I'm back to myself. I'm back to Martim Muniz. I left the room I rented in Telheiras for a hostel in Rua do Forno do Tijolo. I've been missing a shower. Literally, I mean it. In the Portuguese middle class apartment like the one I've been living in Telheiras you hardly have the space of a half a meter to take shower. More like 40 cm, to be exact, but I don't want to be peevish. So I left the home of Dona Fernanda for a hostel in Martim Moniz, that is at least adapted to northern size.
Finally I feel at home. I took my shower and I ate a frango no churrasco in the very same place, at the exit of the Intendente metro station, where I used to dine when I was writing Empire and Nostalgia. When I was already half drunk with Santo Isidoro wine, an athan surprised me, it didn't exist before, and it's a long time indeed I didn't hear athan in any of my travels. They must have created a masalla here recently. But overall, the Indian and the Pakistanis, and the foreigners in general are much less numerous now. I suppose that's a sign of the country's economic decadence.
But Martim Muniz had always been decadent. This is why it has an exotic touch I've been missing in the middle-class Lisbon. One feels at ease here, like in the medinah of any Moroccan city. I came to the restaurant wearing the same clothes I intended to sleep with. I could have come with the plastic shoes I used under the shower, but somehow the prejudice of a "civilised" one stopped me. But I would be comfortable with them. With German shoes on my feet, nonetheless, I play the role of a northern tourist. They are surprised to hear me speaking this totally immersed, high-pitched Portuguese, and they treat me por "senhora" , while they treat the African fellows next table por "tu". In this place, where the retornados settled after 1975, the empire never ended, it merely took a different shape. And that's a luxury place where I payed 11 euro 25 cents, leaving lordly a gorjeta of 40 cents. I know a place nearby where I eat for one euro or two, and hallal.
The empires never end, they are immortal, with a history prone to repeat itself. Now my seat in the National Library of Portugal is not N14 any more, it's N16. There is a young black guy sitting there, from the Cap Vert, I presume. He arrives every morning even before me and we leave together at the hour they close. That's new, and I wish him the best. He is fully entitled to inherit this historical place where I used to sit since I was been writing my PhD dissertation in 1998. I wish he could inherit all my aspirations and, yes, all my worldliness. If there is still any excellence of a white scholar to be left behind as inheritance, I wish it to be upon him. It is a Draculean inheritance: the eternal thirst of the living blood that only some chosen ones can find in dry and sterile books. Anyway I've been reading African books, and they have been enlivening me these sterile days, that's blood that returns to blood.
There is a continuity of civilisation, a secret renovatio imperii they, the Portuguese, neither guess nor expect. There is this vital encounter and this circulation of the living blood. That's Apophrades, the return of the dead, and a long expected fulfilment of the living, the end of adventure that comes when no one expects any more to hear an athan over Martim Muniz that had once been al-Ushbuna, and had long ceased to be.
Certainly it's a much better place to be, rather than squeeze under the 40-cm-wide shower in the post-Salazarian, middle-class Lisbon I've just left behind. Perhaps it's not the end yet, after all. I'd repudiated this city and this country. But here I am, again, as Noor's itinerant scholar. And I can say, as he did in Zanzibar, or wherever it was: I love this country.