Memories of me

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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Commentary on Manuel Alegre's political and literary memories

“René Char, poet and guerrilla captain, said that there are wars that never end.”

1.

A little over a year later and I return to talking about The Earth is Round about the Portuguese writer and politician Manuel Alegre (Águeda, 1936) – see “northern temptation”. His vast production includes novels, short stories, essays and poetry, the genre for which he is best known.

I added in my article last year that Manuel “received at least two dozen significant literary awards” and that “he studied in Lisbon, Porto and at the Faculty of Law of Coimbra. Mobilized to Angola in 1961, he ended up arrested by the International and State Defense Police (PIDE), the armed wing of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970), spending six months in the São Paulo fortress, in Luanda, where he wrote part significant of Song Square (1965), his first book of poetry, banned by the Salazar government.” He was a swimming champion and actor at the Teatro Universitário de Coimbra (TEUC).

Manuel Alegre went into exile and, in 1964, was elected “member of the national committee of the Patriotic Front for National Liberation, starting to work in Algiers, at the radio station Voice of Freedom, as a broadcaster and political commentator. He returned to Portugal after April 25, 1974, becoming a historic leader of the Socialist Party (…) He was vice-president of the Assembly of the Republic (1995-2009) and member of the Council of State. He served as deputy for 34 years and, since July 2022, he once again became a member of the State Council, elected by the Assembly of the Republic, representing the Socialist Party.”

2.

 Memories of me, which came out last March and was given to me by Professor Almerindo Afonso, is a volume organized into two long parts, with short chapters composed of various topics. Reading becomes easy and enjoyable. Manuel Alegre rewrites and expands, with his usual talent, part of what he had already done in his books, highlighting, among others, Song Square, The song and the weapons; Atlantic; Africa Journey; Coimbra never seen; Against the current; Book of wandering Portuguese; Rafael; The square; Seven sonnets and a fourth; Nambuangongo, my love; The kid who hammered nails into a board; Soul; Everything is and is not; Western District; Another memory.

In these Memoirs reiterates what I had already written in Web thickness: “The nostalgic memory of the enchanting places of Alma, the village of childhood. From this childhood, where the images and emotions that guide life come from. All life: there is no arrow that does not have the bow of childhood.” Or even, in the same Web thickness, when he leaves his small town to study in the capital: “I left by bus for Lisbon, at the end of September. I don't know if the morning was gray and sad or if that's how it was recorded in my memory. How do we know what is and what is not, what is invented and added and what is cut and shortened?”

I confess that until the middle of the last decade I knew little about Manuel Alegre's work. Living in London (2015-2016), after a few weeks I started to miss reading poetry and novels in Portuguese. Luckily I lived close to one of the Waterstones stores, located on Tottenham Court Road, right next to University of London. On one of the floors there were shelves of Portuguese literature and the books were half-stranded, old, with outdated prices. I bought them little by little and, modestly, helped to empty one of the upper shelves, where the name Alegre headed the row. After a few months I traveled to work in the North of Portugal, on thesis and competition committees, when Manuel's books were definitively incorporated into my reading regime, assisted by Maria Helena Leite and Licínio C. Lima, friends of Minho and avid readers.

Right at the beginning, the writer highlights his coexistence with his maternal grandmother Margarida, who was widowed relatively early, and informs that his Carbonarian grandfather died suddenly at the age of 59. She disappeared in February 1971, when Manuel was in exile. His parents also gave him a sister, Maria Teresa, born in 1939.

He attended primary school in Águeda, made friends and learned grammar, history, geography and arithmetic with solidity. They only admitted boys; the girls were at another school. Did not obtain distinction in the 4th grade exama. class. “Joaquim Pereira passed with distinction, who was the best. The son of a poor man did not go to high school, he emigrated to Venezuela. I returned from exile almost at the same time he returned. I had nothing more than the clothes I was wearing, he came back rich. He died young. He remained for me as a symbol of social inequality, in a time of extreme class stratification, in which the son of a worker was condemned to exclusion from higher education, even if he was, like Joaquim Pereira, the best in the school.”

