Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain (España)

José Saramago's Basalt Raft

Saramago's Glorieta
Monument to the life of José Saramago in a roundabout next to his house in Lanzarote.
Sebastião Salgado's photo
Photo of Saramago and Pilar taken by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado.
Backyard visitors
Visitors cross the backyard of Casa de Saramago and Pilar.
Figurine in Reading
Mini-sculpture by José Saramago in reading mode.
El Cuervo Crater
Trail in the crater of José Saramago's favorite volcano.
Saramago over Lava
Photo by José Saramago with open arms to the island of Lanzarote.
Painting on Books
Saramago in painting, on books from his large library at the House.
On the way to El Cuervo
Casal follows a trail towards the El Cuervo volcano.
Cheerful Bush
Hardy plant at the heart of El Cuervo volcano.
In Review
Saramago featured in a magazine article.
the Montaña Blanca
The neon of a kart track contrasts with the blackness of the White Mountain.
In 1993, frustrated by the Portuguese government's disregard for his work “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”, Saramago moved with his wife Pilar del Río to Lanzarote. Back on this somewhat extraterrestrial Canary Island, we visited his home. And the refuge from the portuguese censorship that haunted the writer.

The approach to Tías, the place that welcomed José Saramago, Pilar del Río and their House, begins by revealing to us the monument of roundabout erected in honor of the writer.

On the lava gravel of the roundabout, overlooking the Atlantic and flanked by palm trees, stands a steel olive tree in the same ocher tone as the ground.

At five meters high, the tree of peace was created by Ester Fernández Viña based on the writer's initial J and S. It is based on one of the several quotes with which Saramago praised his Canary welcome: “Lanzarote is not mi tierra, but is tierra mia."

Those who disembark for the first time on the large island of the archipelago closest to Portugal are tempted to think that the Martian Lanzarote, with its ocher surface covered with craters, calderas and fumaroles, could hardly give comfort to any earthling.

The reality and the target houses revealed by the approach of the airport, quickly annihilate this impression. Lanzarote has long been home to over XNUMX inhabitants.

Whoever arrives with time to feel its insular soul, proves to be dazzling. As proof, the annual number of visitors and foreigners who move there has been increasing for a long time.

A canary born and bred in Lanzarote has achieved worldwide recognition comparable to that of Saramago. We refer to César Manrique, a multifaceted artist whose works are spread all over the island and in other Canaries.

In fact, Manrique was named after Lanzarote's international airport. The one in which Saramago, like us, felt, for the first time, the African breath of the island, in our case, the suffocating caress of the haze from the Sahara that so often surrounds it.

The House full of Books by José Saramago and Pilar del Río

We close the photo session of the Glorieta de Saramago. Moments later, we arrive at A Casa that José Saramago and Pilar del Río built in Tías.

The clerk at the ticket office asks us for nationality. When we answer, she asks us which book by Saramago we liked the most.

We answer "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” because it was the pure and hard reality, for the thematic audacity and creativity in its genesis, not for having condemned him to the banishment and controversy that motivated him to leave Portugal or for having contributed in a decisive way to the conquest of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.

The employee also asks us if some of Saramago's books were mandatory in school education. We confessed that we were not aware. We proceed inland.

The Insightful Library of Casa de Saramago

Unsurprisingly, more than a home and a museum, A Casa proves to be a huge library, full of titles that the couple read and that inspired Saramago's unusual and talented writing. Saramago, we estimate that with Pilar's intervention, he organized the books.

By themes. And according to the authors' countries. In the case of titles written by women, in a separate section, arranged in alphabetical order. Saramago and/or Pilar had their reasons there.

We also wandered through the residential divisions of A Casa, the office also set up against a shelf where a photo of Pilar, smiling, defies the dictatorship of books, equipped with a desk on which an already outdated PC rested.

We proceeded to the living room, equipped with large leather sofas, where the couple received family and friends, several of them renowned authors. And from a TV that, we believe, Saramago used to keep up to date with the news, the reality of the Portuguese village.

The Backyard with a View to the Atlantic, by Saramago and Pilar

We went to the backyard, a space with a view of the ocean and ground even more fierce than the one on the Selfstanding of the monument. Shortly after choosing the place where they would build A Casa, Saramago and Pilar dedicated themselves to planting trees and plants, some with important symbolism for both.

Olive trees like the ones that proliferated in his native Ribatejo, Azinhaga, Golegã, in the company of palm trees and Canary pines, a plant fusion analogous to the experience that the writer was about to inaugurate.

