Having been here for a month, one morning I could barely climb my way in Entrecampos. There was a moment I felt I would stand it no more, this sight of the polished marble cubes under my feet. But my feet knew more.
After all, the crisis brought me inspiration - sinking down down down makes sense of the depth.
What is the world, I ask, over an enormous plate of basmati rice, my shoulders covered by the finest pashmina shawl I bought for 4 euros from a real Hindustani trader in Mouraria, my favourite shopping mall in Lisbon, where Portuguese never dare to enter. I always do, but I've never had such a feeling of being the only, conspicuously white woman in the mall, nowhere in the world. Not even in the inner Marrakesh, on the other side of the limes, and far from the touristic route had I such an experience of my whiteness as I did in this centro comercial - yes, it is one, big letters across the modernist, colonial facade announce so, even if inside it only vaguely resemble some humble places of the kind in Malaysia, crowded as it is with big packs of goods stored in the corridors. Scarcely 2 minutes walk from Rossio and Praça da Figueira where the yellow tram collects the crowd of tourists to Belém. That's what remains from this city, the gate of India, this shopping mall caiado de branco.
And that's my pashmina. The category of gammel doesn't exist any more in my aesthetics. The cloth is smooth, but humanly imperfect, dense at touch. I think now I could have bought one for my PhD student. But what a mature woman may attempt with PhD students? Paszminę ci kupiłam, synu, bo zima.
And the world. Indeed I'm searching for the world, and the world's humanities, apophatically, I can only say what the world is not. The world is not the same as making contacts abroad. This is why I keep cautiously apart from the Portuguese colleagues; I expect no particular blessing from them. The world is not making fincapé in other national humanities. The world is not the annual meeting, neither of ICLA nor ACLA. I see it now, especially as I've attempted to organise a session myself. These are mere illusions of worldliness, seeking refuge in the crowd, and less genuine than my plate of basmati rice.
The world is not this. Beyond the negation, I only expect it might come to me certain moments of inspiration, when I would feel what I'm doing is just right, with a sense of completeness. And I would see the veins of the wood, and the pen, and the sheets of paper in front of me, and I would say: indeed it is inside this clay jug.
All seven oceans are inside and
hundreds of millions of stars
The acid that tests gold is there and
the one who judges jewels...
World humanities have neither visibility nor prestige, only the feeling of being in it, of it, like those birds who flied to God.
The basmati rice on the plate in front of me is perfect and sublime. Every grain of it is over a centimetre long, and slightly curved. It's cooked with absolute mastery, with two single dry fruits of cardamom, by a Nepalese refugee. Every grain of this rice is ready to fly to God.
And they are served in such an abundance as to overwhelm the guest, and I see them with the eyes that can fathom their value historically, before our times.
Two days ago, when I climbed in the direction of the Graça, I literally cried over the ruinous state in which I found the city, crunched into dust by its mildews. Is this Europe?! did I exclaim. Oh, how precarious, how barely remediados are we, if this is our Europe of today! And yet this supreme plate of basmati rice that costs me just these two round euros of mine... That's what it does mean, to be European.
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers.
As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
The Indian-Nepalese restaurant where the grains of rice fly to God is situated between Anjos and Intendente metro stations, do lado do bairro colonial, or this side of the street where you climb Rua do Forno do Tijolo towards Graça, next door with the shop open late in the night, by the same refugee owners.