Manuel took his entrance exam and took classes with terrible, repressive teachers, but who taught him “the unfathomable secrets of the grammar of the Portuguese language”. Alípio, his best friend, “the brother I never had”, stayed in Águeda, at the Commercial School, while Manuel went to several high schools. Alípio has already died, but was waiting for him at the airport when he returned from exile.

He studied in Porto, then in Aveiro, then returned to Porto, where he began reading poetry and becoming a good football player. Soon came swimming, which led him to compete in several championships and win many competitions, until pleurisy struck him, he had a relapse and ended up losing two years of studies. He returned to classes, fell out with a teacher and changed schools. He entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Coimbra, where he dedicated himself to studies, fado, serenades and dating. Perhaps two phrases reflect his life at the time: “It wasn't easy to study or sleep” and “incomplete loves are the ones that take the longest to die”. In the summer of 1956 he won his first national swimming champion title, winning the 200 meter freestyle and coming second in the 100 meter event.

At the time, Fernando Pessoa, Manuel Bandeira, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Cecília Meireles and Vinicius de Moraes already enchanted him. Reading Lorca and his Gypsy romance It still moves him today, and he recognizes the Spanish poet's influence on Eugênio de Andrade and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. He talks about the poets of Coimbra, his life with Herberto Helder and his Madeiran accent.

Student activism, the fight against restrictions on political freedoms in the midst of Salazarism, studying at the Faculty of Law... Manuel wrote that it was not easy to study: “Theatre, poetry, politics, swimming, love. A permanent restlessness. I was an irregular student. I started with the classic ten, went up to eleven, twelve, thirteen, had three fourteens in a row, and even reached the first fifteen. My learning took place outside, in cafes, in the theater, in republics, in books and in conversations throughout the night.”

Sexual freedom begins to set the tone on trips outside Portugal with the theater group, loves multiply and political engagement increases. In several of his writings, Manuel narrates the day that changed the lives of many Portuguese people: the arrival of General Humberto Delgado on May 31, 1958 in Coimbra, and his speech at the window of the Hotel Astória, to a crowd gathered in Largo da Portagem . He says that next to him a man held up his little son and sobbed: “My General, save my son from the tyrants!”

From then on, he adds, “nothing would be the same as before. Neither in Coimbra nor in the country. There were still many years to go before the Dictatorship fell. But the rupture began there.”

3.

On January 3, 1960, Álvaro Cunhal and ten companions escaped from Peniche Fort. It was a celebration for anti-fascists and a humiliation for the dictatorship. From then on, a series of revolts and still sporadic demonstrations began to slowly undermine the fascist regime. Manuel Alegre joined the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), becoming “Comrade Ricardo”.

At the beginning of the 1960s, it was possible to make love with your girlfriends, “although sometimes in difficult situations, standing on a stone bench, on the ground in the gardens”. The Salazar regime began to give back, after being defeated in elections for university associations. War had broken out in Angola and in August 1961 “the student movement began to be decapitated, especially in Coimbra.” Some leaders were mobilized to Angola, while other friends and Manuel himself received a marching guide for incorporation into the Militia Officers Course in Mafra – people said it was Máfrica.

One of the officers, competent and serious, with little speech, was Lieutenant António Ramalho Eanes, who in the future would be President of the Republic. The soldier walked with The Lusiads in his pocket and said: “If our cadets don’t take this seriously, they won’t go to Angola with me.” One of the young people replied: “Oh my lieutenant, there is a mistake here, no one wants to go to Angola with you”. Eanes was petrified, but he held on and no one was reported.

Manuel finished his course as an Aspirant, being well classified. At a meeting in Coimbra, with more than 500 students, he ended up giving an impassioned speech, having risen to the solemn table, with a public criticism of the colonial war. As a reprisal, they sent him to the 18th Infantry Battalion, in Arrifes, in Ponta Delgada, in the Azores. He was in Lisbon and didn't even have time to return to Coimbra to say goodbye to his family and Isabel, the girlfriend he would eventually marry. “It was the first match. Board the package Funchal for a stormy trip to Ponta Delgada.”

