maundering relics #1


Before the world spun suddenly into this crucible of fear and solitude we identify today, I had plans of collecting forgotten relics of the Portuguese written arts. Lisbon is thronged with “alfarrabistas“, stores with the unique purpose of selling rare and used books, many of them bought in bulk from personal libraries found by folks once they lay their relatives to rest. These libraries often contain, besides various editions of World Literature classics (your common James Joyce “Ulysses” and Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace“), an even more interesting assortment of gifted-re-gifted books that bounce from generations without much thought to their existence. They are to bookshelves what pebbles are to beaches; but I’ve always taken a special interest in these books. Unfortunately, I was only able to find two before the entire globe crashed atop itself:


Encontro (Poemas D’Amor)
Albino Fernandes de Sá

The inscription in the second image reads:
Ao sempre querido e inesquecível amigo Hélio, a quem este livro deve, em grande parte, o seu aparecimento, com um almoço de eterna gratidão, oferece:
O autor Albino Fernandes de Sá

Translated:
“To my ever sweet and unforgettable friend Hélio, to which this book owns, in large part, its existence, I offer, along with a lunch of eternal gratitude: Encounter (Love Poems).
The author, Albino Fernandes de Sá”


It’s rare to find a book of limited printing, especially one such as “Encontro“, which was printed in 1954, fourty-one years prior to my birth; but rarest still, it seems, is to find one such book that was gifted by the author himself to the friend that inspired it. One is often given to reflections regarding the loss of being, that shedding, and concomitantly, where the scales of our shedding might lie; foundered in some sea-floor, rived by caracoles and barnacles, or earth-bitten under metres of soil, near a tall building or pile of rubble. None of us hold much of a clue regarding the destination of our droplets, our scales, our shards that stamp upon things our sole impression of what they are.
Not much can be found regarding Albino Fernandes de Sá. Some registries of old, lost publications, indicate that he might have published, in collaboration, a series of treatises and short anthropological works regarding the old Portuguese-African colonies. Bibliographic guides have cited Governador da Hulía, a book he wrote apropos the ever-shifting political powers in the region of Hulía, Angola, is one such example (though most documents I’ve found cite this as a reference to Mozambique and not Angola, and the reason for such has eluded me thus far).
Fernandes de Sá, however, was not a colonial native. By reading poems in “Encontro“, I rapidly gathered his place of birth to be Barcelos, in the Northern Portuguese region of Minho. It’s likely that he wasn’t from the city itself, since he mentions a village in the poem “A minha aldeia“, and later the river Neiva, in the aptly named poem “O Neiva“.

River Neiva, by Jaime Pereira in Olhares

Encontro” chronicles, in punctilious detail, the entire life of Fernandes de Sá. It delineates his birthplace and parents, his favourite flowers as a child, his journeys to the coast and first sight of sea, his first voyage to the colonies, his upbringing with his “bark-haired” loving sister, his first love, marriage, first daughter and son. The hymeneal bliss in which he found himself, as if citterns played everywhere, buoyant as bubbles along the smoothest whiff of air, plays a coronary role in this book. Fernandes de Sá wrote of it all in a-hundred-and-fifty sonnets, which are, thus far, the only creative publication I’ve found under his name; even then, “Encontro” was a personal publication. It never had a commercial form nor was it ever available beyond the copies requested by the author. I haven’t, however, found any other extant copy of the book, either for sale or under private hands. The last record of Fernandes de Sá publicly available was a print of his presence in a literary gathering in Sá da Bandeira (present-day Lubango), dated 1963. I found no evidence of living descendants ever returning to Portugal, but it is indubitable that they exist, albeit perhaps disconnected from the written aspect of Fernandes de Sá‘s life. This leads me to the rather feeble conclusion that this book I currently hold is, with a strong chance, the last remnant of Albino’s personal writings, and that it likely came from the private library of Hélio himself, the friend that inspired its creation.


The Neiva

Nature has its lovers,
that charged with affection, with sugar,
she, sometimes, employs in the making
of vistas glazed in a thousand colours!

Radiated by auroral showers,
it slithers through the moss-green web
of the view, beaming with freshness,
from Antas, the Neiva, lined in flowers.

It seems like a mirror of luminous crystal,
in which my sumptuous village sights
its own profile of emerald and sapphire.

Since my youth I returned its ardent love.
I figure that within my blood runs the dew
that flows in my sweet and beautiful Neiva.

A dream that has not died

A dream that has not died: my Angola.
Since youth, I wanted to give it my life.
It smiled, fair and colourful,
like to the sun smiles a corolla.

Its voice was a coo of a dove
that between the boughs sings invitingly.
I made her my bride, my most wanted,
and she, in sadness, consoled me.

I loved her with passion; in her, my dreams
of love and beauty came to find
warmth and home to live happily.

I then decided to give her my vigour,
my life, my blood and my love,
all of which, far from her, would die.

