Friday, 19 February 2010

Travels in the scriptorium: when Fernando Pessoa met Paul Auster

One night of March of 2011, Paul Benjamin Auster, the writer that has also been a poet, dreamt that he had woken up in a different room than that of his house in Vermont. In the beginning, it appeared to him like a hospital room, with its windows sealed and the sheets white. A small table with a stack of papers in the corner caught his eye. He knew that they were waiting for him to write his apologia. Then he realized that his bed was a bunk in a ship and from the porthole that was now open, because it was almost dawn, he could see the port outside.

“Over seven hills, which are as many points of observation whence the most magnificent panoramas may be enjoyed, the vast irregular and many-coloured mass of houses that constitute Lisbon is scattered…”

He sat on the edge of the bed, holding his head in his hands. Hence, he did not see the Tower of Belem and the lighthouse as the ship was manoeuvring. He lagged behind a little bit. Then he got up and dressed as usual in his jeans and a RAF blue sweater. Only that now, he also wore over it a sailor’s jacket and a white cap.
“I have been a sailor, indeed…”
he said to himself and he collected his papers from the table.
With the sailor’s travelling bag heavy on his shoulders, you see he always carried his typewriter with him, he noticed the tramway 29 rails that went as far as the port. He walked past some porters that were shouting coded words of command among them in order to lift – all three together – a big trunk. He got out of the ship unnoticed, and he got onto the tram, putting the travelling bag down between his legs.
The bag was now the cardboard box that his uncle had given him thirty years ago. A box full of books, all of them read by now. Just as the door of the tram was shutting, a stray dog of the port jumped onto the tram. A woman in her fifties sitting in front of him was reading one of his books. He searched instinctively for a pencil –
“she might ask for an autograph”.
He fumbled for the instructions of the card game – he always carried it with him in order to sell it in hard times. After a while, as the tram was turning in order to take the steep ascending road, he thought that he was in Paris.

The tram was travelling through Monmartre and it was night. It was the spitting image of the night when he actually had been there. He noticed the stairs in front of Sacre Coeur and he bent over the cardboard, awaiting something to happen. Nevertheless, the image of Paris dissolved, and the tram was now travelling in Rua do Arsenal past the Town Hall in order to head in the direction of Praça do Comércio, After that, he was sure, as sure you can be in a dream, that the rails went up at Rua de Ouro and from there came to an end at the Rua dos Durafores.
“ The city of Lisbon wakes up later than the others. It wakes up in Rossio Square, in Rua de Oouro at the doors of its café, and among them the station that never sleeps,
Like a heart that beats the same in its wakefulness and its sleep”.

The tram stopped just outside the spacious office of the Rua dos Duradores and Paul Auster stepped out. He knew that the boss there was called Vaskez, the cashier was called Borghes and the accountant Moreira.

« But suddenly, as I was creating my own dream in a café during my humble midday break, a feeling of sadness overwhelmed my imagination: I felt that I would feel sad about something”

Paul Auster went up to the second floor. The assistant bookkeeper Soares was expecting him in his office that was also a café. He invited him to sit at a small round table, like the ones at the café Brazileiro, and when he offered his hand for a handshake said:
“ Fernando Pessoa, en personnes(*)”
Paul Auster had been expecting him to be just like that, with his glasses, with his hat – that he wore even when in the office. He glanced out of the window as he was sitting down. The assistant bookkeeper Soares poured them coffee and said:

La tabacaria”, the tobacco shop. This is what I sit and watch all day long from my desk
 “If the shop owner would appear at the door and stand on the doorstep…”

Paul Auster noticed Augy Wren (**) emerging from the tobacco shop and looking around him. It was five past seven in the morning. The time that he would always take his photo tripod outdoors in order to take a picture of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street.

“Rua dos Duratores is Brooklyn. He will leave his shop sign behind him, and I will leave my verses”
 He looked at assistant bookkeeper Soares in amazement.
"A man entered the tobacco shop in order to buy tobacco…”
“Once, Pessoa was summoned by his teacher Caeiro”,
said Soares.

“He had called on him to tell him that in him he would recognize the deeper part of himself. His darker part. After that, Pessoa keeps dividing himself forever, and creates around him a fraternity of heteronyms, in order to exist as a poet.”

“Fernando Pessoa”, en personnes
“ I know that”,
answered Paul Auster.

I also know that I have something to do with that. Your poem about the tobacco shop and my Christmas story with Augy Wren…”
“Alvaro de Campos’s poem and my own place in front of the tobacco shop, observing it until the death of the tobacco shop owner, who will leave his shop sign behind as I will leave my verses. This not the only thing that we have in common. I would like, if you don’t mind, to draw your attention to that.”

“Let us light a cigarette”,
said Paul Auster.

“and let us taste in the cigarette the liberation from all our thoughts… the liberation from every reasoning”,
Pessoa added

“You capture the flow of time with the camera of your friend, Augy Wren, who is a shop owner and observes the outside world. On the other hand, I myself, confined in the office of Rua dos Duratores, watch the sign of the tobacco shop and the discomfort of the soul of the shop owner… The real world is outside and the poet at the window…”
“An interesting coincidence",

Paul Auster remarked.
“The camera of Augy Wren is a window to the outside world.”
“You have lived the consecutive lives of the student, the adventurer, the sailor, the cook, the poet, the translator, the script – writer and the film director”,
Pessoa said and he continued:
“I divide myself in order for my heteronyms to exist in the life of the sensational engineer, the shepherd, the royalist surgeon and the riddle - maker…”
Parts of me break away and sometimes they talk or exchange letters among them, because I am not able to exist as a poet in one person. I have already explained and you have already understood that the birth of my heteronyms is due to personalization and pretension as well as to the need that I had from an early age to be surrounded by imaginary people. A life divided into many lifes. On the other hand, you…

Paul Auster already knew.
Fernando Pessoa continued,
“not only have lived your lives, but you absorb your fictional characters into your person, you absorb all the lives, all their properties. You are the narrator Aesop in Vertigo, but you are Sir Walter Rayleigh as well, you are the deranged poet seeking for his master, you are the detective and the missing actor. You are your image of the future in Travels in the Scriptorium….

Even the chest…”
Paul Auster bent over the cardboard box with the books that his uncle had given him when he was eighteen.
“This chest of yours was given to you as a gift in the beginning of your literary career. You have opened it and you have read its content and you have created. It was the cause of your creation as a writer. For me, “The Chest” has been the end. It is a closed chest where all my works have ended, to stay there, in eternity, as works of other people.”

Paul Auster got up and looked out of the window. Augy Wren was smiling at him from the other side. The tram was waiting for him to take him from Rossio to Prasa de la Figueira. He wanted to wander around before he woke up. With his sailor’s jacket, he looked just like Corto Maltese.

(*) Fernando Pessoa, in person(s).
(**) Augy Wren is a character from Paul Auster’s “Auggie Wren's Christmas Story”

(1) Lisbon: What the tourist should see,
(2) Maritime ode, Alvaro de Campos (Translated in greek by Maria Papadima)

(3) Fernando Pessoa, The book of disquiet (Tranlated in greek by Anny Spyrakou)
(4) Antonio Tabucchi, Dreams of Dreams, (Translated in Greek by Antaios Chryssostomides)
(5) Antonio Tabucchi, “Baule pieno di gente” (Translated in Greek by Antaios Chryssostomides)

Pictures from the Internet:

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki, Athens, Greece