In practice, it was almost an exile, a disguised form of deportation. A lot of loneliness and Manuel ends up marrying Isabel, and they go to live in São Gonçalo, a house for officers on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada. Most of the officers sent to the Azores were sent there because they did not share in greater or lesser degrees with the Salazar regime. In several pages, Manuel narrates the preparation of a coup against the dictator, which would begin with the capture of the island, but which ended up being aborted due to a lack of external support.

At the same time as he was conspiring, he wrote nonstop, having produced some of the poems that would be part of his first book, Song Square (1965). Furthermore, on the occasion of the visit of the President of the Republic to the Azores, they organized leafleting and graffiti, which greatly irritated PIDE. This had serious consequences for Manuel: he was ordered to report to Lisbon in order to go to the war zone in Angola – he was sent to Africa in July 1962, as an Infantry Militia Ensign. He was 26 years old.

There are shootings, ambushes, deaths of colleagues due to mine explosions, illnesses, fear, homesickness. It goes to Nambuangongo and then to Quicua, almost on the border with Congo. There they practically do not receive mail, they face fighting and for almost a month there was only chickpeas and tuna to eat. Manuel falls ill in Quicua, ends up being evacuated, his wife goes to meet him and informs him that he would soon be arrested – which happened on April 17, 1963. He is in Luanda, cannot leave there, is placed on hold and without salaries.

In November 1963 he received authorization to go to Lisbon. Manuel recovers René Char's phrase, “there are wars that never end.” For the Portuguese officer, that war “stuck to our skin”; “It never comes back completely.” And there are exiles “from which part of us no longer returns.” Furthermore, he reinforced: “no one goes to war with joy.”

Manuel starts to be followed and monitored at all times by PIDE, when he is in Coimbra. He wrote his famous “Trova do Vento Que Passa”, a poem from exile that was later set to music by António Portugal, his brother-in-law, and sung by Adriano Correia de Oliveira and Zeca Afonso:

Even on the saddest night
in time of servitude
there is always someone who resists
There is always someone who says no.

His life passes between poetry, music, theater, politics, passions, anguish and parties; There was a fear that the doorbell would ring early in the morning, with PIDE at the door. He had been hiding for some time, sleeping outside the house. "I was tired. He had come from war and prison. I wanted peace.” He remained in the PCP and, little by little, organized his departure into exile, as he was hiding and the PIDE was looking for him. He was 28 years old and received news of the murder of General Humberto Delgado and his secretary, Arajaryr de Campos, by the political police, betrayed by people he trusted.

He leaves Portugal and goes to Algiers, where he resides for ten years, working in Voice of Freedom, the broadcaster of the Patriotic Front. Day by day, he prepared the radio broadcasts, collecting news, writing the texts, thinking about editorials and always recording on the morning of the broadcast, lasting 45 minutes each. He ends up separating from his wife, Isabel, after ten years of marriage and, soon after, he gets together with Mafalda, with whom he still lives today. In August 1973, Francisco, his first child, was born. Manuel interviews Amílcar Cabral, Agostinho Neto, Mário Soares (who was deported in São Tomé), Álvaro Cunhal, Che Guevara… He later ends up resigning from the PCP.

your books Song Square (1965) and The Song and the Weapons (1967) were seized in Portugal, but both circulated in handwritten and typed copies. The corner…would give rise, with the same title, to an album by Adriano Correia de Oliveira, as well as other poems set to music and sung.

Manuel always defined himself, due to the circumstances of his life, as a solitary writer, never belonging to any literary group or to a specific literary movement or café. “I have been within political power, but never within literary power, which is the most sectarian and totalitarian of all. I almost couldn't share what I wrote. Most of the time, just like in the PIDE cell in Luanda, he said it out loud, to myself.

Making a kind of partial assessment of his career, he wrote that he was only 28 years old but “had already lived several lives (…) The student struggle, departure for the Azores, return to Lisbon, plane to Angola, war, Luanda, Nambuangongo, Quipedro , Muxima, Sá da Bandeira, Sanza Pombo, Quicua, PIDE prison in São Paulo, Vera Cruz, term of identity and residence in Coimbra, poems, poems, songs, intense months, the tightening siege, the sentimental division.”

4.

