alms. He was blond and had bags under his eyes. You mean you haven't had a fix for two days, I said instinctively, and the young man replied: it comes to the same thing, drugs are food too, at least for me they are. In theory, I'm in favour of all drugs, I said, soft and hard, but only in theory, in practice I'm against them, I'm afraid I'm one of those bourgeois intellectuals full of prejudices and I don't think it's right that you should take drugs in a public park, that you should make such a distressing spectacle of your body, I'm sorry, but it's against my principles, I might be able to accept you taking drugs in the privacy of your own home, as people used to do, in the company of intelligent and cultivated friends, listening to Mozart or Erik Satie. By the way, I added, do you like Erik Sade? The Young Junky looked at me in surprise. Is he a friend of yours? he asked. No, I said, he's a French composer, he was part of the avant-garde movement, a great composer from the age of surrealism, if one can speak of surrealism as belonging to an age, he wrote mostly for the piano, a deeply neurotic man I believe, like you and me perhaps, I'd like to have known him but we were born into different ages. Just two hundred escudos, said the Young Junky, two hundred escudos is all I need, I've got the rest of the money, Camarão will be along in half an hour, he's the dealer, I need another fix, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms. The Young Junky took a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly. He had tears in his eyes. You're not being fair, he said, I could have been aggressive, I could have threatened you, I could have played the hardened addict, but no, I was friendly, pleasant, we even chatted about music, and you still won't give me two hundred escudos, it's incredible. He blew his nose again and went on: Besides, the one hundred escudo notes are cool, they've got a picture of Fernando Pessoa on them, and now let me ask you a question, do you like Pessoa? Very much, I replied, I could even tell you a good story about him, but it's not worth it, I feel a bit strange, I've just come from the Cais de Alcântara, but there was no one there, and I intend going back there at midnight, do you understand? No, I don't, said the Young Junky, but it doesn't matter, and thanks. He slipped the two hundred escudos I was holding out to him into his pocket, then blew his nose again. Right, he said, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and look for Camarão now, I'm sorry, I really enjoyed talking to you, have a nice day, goodbye.
I leaned back on the bench and closed my eyes. It was horribly hot, I didn't feel like reading A Bola any more, maybe it was hunger, but I couldn't really be bothered to get up and go off in search of a restaurant, I preferred to stay there, in the shade, barely breathing.
It's the big draw tomorrow, said a voice, wouldn't you like to buy a lottery ticket? I opened my eyes. The voice belonged to a small man in his seventies, who was dressed modestly but bore on his face and in his manner the traces of a former dignity. He came limping over to me and I thought: I know this man, and then I said to him: Just a moment, we've met before somewhere, you're the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, I know you from somewhere else. Where?, asked the man, sitting down on my bench and breathing a sigh of relief. I don't know, I said, I couldn't say now, I just have an absurd feeling, the idea that I've come across you in a book somewhere, but it might just be the heat, or hunger, heat and hunger can play funny tricks on you sometimes. I have the feeling you've got quite a few odd ideas, said the old man, forgive me for saying so, but you do seem a touch obsessive. No, I said, that's not my problem, my problem is that I don't know why I'm here, it's as if it were all a hallucination, I can't really explain it to you, I don't even know what I mean, let's just say I was in Azeitão, do you know Azeitão?, well, that's where I was, at a friends' house, in their garden, sitting under a big tree there, a mulberry tree I think, I was stretched out in a deckchair reading a book I particularly like and then I suddenly found myself here, ah, now I remember, it was in The Book of Disquiet, you're the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller who was always bothering Bernardo Soares, that's where I met you, in the book I was reading under the mulberry tree in the garden of a farmhouse in Azeitão. I know all about disquiet, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, and sometimes I feel as if I'd walked out of a book too, a book full of splendid illustrations, richly laid tables, finely furnished rooms, but the rich man died, and the only Bernardo in the story was my brother, Bernardo António Pereira de Melo, he was the one who squandered the family fortune, London, Paris, prostitutes and, before I knew it, the lands we owned in the North had been sold for next to nothing, an operation in Houston for cancer saw off the rest, the money in the bank ran out and here I am, selling lottery tickets. He paused for breath and said: By the way, forgive me, I don't wish to be rude, but since I've been addressing you formally as "o senhor", right from the start, I don't quite understand why you've been addressing me as "você", allow me to introduce myself, my name's Francisco Maria Pereira de Melo, delighted to meet you. I'm sorry, I said, I'm Italian and I sometimes get confused over the different forms of address, they're so complicated in Portuguese, forgive me. We can speak in English if you prefer, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, the problem doesn't arise in English, they just use "you" all the time, and my English is good, or perhaps you'd prefer French, there's no confusion there either, it's always "vous", I speak excellent French as well. No, I replied, I'd rather speak Portuguese, this is a Portuguese adventure after all, and I don't want to step outside my adventure.
The Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller stretched out his legs and leaned back on the bench. And now, if you'll forgive me, he said, I'm going to read for a bit, I devote a few hours every day to reading. He took a book out of his pocket. It was a magazine, Esprit, and he said: I'm reading an article about the soul by a French philosopher, it's odd to read things about the soul again, for a long time it's hardly been spoken of at all, at least not since the 1940s, now it seems that the soul is back in fashion, people are rediscovering it, I'm not a Catholic but I believe in the soul in the vital, collective sense, perhaps even in a Spinozist sense, do you believe in the soul? It's one of the few things I do believe in, I said, at least at this moment, in this garden where we're sitting and talking, it's my soul that was the cause of all this, I mean, I'm not sure if it's my soul exactly, perhaps it's my Unconscious, because it was my Unconscious that brought me here. Hold on, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, the Unconscious, what does that mean?, the Unconscious is something found in the Viennese bourgeoisie at the turn of the century, we're in Portugal here and you yourself are Italian, we belong to the South, to the Graeco-Roman civilisation, we have nothing to do with Central Europe, no, we have soul. That's true, I said, I do have a soul, you're right, but I have an Unconscious too, I mean, now I do, you see, the Unconscious is something you catch, it's like a disease, I just happened to catch the virus of the Unconscious.
The Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller regarded me with an air of despondency. Look, he said, do you want to do a swap? I'll lend you my Esprit and you lend me A Bola. But I thought you were interested in the soul, I objected. I was, he said resignedly, but my subscription runs out after this issue and I'm beginning to grow into my role now, I'm turning into the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, I'm more interested in the goal Benfica scored. All right, I said, in that case, I'd like to buy a lottery ticket, have you got a number that ends in a nine?, you see, nine is my month, I was born in September, and I'd like to buy a lottery ticket that includes that number. I do indeed, sir, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, when were you born exactly?, because I was born in September too. I was born at the time of the Autumn Equinox, I said, when the moon is mad and the ocean swells. A most fortunate moment to be born, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, you're in for some good luck. I certainly need it, I replied, paying him for the ticket, but not on the lottery, I need it for today, today is a very strange day for me, I'm dreaming but what I dream seems to me to be real, and I have to meet certain people who exist only in my memory. Today is the last Sunday in July, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, the city is deserted, it must be forty degrees in the shade, I should think it's the best day there is for meeting people who only exist in memories, your soul, I mean, your Unconscious is going to be kept very busy on a day like today, I wish you a good afternoon and good luck.
Excerpted from REQUIEM by ANTONIO TABUCCHI Copyright © 1994 by New Directions Publishing Corporation
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Antonio Tabucchiwas born in Pisa in 1943 and died in Lisbon, his adopted home, in 2012. Over the course of his career he won France’s Médicis Prize for Indian Nocturne, the Italian PEN Prize for Requiem, and the Aristeion Prize for Pereira Maintains. A staunch critic of the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, he once said that “democracy isn’t a state of perfection, it has to be improved, and that means constant vigilance.”
Margaret Jull Costa is the award-winning translator of works by Eça de Quieros, Javier Marías, and José Saramago.
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