Words

Africa

"The empire, the heart of the empire. Lieutenant Ramos, old Lieutenant Ramos: you, yourself, want to go back to Guinea, where death was always hovering over you, sleeping on your shoulder, cozying up to you, where life was hanging by a thread, breathing that scent you can't forget. You fled from Guinea, but look at you now: Africa keeps coming back to you, overseas provinces roll back one by one, the railway in Benguela and the port of Moçâmedes, the railway that stretched from Beira to Malawi, the sisal, coffee and cotton, the Companhia Colonial de Navegação and the Infante Dom Henrique liner, the Niassa liner and João Maria Tudela singing 'Lourenço Marques,' every inquest haunts you with the smell of Africa and of those who say 'aah, the smell of Africa,' though they've never known the smells you brought back with you – the smell of shit, poverty, waste, of things left out to rot in the suburbs, of the dead piling up in the bush, forgotten, vanquished. Fuck Africa, 'goodbye Guinea, you'll forever be Portugal." (The Sea in Casablanca)




Aging

"Then one day, one evening, one night, they talked about aging – age isn't about the time that has gone by; it's about the time you have left." (The Dope Collector)




Biography

"Diniz Ramos arrived in Brazil on the 22nd of October 1948. The date was unimportant but he registered it as a landmark in his family history and held onto that memory as the years went by. There was no reason for him to remember. He'd never met Diniz Ramos: in pictures he appeared to be a tall man, he wore a mustache and dark-rimmed glasses, he had broad shoulders and wore gray three-piece suits, a man who smiled more and more (or so it seemed to him) as everything grew dimmer, on the verge of disappearing. He still had a few letters sent from São Paulo in the following years. Yellowed or yellowing envelopes that had never been torn open or stripped of their stamps, bearing tucans, Amazonian trees, macaws, rivers, the Emperor's portrait, the face of Juscelino Kubitschek, ships, Santos Dumont and the early days of aviation, half-naked Indians. Diniz Ramos had been the first expat in the family, and at school, Jaime Ramos heard Brazil being described as a promised land that would return him wealthy, old, with plenty of offspring and black servants, a land where men wore white coats and there were too many women." (Far From Manaus)




Communism

"The revolution and the time before the revolution. He remembered them well. At that age, his teens still ahead of him, Jaime Ramos went as far as he could go, at a time when his life was frailer than now, he heard the speeches in every meeting, attended all the rallies, learned the slogans and the songs, the names, the inflections, the strange courage of those comrades who were always dressed for the revolution, always ready with a word, be it comforting or harsh, who partook in every moment of his life. October 1973 was the first time he said the password to his new life: 'I'm a communist.' I have faith, I'm protected, I carry a word that burns inside me, it ignites everything, leaves flames blazing in my home, lays waste to details, to doubts, mostly doubts and details, a trail across my biography, 'I'm a communist.'" (The Sea in Casablanca)




Defeat

"He went into the bathroom and squeezed shaving cream out of the tube and onto his shaving brush. He lathered his cheecks methodically. He knew that was one of the best ways he could possibly soothe the feeling of loss and defeat that seized him right then." (A Sky Too Blue)




Family

"He scheduled work meetings at lunchtime, in restaurants with smoking areas where ice-cold spirits and muted TV sets hadn't been banished yet. Isaltino and José Corsário took their laptops when necessary, and he wrote off the bill as standard work expenses, certain that the taxpayers wouldn't notice the inappropriate expenditure on one or two meals every month. The other members of the squad, selected from amongst those who'd preferred not to investigate white-collar crime or technological banditry, were periodically invited to attend. Olívia, Jacinto, Dulce and Vasco were part of that lot, and by all accounts, they were his closest kin." (The Sea in Casablanca)




Fear

"At age fifty, nostalgia cuts you like an all but deadly blade, memories bring more pain than release. It happens to all of us – we contemplate our memories with fear or apprehension, because by holding onto them and feeding them, we risk losing everything in a flash. Particularly our balance." (A Capital Crime)




Identity

"After all these years, I get those people who've never wanted to come back here, back to this, four seasons a year, the mud in Trás-os-Montes, the rain in Porto, the accent in Beira Alta, poverty in Alentejo, retired sargeants, the tax office, clerks, public administrators, two-bit singers. Remember the Portuguese people who don't want to go back to Portugal, Lieutenant Ramos, because they're fucked up, they're either miserable, or heroes who always refuse to surrender, they move from country to country without setting foot in Portugal. And how they hate Portugal, or despize it, or ignore it. How it bothers them." (Far From Manaus)