Manuel is received in Águeda on May 10, 1974, two days before his thirty-eighth birthday, reuniting with his parents. He says that perhaps the exiles are almost intruders when they return. It feels like a part of him was missing despite all the emotion. He was still effectively linked to the PCP, in which he had been a member since 1958. However, he found himself increasingly distant from his identification with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, “especially after the liquidation of the great hope that had been the Spring of Prague, led by Dubcek.”

From there, Memories of me narrates a series of events and political events, involving Portuguese redemocratization, which included the decisive participation of Manoel. He joined the Socialist Party (PS) and had a project: “the construction of a new model of society, socialism in freedom. It wasn't a slogan. It was a conviction. The 25th of April had created an extraordinary political ferment. Everything seemed possible, even what had never been achieved until then: socialism with democracy and freedom.”

Manuel reviews the rise within the PS of António Guterres, Jorge Sampaio and José Sócrates, among other leaders, in addition to long and detailed considerations about Mário Soares. The attempted coup by General Spínola on March 11, 1975, the fight to put up posters during the first electoral campaigns and the internecine struggles within the party itself. In the first elections the PS won with 37,9% of the votes, but the PPD, in second place, obtained 26,4%, forcing the socialists to defend their victory at the polls in the streets.

More pages are dedicated to another attempt to put democracy at risk, when more than one hundred thousand construction workers surround the Constituent Assembly under the pretext of demanding a collective labor contract. Manuel also dealt with the attack by paratroopers, on November 25, 2015, on Air Force installations, which generated a serious crisis in the country, leading him to write that “Ramalho Eanes is the military face of November 25; Mário Soares is his political face.”

At the same time that he ran for office and was elected deputy in several legislatures, he continued to write poetry, edit his books and became Secretary of State for Social Communication after the 1975 elections, a position that caused him deep annoyance and regrets.

At that time he faced peridiverticulitis and, years later, he had a heart attack. Once cured, he continued to write, having published 25 more books after this setback. On December 24, 1975, Afonso, her second child, was born, and some time later Joana came along.

He left the Social Communication Secretariat and became Deputy Secretary of State to the Prime Minister, without defined functions. He prepared a series of proposals, but ended up being overrun by the displaced who came from Africa, when all public buildings were requisitioned. “And my projects remained in the inkwell.”

Ramalho Eanes was President of the Republic for two terms (1975-1985), with Mário Soares as Prime Minister (1976-1978; 1983-1985). Soares was later President, from 1986 to 1996. Manuel Alegre details the alliances and political games that developed throughout this period, showing how the PS's internal cleavages slowly distorted its character. He also narrates the various points of convergence and divergence he experiences with Mário Soares.

Criticisms are formulated regarding the way in which Portugal joined the European Economic Community (EEC), which took place on June 12, 1985, signed by Soares.

The writer Miguel Torga spoke out against membership, saying that it would be a Europe of France and Germany, a capitalist Europe that will liquidate the socialist parties. Later, when the Maastricht Treaty was approved, two poets spoke out against it: the same Torga and Natália Correia. For both, the Treaty “consecrated the triumph of neoliberal capitalism against the European socialist tradition”. New influences were approaching, with Rocard, Blair and Clinton and, little by little, the third way would take over the Socialist Party. With the institutionalization of democracy, Mário Soares was more interested in obtaining the Presidency of the Republic.

Manuel talks about constitutional revisions, the presidential election of Soares and the rise of Cavaco Silva as prime minister, the election of Jorge Sampaio (1989) as general secretary of the PS and then his victory and subsequent re-election in 1993 , for mayor of Lisbon, in a great coalition. He highlights the rise of António Guterres, whose families were friends, but he emphasizes: he maintained a certain reserve towards him, not emotional, but political, as “I thought he was more Christian Democrat than socialist.” Jorge Sampaio was also a representative of the left formed in the anti-fascist opposition. Guterres had another path, “he came from Catholic movements and social intervention in poor neighborhoods”.

Guterres defeats Sampaio, is elected general secretary of the PS and transforms the party into an increasingly centrist group, moving towards the third way. Manuel feels increasingly uncomfortable, as he considered himself a “left-wing socialist”: “he had lived the utopia of wanting to achieve socialism in freedom. He knew that time had passed.”