(Note: these translations are not entirely faithful to the original metric and scheme of the poems, since most of them are written in a form of Portuguese already adapted to sonorific effects; these translations merely intend to mimic the original sentiment of the text)


Those scales — shards of impression — may fall anywhere indeed. It’s uncertain to me if “Encontro” was first produced in Angola, though the date of its publication and the last record of Albino both congruently indicate that it was written and printed there, in Sá da Bandeira, mid-twentieth century. I know not who carried it to Portugal, where it was kept or how long it percolated, from a hand to another, until it was drowned beneath multitudinous old books on the most varied subjects, and lastly, picked up by me, likely due to my profound weakness regarding the shaded outline of spring swallows. Every attempt I make at alchemising a possible story sounds overly poetical and contrasts with my knowledge of this world. This now lonely, diseased, and at times, unbearably real world. What I know is that the words of Fernandes de Sá have found another “encounter” in their subtle existence, and that, at least for now, they have another home in which to perdure, another memory to cling to.


The other book, “Lucilações” by Telémaco Augusto Santana, shares many elements with this one, but has many more elements unique to itself; sadly, in fear of making this post any denser, I will publish it at a later date, but as soon as possible.

I hope you enjoyed this brief journey into the oblivion of words; I have more planned, hopefully, if and when things resume to themselves. I would also like to deepen the prose of these voyages; unfortunately with the case of Fernandes de Sá, I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable of Northern Portugal, nor have I ever visited Angola (only Mozambique and South Africa).

Thank you for reading, as always!,
João-Maria.

⌉|⌈ – Für Alina

In 1976 — a year hardened by a big exodus within European confines, Alina, then eighteen years of age, left Tallin, Estonia, for a more promising life in England. Shipping in embrace with her father, she left only her mother, who was left in solitude. Arvo Pärt, by then a long-time friend of the family, syphoned from his years of composing and wove one of the most influential and sumptuous works of musical minimalism — Für Alina, the emblem of his tintinnabuli stylistic approach.

Music, unlike any other basilar-Art, envelops and takes command of a singular sense perception, and opposite to what modernistic music-videos would have you believe, Music itself pylons above little else than sound. Any aesthetic extension is dismissible to the gestalt of a piece. If a composition cannot support itself, a music-video has no worth, and shan’t amend the issue, since it is not constituent to the Art at-hand. There is, however, a very important semblance of aesthetic (by medium of thematic) in Music, laid at the very core of what makes Music, well, Music: giving order to noise and shape to silence — the simplest, most sincere description of the Art. 

Pärt, however, had many trepidations with that unique conception of his craft, and his dark, strikeful soul, compounded with the frigidity and abound lifelessness of the Estonian landscapes, opened those mires of sound that would pend and dip into those chilling waters of silence. He discovered that, perhaps, the soul of a weeping mother, missing and fearing dearly for her child, might connect more with the softness of absent sound than with the cadence and encore of a sole violin.

At roughly seventeen, I first heard this composition being played at a concerto in Lisbon’s suburbs, held in a poorly-lit office room with what felt like six sombering, silent listeners. Maybe such setting allowed me to feel the profound isolation hand-crafted by Arvo, the lingering restlessness of his notes, coalesced with sumps of a silence so-dense, so terribly overwhelming, it becomes a luscious shade that dances around you, and beats at tandem to a shrivelled heart. Alina was gone. Alina left, and with her, she took only her mother’s light, her mother’s life. And how many have done so, since, like Alina has? How many left? Leaving in their wake, the sounds of marching feet, slammed doors, doleful grunts and grievous wounds, followed by a prompt of marginal silence? Silence so long, so withering, it seems to hug you with heat?

Für Alina soothes (and suits) best those who feel abandoned at the margins of a big, haunting desolation, much like Arvo did, much akin to Alina’s mother; but also, the composition itself does not lean only on a negative effect — there is, simultaneously, moments were it lends itself to the release of youth, to the prospect of a more-complete life, a stroll of innocence within the avenues of a reality where such innocence is rewarded, and not condemned nor abused. But all the while, silence is still there, thus, pain is too; no truthfully sincere vision of a positive future may exist in a bubble of suspension, there must be descent, that bubble too must pend and dip into the chilling waters of silence; there is no courage in leaving without fear for what is left behind. Arvo, then, dares not to shy away from his still-silent soul, one that still hurts much, even in the moments when it hurts less. Arvo then upheld the truth of a minimalist — that sadness and serenity cannot be fully translated by adagios and staccatos, that release and catharsis cannot be fully translated by crescendos and da capos, but that Music itself exists only because Silence does, too. This idea, this seed that Silence itself can be a carrier of Art, a medium of emotion far beyond our conventional perception of music, was thought of way before Pärt existed, but he alone mastered the weaving of silence beyond any of his predecessors, acing it with a grace and mastery equal only to the silent landscapes of his Estonian youth. 

I often ponder on this, for Pärt heavily influences my poetry, perhaps more than many poets I admire, and without ever stringing a singular verse; I connect more with his silence, than to the pristine sound of a Shakespearian sonnet; Because I am made of more silence than I am of memories of rosie lips and venetian balconies. Because life is as much a song, as it is a pause. A long, beautiful song, and a longer, sombering pause. 


I will leave you with a fellow Portuguese artist, Joana Gama, playing Für Alina with incredible technique and properness:


JOHNNY