All Hail, Blue and Gold!
By Katharine F. Baker, Pittsburgh, PA.
The first thing I discovered Álamo Oliveira and I have in common is that we both bleed Blue and Gold.
But in my defense I’m a second-generation native Berkeleyan, and University of California grad who’s known the campus all my life.
So imagine my double-take when on May 9, 2002, I opened Diário Insular’s homepage on the computer, only to be greeted by Cal’s Campanile.
The issue featured an interview with a Terceiran author recently returned from being a Writer-in-Residence at the University of California, which had impressed him greatly.
Being an Old Blue, I wanted to meet Álamo during my upcoming brief stay in Angra do Heroísmo (on my first visit to the Azores), so I emailed Cal’s Portuguese program to inquire about my prospects. Director Deolinda Adão replied that “in addition to being very talented, Mr. Oliveira is a wonderful person, and I am sure you would love to meet him.”
In late May I arrived on São Jorge. Each morning I conversed for a while in the hotel’s breakfast room with two other guests – a Portuguese man who spoke fluent English, and his wife. On their final day, he introduced himself: Vasco Pereira da Costa, the Azores’ Director of Culture, as well as a poet. His business card listed his office in Angra, so I asked if he’d heard of Álamo Oliveira. Had he ever! Vasco volunteered that he even knew Álamo’s phone number by heart, so wrote it down for me. And he invited me to visit his office as soon as I arrived in Angra the following week, so he could arrange for Álamo and me to meet.
During my visit to São Miguel in the interim, I stopped briefly in Livraria O Gil, across from my hotel, where I found three of Álamo’s books to purchase.
After reaching Terceira, I headed to the Direcção da Cultura (then on Rua da Sé). As promised, Vasco telephoned Álamo, and arranged a meeting for us that afternoon at my hotel. After lunch I raced to the nearest bookstore, where I bought three more of Álamo’s books.
Armed with all six volumes and a pen, I met Álamo in the Angra Garden Hotel lobby. After chatting, I asked him to autograph the books. He was amazed by the sheer number, but graciously signed and dated them all. I sensed I was the least Portuguese Luso-American he’d ever met (and perhaps still am!) – hardly a surprise, given that until six years earlier even I hadn’t known I was half-Portuguese.
One of my books was Álamo’s novel Já não gosto de chocolates, whose first chapter he’d taught to Cal’s more advanced Portuguese students that spring. After I got home I began reading it. Although small sections were beyond my comprehension, I was able to grasp the gist, and found both the story and Álamo’s lyricism moving. But never did I suspect that two years later I’d be assisting Diniz Borges in translating it as I No Longer Like Chocolates – and launching my own career as a translator, thanks to both Álamo and Diniz.
Álamo composed the following poem in June 2002. It appears in his poetry collection andanças de pedra e cal (translation here by Katharine F. Baker and Bobby J. Chamberlain, Ph.D.).
1. primeiro o espaço mítico apenas adivinhado
um certo desejo quase sexual de posse.
depois o fascínio real de algo que escorre
pelos atalhos assombrados do sonho.
o carvalho tombado pela idade é agora o conforto
dos namorados e nada é mais universal
que a universidade do amor.
começa a primavera.
a liberdade está sempre em flor.
2. a campanila é um farol de som
que ajuda os náufragos sem bússola.
é o eixo de onde partem todas as ciências.
sem ela não é possivel discutir
a linguística biológica de chomski
nem a presença onomástica de cesar chavez.
a campanila é a presidente da república popular
de berkeley e a liberdade um grito que arde
como chama olímpica do afecto.
ah como não andar pela telegraph avenue
com a nudez da alegria içada como bandeira.
1. first the mythic space only imagined
a certain desire almost sexual in its power.
then the actual allure of something that flows
through the shaded byways of the dream.
the oak bent over with age is now the solace
of lovers and nothing is more universal
than the university of love.
freedom is perpetually in bloom.
2. the campanile is a beacon of sound
that aids compassless castaways.
it is the hub from which all the disciplines emanate
without which it is impossible to debate
chomsky’s biological linguistics
or césar chávez’s onomastic presence.
the campanile presides over the people’s republic
of berkeley and freedom is a cry that burns
like the olympic torch of emotion.
oh how can you not walk along telegraph avenue
with your unadorned joy waving like a flag.