In 1996, Sampaio was elected President of the Republic (he will govern until 2006) beating Cavaco Silva, with the support of the PS and the PCP. Guterres, in October 1995, won the elections, but without an absolute majority. Manuel lists the new socialist leaders who are emerging, almost all of them supporters of Tony Blair's laborism and, slowly, assuming neoliberal stances. “The right wing of the PS has installed itself in the PS superstructure.” This is the case with the rise to power of José Sócrates.

5.

The years 1992 and 1994 were years of mourning, with the death of his father and mother, both aged 87, and his brother-in-law, António Portugal. Zeca Afonso and Adriano Correia de Oliveira had already disappeared. Manuel continued to write: between 1992 and 1998 he published 13 books and received, in 1998 and 1999, 5 literary awards. Furthermore, he continued to practice fishing, shooting and hunting, which he had always practiced.

Other pages deal with his relationship of friendship and friction with Mário Soares, talking about the breakup, reconciliation and death of his friend, in addition to his long relationship of friendship and complicity with Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, poet and deputy, who died in 2004. 

Manuel Alegre was unhappy with the PS leadership, especially with José Sócrates, he had no support from the party and launched his candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic in 2006, being defeated by Cavaco Silva. Mário Soares came in third place and the atmosphere was heavy. He launched himself against Cavaco again, being defeated again, in 2011. And on July 23, 2009, he said goodbye to the Assembly of the Republic, of which he continued to be vice-president, and where he had been since the Constituent Assembly, 34 years ago.

In his political writings, he spoke out forcefully against the “occupation” of Portugal, in 2015, by three officials who disembarked at Portela airport as representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. “They came to Lisbon to give orders to a government elected by the Portuguese.”

In the October 2015 legislative elections, the PS came in second place and, joining the other left-wing parties, achieved an absolute majority in parliament, with more than 50%. That’s when the name “geringonça” came about. Despite President Cavaco Silva's bad disposition, the contraption stayed and worked.

Manuel received many other relevant literary awards and a doctorate Honorary from the University of Padua (2016). In the final pages he confesses, now elderly, his lack of interest in party life and wants to make the most of the time he has left to write. He reveals that he wrote his memoirs as a kind of “self-defense”: “Either you tell what is in it or others will tell other tales in reverse.”

Your friend Hélia Correia, in the elegy The Third Misery, answered Hölderlin’s old question: “What can poets do in times of destitution?” Manoel reveals his friend’s answer to us: “writing a poem that is, in itself, an act of resistance and liberation.”

But Manuel goes further, remembering the poet José Terra who, in Sunken Corner (1956), wrote: “one day someone will stumble upon a verse of mine.” And, with false modesty, the author of Memories of me he concludes: “I hope that one day someone stumbles upon a verse of mine, or prose, or any word, not even written, that has remained there in the air and no one knows for sure where it came from”.

*Afranio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ (Duque de Caxias campus).

Reference

Manuel Alegre. Memories of me. Alfragide, Portugal: Publicações Dom Quixote, 2024. 408 pages.

REFERENCES
[https://amzn.to/3yVJnzJ]

Manuel Alegre. The song and the weapons. Alfragide: Don Quixote, ed. special, 2024.

Manuel Alegre. Another memory. Writing, Portugal and dream comrades. Alfragide, Portugal: Dom Quixote, 2016.

Manuel Alegre. Neighborhood Western. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2015.

Manuel Alegre. April Country. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2014

Manuel Alegre. Everything is and is not. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2013.

Manuel Alegre. The kid who drove nails into a board. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2010.

Manuel Alegre. Nambuangongo, my love. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2008.

Manuel Alegre. Web thickness. Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 2008 [pocket].

Manuel Alegre. African Journeys. Romance of love and death by Ensign Sebastião. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 3rd. ed., 2007.

Manuel Alegre. The square. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2005.

Manuel Alegre. song square. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2005.

Manuel Alegre. Seven sonnets and a fourth. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2005.

Manuel Alegre. Rafael. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 3rd. ed., 2004

Manuel Alegre. Coimbra never seen. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2003.

Manuel Alegre. Book of wandering Portuguese. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 2001.

Manuel Alegre. Against the current. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 1997.

Manuel Alegre. Atlantic. Lisbon: Don Quixote, 1981.


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