Joy

"The joy of the joyful is just like any other disease, like an addiction that upsets your life and distorts it. People who are happy all day long. People who love life deeply and chaotically. He didn't judge them, but he acknowledged the necessity of holding some kind of grudge against life, somewhere, sometimes, some days. A permanent good mood is an audacity best left to the mediocre." (Far From Manaus)




Loneliness

"He was a lonely man, in spite of Rosa." (The Sea in Casablanca)




Love

"Until you've loved for the first time, until that moment when you wonder what a compass is, what a map is for, what is love without sex, what is sex without love, until that moment arrives, you always feel you've yet to learn about love. Then you carve hearts into the bark of an almond tree, you find words that burst with clarity, anemone, mango, orange, cliffs, navy blue, guava, rice paper, pearls, ice water, gardenia, silver, heart carved into the bark of an almond tree, basalt cobblestones." (Far From Manaus) "Jaime Ramos was a part of that couple that had danced a perfect tango, and she, the woman, Rosa, if she wasn't the love of his life, she was certainly the partner who'd chosen to spend all those melancholy years by his side at wedding parties like he'd never be willing to plan for himself." (A Crime in the Exhibition) "Love isn't quickly forgotten, probably because you can never forget it. It lingers on like a betrayal – and he knew what that word meant." (The Sea in Casablanca)




Melancholy

"There should be a place like this, a law allowing places like this to exist, neither paradise, nor just a cozy surrounding, or a ready retreat, a shelter, since shelters are always temporary. An insignificant dot on a roadmap that removed it from all our memories, from the inevitably violent or controversial outcomes of what scares us stiff and weighs us down at night." (Death in the Statium)




Memory

"He spent his days sitting down, deaf, wrapped up in that amber ghost, the light golden earth that refused to let him go: orange clouds sailing across every corner of his view, every point in the compass, every single object tinted by that cloud that chewed up memories and spewed out things devoid of any apparent significance: the dead strewn along the road to Missirá, the face of a black nurse at a hospital in Bissau, a pack of stale Sagres cigarettes resting on a bedside table (he remembers the red packaging, the shield, the five escutcheons, Portugal's coat of arms), the first morning he walked across the Praça do Governador, his first boat trip to Ilhéu dos Pássaros, an evening when no ambushes took place, no columns burst into flames, no noise came from special ops, no letters arrived from the family." (The Sea in Casablanca)




Men

"Men's minds are somewhat dim. Somewhat sad. Profoundly ridiculous. Sooner or later you figure out they're dim, sad, ridiculous. They're just putting on a terrible show." (Far From Manaos)




Pictures

"These are the pieces you pick up during an investigation, pictures of houses left suddenly vacant by an unexpected demise, as unexpected as life itself, a typical passport photo in a wallet, cut out from an old student card, the stamp still showing, the white stamp on one of the corners, testament to something that will never be true again, loose sheets of paper collected with merit but no method, copies of official documents, an ID card, passport, death certificate, an autopsy report filed hours after the body was retrieved." (The Two Waters in the Sea)




