Uma Lettera para Clara (#20)
It’s been now a month and two weeks since I was in the hospital, having my banged up disc removed. Since then it has been a period of recuperation: stretching exercises which Marcella does for me, taking a lot of pills – anti-inflamatory, pain-killers, and “integrators” (minerals and things to help build the new not-disc between the vertebrae.) For the most part it goes well, though a two weeks ago I awoke with a severe pain, so bad I could not get out of bed to go pee. After an hour or so the pain would drift away and the rest of the day was fine. This went on some days and I saw the doctor who explained that it is a scar in my nerve, which overnight when more or less still, tries to attach to the nearest thing. Getting up it is torn, and so the pain. He gave me further drugs, and while it is not gone, it is less. I guess it will take some time to recover and meantime I get my daily Buddha lesson each morning, dose of pain which I decline to let make me feel bad. It hurts, but I am happy.
So much for me these days. I post some paintings done these last weeks.
The days after returning from hospital
And now about January 2001, in Lisboa.
From Rome I arranged to sublet a small apartment – I think it was through Vera Mantero, who had some dancer friends who were going away for the month. The apartment was in Santos-o-Velho. I arrived at the beginning of January, with the legal right to see you each day, for 3 hours. Your mother had temporary custody, and the terms were determined by the Juvenile courts. However, in that month I saw you only three times, though it was my intention to see you every day. Your mother, by one means or another, blocked me from seeing you except for those three days. I had a lawyer, Constanza Maltez, and she reported this violation by Teresa to the authorities, repeatedly. They, however, did nothing, in effect rewarding your mother for violating the terms of her custody.
While there I visited numerous times to the Juvenile court bureaucracy, where basically I was treated rudely and dismissively. I recall the woman (whose name I do not recall but it is in the papers being held for me in England – papers which I will give to you in time if you want them) who oversaw your “case.” She sat in a cramped room, piled high with folders full of papers, while she chain-smoked, her fingers yellow with tobacco stains, and her skin sallow and sickly. She was, to put it kindly, an awful person and I thought how tragic that someone like her had such control over the lives of children whom she never met. To me she was simply brutal, and I imagine in her career she inflicted great damage on many children and parents.
After a month of seeing this woman and others in the system, I came to conclude that in Portugal a mother with needles in her arm would be awarded her child’s custody, no questions asked. In Portugal, as a Catholic culture (at least not long ago it was one), in the eyes of “authority” it is, necessarily, a mother who should have a child. In our case, your mother had been largely absent for 3 and a half years of your life, and I had been your full-time care-taker all that time. But for the Juvenile courts, this was inconceivable and irrelevant. And besides, your mother was a more or less famous personality, and surely in the back rooms some arrangements had been made – perhaps through your grandmother and/or your mother’s uncle Manuel.
From Imagens de uma Cidade Perdida
January was gray, cold and wet. My impression of Lisboa then was that a long line of souls, their skins leathered and worn, simply waiting for death. It was not, for me, a happy time.
As Teresa had lost actor Joaquim De Almeida, to a Hollywood film in December, she had been unable to finish her film and shoot a scene in which the cinematic daughter – you – were in effect kidnapped in the story. It was a scene which in the script required you to cry loudly in the arms of your fictional mother, while an angry fight between the parents goes on. I had requested of the Portuguese courts that this not be permitted, as I thought that two and a half months after you had been kidnapped by your mother in reality, this would not be a good experience for you. I also wrote to producer Paolo Branco requesting that this not proceed. Despite their own reports stating that you had been seriously traumatized by what had happened to you since Nov. 1, 2000, the Juvenile courts said they saw no harm in letting you be filmed being fictionally kidnapped. Such is their concern for the children under their control. The interests of Branco and your mother’s film were clearly far more important than your well-being. [I note that this was also the period of Casa Pia, a case in which the Portuguese legal system demonstrated its utter corruption with regard to the abuse of children by members of the country’s political and cultural elite.]
In that month during the three times I was able to see you, you were more than happy to be with me – though your mother was clearly most unhappy. The first time we went to the nice large apartment which Vera Mantero had on Rua Marques de Fronteira, and we spent a wonderful 3 hours playing, speaking in English, and simply being together. When your mother came to pick you up – and I tell you the utter truth here – you cried loudly, and hit her repeatedly as she took you away. Vera saw all this, though when I later talked with her about it, she said, “Oh, children are always like that.” I don’t agree with Vera about that – it is not “normal” when a child strikes their own mother in such a way, unless, of course, there is something very wrong in the relationship.
The second time we went to another of your mother’s friends (and mine – though after your mother had kidnapped you, suddenly all her friends and family became very unfriendly), who lived on Rua do Salitra – we again had a wonderful 3 hours, and again, when your mother came to get you, you cried and struck her as you had the previous time. Certainly a clear sign of your feelings. Again, the woman (whose name I forget), witnessed this.
The last time I was able to see you, on a rainy afternoon, we spent some time in the place I was renting, and then we went to have a dinner in a nearby restaurant, where your mother came to get you. And again, this time in public, you cried loudly as Teresa came to get you, hitting her again. I recall Teresa going down the street, with you weeping in her arms, as she and a friend – a woman, I don’t know who – tried to distract you with singing and dancing. That was the last time I saw you or heard a word of you, until August of the same year.
During that month it became clear to me that the Juvenile authorities who governed your fate were utterly corrupt, and had no interest at all in your welfare and life. They were a dull lifeless organization like most such organizations, filled with already dead persons awaiting their pensions. That they wielded life decisions over helpless children turned their sad pathetic work into tragedy: in this case, your tragedy and mine. I left Lisboa angered and saddened by a system that was thoughtless and dangerous, and by your mother, whose behavior showed concern only for herself and her wants, and not for you.
In the next letter I’ll tell you what happened in the following months.
Summer is upon us, and I imagine you will go to Cabanas. The town I am at now reminds me a little of it though Ginosa marina is not as nice. I hope you have a wonderful time – and should you wish to see me, you need only let me know and I will come to Portugal.
Frames from Nas Correntes de Luz da Ria Formosa
Amo-te, Clarinha !
The Sassi in Matera