I’m working on a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s: the time of the country’s “Carnation Revolution” that put an end to a very nasty dictatorship.
I’d love to say I was there, but I wasn’t. I spent six months living and working in Oporto, in the north of Portugal, before the Revolution, was back in England when it took place, and returned to Portugal to try my luck some months after the event. As that luck would have it, I arrived in Lisbon on the day of an abortive counter-coup. I was overjoyed to join the revolutionaries who took to the streets that evening; the demo was a great introduction to the city, because all Lisbon’s major landmarks lay on its route.
That experience went into a poem, below, which appeared in The Pygmy Giant in April 2011.
The main character in the novel is very different from myself. He is a businessman, a man of action, affable, outgoing and down-to-earth. This forces me to look at the events of those years from a viewpoint that is not my own, a salutary experience, I think. He shares some of my experiences, but, in most cases, he does not see them or react to them as I did. One such experience, though, troubles him as it did me. It comes at the end of this poem: finding yourself part of a crowd braying for blood. It was exhilarating at the time, but is devastating when you look back on it.
Lisbon! Grungy, unfresh from the train,
I arrive the evening a coup fails, eager
to grab the smudgy, press-hot leaflets
thrust out by enthusiastic scruffs –
revolutionaries for real.
I find my two friends – keys to a new life –
dump my shabby case of battered belongings,
sample wine, cheese, coffee: ready for action
in the warm September night.
Politics and sight-seeing: sensory nectar
for an eager-eyed anarchist. Better
than Aldermaston, as we flow
from the Bullring to the Edward VII Park
(statue of Marquis with lion)
then down the Avenida de Liberdade, yelling
undying devotion to freedom saved today,
into Trafalgar, no, Rossio Square,
our slogans failing to bring down Emperor Maximilian
(bought cheap from the Mexicans who’d shot the real thing,
re-baptised as a Portuguese king, erected too high
for hoi polloi to scrutinise his features),
through the commercial district, laid out in a grid
for the king’s men to navigate fast, not this red tide
of want-it-now millenarians plunging with victor’s joy
into the elegant waterside square, Terreiro do Paço,
where, by day, a river that seems a sea
reflects Lisbon’s unique light.
Above us, on our left, Alfama, the walled Arab town
(where storming 13th century crusaders,
blind to tolerance, murdered everyone,
Christian archbishop and all).
We turn right, follow the river mouthwards,
heaving with indignant, righteous, solid noise,
past a fascist monument to the Discoveries
of long-inhabited lands, past a tiny fortress
squatting on the water, past the delicate fluted columns
of Jerónimos’s closed cloisters
to our destination: the president’s palace at Belém,
cradle of the new-born, military-guided democracy,
where after-midnight campaign euphoria
gives vent to chanted blood-lust:
“Spínola, Osório, Galvão:
Doubt, distaste flash among three friends,
then we rally our voices to the cause:
a mighty shared demand
that the revolution finally begin
to devour its children.
I went back to Lisbon last year and met old friends I had not seen since those days. I mentioned my shame at the poem’s final incident, and one of those dear friends, who has become more Portuguese than the Portuguese themselves, put my mind to rest by assuring me that it had all been “só bocas” – just mouthing off.
The Revolution had a happy ending for Portugal. It got rid of fascism for good and brought the country into the free international community. Forty years on, people were taller, less poor, better-fed, better-housed, better-dressed and better-spoken; they no longer sacrificed their cities to the automobile; creativity had free reign. The Revolution was long past, but, perhaps because its worst face had been “só bocas”, no-one ever devoured its children.
Bryan is currently working on a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. He welcomes visitors at http://www.bryanmurphy.eu . You can find his e-books here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts and several of his poems and flash fiction pieces here: http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.it/search/label/Bryan%20Murphy .