Antonio Tabucchi’s Requiem: A Hallucination (1991) is a love letter to Portuguese culture. Tabucchi is an Italian writer who became, through diligence and enthusiasm, a Portuguese adoptee. Fitting its subject, Requiem is written in Portuguese. The subtitle, the hallucination, is an addition to the English version,* but a useful one.
A Tabucchi-like narrator spends a hot July day – noon to midnight, actually – wandering in a dream Lisbon, revisiting its cultural treasures and sites from his past, encountering ordinary Portuguese and dead friends. The climax of the novel is a dinner with Fernando Pessoa:
I know, he said, with me it always finishes that way, but don’t you think that’s precisely what literature should do, be disquieting I mean?, personally I don’t trust literature that soothes people’s consciences. Neither do I, I agreed, but you see, I’m already full of disquiet, your disquiet just adds to mine and becomes anxiety. I prefer anxiety to utter peace, he said, given the choice. (99)
Requiem is honestly not an anxious or even disquieted novel.
Portuguese cuisine is one of the featured cultural treasures. Oh yes yes:
I’ll tell you the ingredients for a real sarrabulho, I never measure anything, I do everything by eye, anyway, you need loin of pork, fat, lard, pig’s liver, tripe, a bowl of cooked blood, a whole bulb of garlic, a glass of white wine, an onion, salt, pepper and cumin. (37-8)
No need to give the whole recipe here, I guess. The result “looked revolting,” “drenched in a brown sauce that was probably made from wine or cooked blood [the latter!],” but has “the subtlest of flavors” (36).
Perhaps I overemphasize close attention to food in fiction. I am only reflecting the attention I give it.
Close attention is also paid to a painting in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Hieronymus Bosch’s Temptation of St. Anthony. Who says your culture’s treasures have to be from your own culture? We study the details, the skate in the lower center, the - well what is that in the upper right?
I know this painting like the back of my hand, he said, for example, you see what I’m painting now?. Well, all the critics have always said that this fish is a sea bass, but it isn’t at all, its’ a tench. A tench, I said, that’s a freshwater fish, isn’t it? It is indeed, he said, it lives in swamps and ditches, it loves mud, it’s the greasiest fish I’ve eaten in my life, where I come from they cook a rice dish made with tench which is just swimming in grease, it’s a bit like eels and rice only greasier, it takes a whole day to digest. The Copyist paused briefly. (65)
You see, it is not just me who gets distracted by the food.
A sort of story is carried along in Requiem, a plot about an old, tragic love affair, but that as the novel progresses that story recedes to the background, its incidents taking place not in but between chapters. The Portuguese background moves to the front. What a fine novel to round off my little Portuguese project.
I read the translation of my hero Margaret Jull Costa. The seraillon blog is suffused with Antonio Tabucchi.
* No it's not! Please see Miguel's comment.