They also planted quince trees, fruitful celebrations by director Victor Erice and painter António López.

On a lower plane, greenery bending over the ferrous earth, different types of cactus, including a spherical golden barrel cactus, bola d'ouro, also known as mother-in-law's seat.

The Censorship and Contempt of the Government of Cavaco Silva that led to the Move to Lanzarote

Let's go back to 1991.

In the wake of a contestation and attempt to systematically devalue the critical works of Saramago's Christianity, the conservative government of Cavaco Silva, in the person of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Culture, Sousa Lara, vetoed "O Evangelho second Jesus Christ” of the candidacy for the European Literary Prize (PLE).

A convinced communist, a staunch denouncer of the inconsistencies of the Christian faith and censorship in all its expressions, Saramago felt discriminated against.

Ashamed of the rulers that Portugal had elected, he decided, with Pilar del Río, to safeguard himself from anger and frustration in Lanzarote.

Na island of many volcanoes, Saramago quickly felt Lanzaroteño. The writer became an unconditional admirer of César Manrique, to whom he recognized the love with which he left the world artistic circle and, instead, dedicated himself to beautifying and humanizing the Lanzarote where he was born.

The Passion for Lanzarote and the Admiration for the Son of Isla César Manrique

As a rule, the journeys on which Saramago and Pilar guided their visitors – Baptista Bastos, Eduardo Galeano, Susan Sontag, José Luis Sanpedro, among others – began in Tahíche, where the Manrique foundation was located.

Corner of the César Manrique Foundation, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Creative corner of the César Manrique Foundation, adorned with visual elements from the island.

It is even said that Saramago and Manrique had arranged a meeting on the phone, for a while later.

This was prevented, on 25 September 1992, by the tragic death of César Manrique, victim of a road accident in the same village. Manrique might (or might not) have been Saramago's perfect companion.

As was, for the couple, the raw and harsh nature of Lanzarote, the eccentric volcanic landscapes in which they loved to walk, which Saramago felt were “a beginning and end of the world”.

The Intimate Relationship with the Volcanic Nature of Lanzarote

Between the west of the island and the capital Arrecife, we passed several times, at the end of the day, by a neon nestled between palm trees that preached an unexpected “go Kart".

Behind this neon, with its sharp peak, rose, at 600 meters of altitude, one of the mountains that Saramago and Pilar most praised. Saramago saw her, day after day, from their house.

He was already 70 years old when he conquered the top of his cone.

In one of his blog entries from 2009, he confessed that “if I had the legs of then, I would leave what I was writing at that point where it is to go up again and contemplate the island, all of it…”

He also wrote that he never intended to climb the neighboring mountain Tesa (504m) but that, when he reached its foot, he could not resist.

The Volcán del Cuervo was another Lanzarote geological masterpiece that Saramago and Pilar del Río loved exploring.

During the walk we took to meet them, in addition to the couple's reverence for the volcano, we came across the place where Sebastião Salgado photographed them.

Inside the collapsed crater, with both walking hand in hand, making a concerted effort against a raging gale.

The Successive Works Created in Lanzarote until the Death of 2010

Saramago lived for seventeen years at Casa de Tías and in Lanzarote.

At that time, he wrote “The Tale of the Unknown Island","The Cave”, “Essay on Lucidity","The Duplicate Man” among many other works.

The Lanzarote retreat gave Saramago an intimate connection with the most sensorial nature he had ever experienced.

And the clarity of mind that led him to create "Ensaio about Cegueira”, one of his most popular works, if only because of the film adaptation it deserved.

"Ensaio about Cegueira” evolves as a denunciation of an epidemic blindness – blindness of the simple not seeing, but also of the inability of the human species to detect, to assume the inconsistencies and injustices that Saramago tried to highlight, the same contradictions that embroiled him in controversy.

Above all its inveterate atheism and anti-Christian Communism.

But also his latent apology in “The Stone Raft” that Portugal would only have to gain if it joined Spain.

In October 2009, during a conversation with Tolentino de Mendonça, a Catholic theologian, unlike others, open to dialogue and religious dissent, Saramago took the opportunity to refer listeners to the darkest and most annihilating era of the Catholic Church: “To me , what matters to me, my dear Tolentino, is that there are no more bonfires in São Domingos.”

Seventeen years after moving to Lanzarote, Saramago remained faithful to his self-declared exile.

On June 18, 2010, less than a year after the conversation with Tolentino de Mendonça, at the age of 87, José Saramago died, with his wife, at their home in Tías, on the Canary and Spanish island of volcanoes, magma and its solidified stand.

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