Not far from the bank of the river Tagus in Lisbon, at Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, there is a hundred-year-old olive tree underneath which José Saramago’s ashes are buried. But that is not the only spot you can visit in case you’re interested in the work of the renowned Portuguese writer. Nearby, the José Saramago Foundation houses a permanent exhibition named The Seed and the Fruits focusing on his life and work.
The José Saramago Foundation is a private cultural institution which has been headquartered at ‘Casa dos Bicos’ since 2012. The name of the house stems from its original façade decorated in diamond-shaped protrusions that resemble beaks (‘bicos’ in Portuguese). It was built in the early 16th century and survived the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which destroyed great part of the city.
The walls of the first floor, which houses the permanent exhibition, are festooned not only with the various books written by José Saramago and their translations into many languages, but also with photographs in which he is in the company of other authors, artists and politicians. Inside the many display cases, there are edited manuscripts, personal organisers and notebooks, which he used to take notes while writing. It’s also possible to listen to Saramago reading excerpts from some of his books, including O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) and O Memorial do Convento (Baltasar & Blimunda), to watch his Nobel Prize in Literature speech and to see the respective medal.
The visit can last for as long as you like. It all depends on the time you have available and whether you wish to carefully read his annotations or not, providing you’re able to decipher his handwriting, something I unfortunately struggled to. Luckily, some of the notes he took in preparation for the book he was writing at the time of his death were typewritten. So, I learnt that the idea for the unfinished book Alabardas stemmed from the question regarding why there had never been a strike at a weapons factory, and that at first it was to be titled Bellona, like the Ancient Roman goddess of war.
At ‘Casa dos Bicos’ there is also a bookstore, an auditorium and a library. The foundation has hosted a number of cultural activities, such as book presentations, conferences and small plays. In fact, one of the purposes of the José Saramago Foundation is the promotion of culture in Portugal and the world. But it also aims to uphold and disseminate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and defend the environment.
The entrance fee at the José Saramago Foundation can be up to 3€ per person, depending on the type of ticket you have to buy. However, if you spend more than 30€ at the bookshop, you get a discount of the same value of your ticket. I really didn’t need another excuse to buy more books!