Rosa

"When he gets home, he often stops just outside the door (leaning against the frame to hide his fatigue), noticing that Rosa has come down from the third floor and let herself in: he'll find her sitting at the kitchen table, or lying on the sofa in the living room, or tidying old newspapers and emptying an ashtray that was left out in the balcony. He remembers her strolling on a sandy beach at night; walking down the aisles in the supermarket, lost; buying him clothes he didn't much like, though he'd wear them anyway, checkered shirts, socks, boxers, light coloured t-shirts (he only wore gray, black or white); driving the old Golf Jaime Ramos wanted to hold onto until his retirement; planning holidays abroad (Cape Verde, Brazil, Rome); serving food from a tray – for him; pouring him a generous glass of whisky minutes after saying alcohol was bad for him. 'Why did you fall for me?' she asked, choosing a dessert. 'Because I enjoyed sharing meals with you.'" (A Taste for Imperfection) "But he knew that woman had saved his life, she'd given him a memory, a song, even a few obligations that made him appear to be a civilized man, with a modicum of discipline, thoughtfulness and honour. Everything that love demands, but isn't about. Love may rescue us from loneliness, but Jaime Ramos would rather Rosa kept him safe from sordidness, or evil, cold, self-neglet – we should take care of ourselves, she said. We should wait for rainy days. And we should wait for Saturday mornings, the best mornings of them all. We should expect rain after the thunderstorm. Rosa had kept him safe from winter." (A Taste for Imperfection) "Rosa had insisted on making not a cultured man out of him, but a man capable of seeing the beauty in libraries, the torture of the unknown and the passing of time." (The Dope Collector) "Rosa had stayed beside him when he was in the hospital. He knew the sweetness of gratitude. He didn't know love, he'd never talked about it, he'd never said the words he'd seen in movies, in books, he'd heard others speak; he was grateful to Rosa, he smiled when she walked into his room at the hospital, bearing newspapers, a chicken pie, letters that had found their way to his mailbox, a new record for him to listen to at night. Sometimes she fell asleep on the narrow sofa visitors sat on, by his bedside. He stayed awake, watching her, noticing how a wrinkle had surfaced in her face, how a few strands of her hair had grown gray, how her hands rested limp on her sleeping frame. And time went by without a whisper". (The Dope Collector)




Sea

"You could see the ocean from that spot, right in front of you. The low, constant swell. The waves crested white, cold, streaking the dark body of water. There was a road there, far off to the left, which skirted the rocks and led to the old fishing districts that were later bought cheap by people who wanted to live on the seafront and turned the bend in the river into a luxury estate, a planisphere for the new bourgeois – but only a moderate luxury, plagued by stormy nights when the sea climbed the rocks and reached the road; a luxury that lacked the charm of ten or twenty years ago, of a time before real estate brokers had gone bankrupt and the city had isolated itself, once again, from the suburbs – but that road remained, no longer as desolate or as dirty as before. As did the small creek under the bend that hid the rocks, the last spot where the river was a river before being swallowed by the dark, murky brine." (The Sea in Casablanca)




Trees

"I remember towering elms, winter trees, leaning against the walls (and the trees that were their opposites: cherry and almond trees, lush during the summer), dark along the roads around the village, like the way tha led to the top of the hill. Jaime Ramos, with Rosa sleeping by his side, asleep ever since they'd crossed the Sabor river on the way to Foz Côa. This land isn't fit for elms, he added, we're in warm country, but that valley had never failed to amaze, rich with almond trees, eucalyptus and gorse, olive trees, secluded reservoirs sitting tight against the hills." (Far From Manaus)




Women

"Aah, women, a muscle moving on an ankle, a pulsing vein, warmth, an imperfection you learn to appreciate, a lovable imperfection – a line across the skin, some extra girth, a fold of flesh, a hint of laziness, a bit of temper, a little hoarseness waking up, the way they wake, soft hair on a stomach, or under the left ear, the one that's closest. Aah, women." (The Sea in Casablanca) "Adela: "She liked riding half-naked in the swamp. She liked strong liquor. She liked men's clothing. She liked swimming in the river. She liked knowing scandalous details about the wives of the officials in Chaco. She liked sex, she liked trading and smuggling, she liked the nights when the gnats rose from the lakes when they were almost dry." (The Sea in Casablanca) "Love the ugly ones so the beautiful will love you. The thought crossed Jaime Ramos's mind as he looked at the photo of Esther Graydon, her hair too blonde to be real, with platinum streaks that fell over her ripe shoulders and sometimes hid the light colour of her eyes, brown or green, he could never tell, because he didn't notice eyes. Let me ask you this, inspector: what do you notice in a woman? 'The eyes.' Liar. Yes, the eyes are a part of the picture, but there's more. The mouth. The hands. The fingers. The arms. 'What do you value most in a woman?' The eyes. The smile. The smarts. The humour. Esther Graydon's eyes, then: arched brows that appeared to be stencilled in gray, with a small wrinkle forever dividing them. (...) What's the first thing you notice in a woman? Be honest. Her breasts. Her tits. Her hands. The thickness of her thighs. Her fingers. Her hands and her fingers – and Jaime Ramos pictures Esther Graydon touching a penis and stroking it. Her chest, seen from the front and the side. The thickness of her thighs when she gets up and announces she's off to the bathroom, a dense sweet scent filling the void she leaves behind her. Old, old, you're getting too old, much older than Esther Graydon, who'll be back soon. ('Can I use your bathroom?') – once again, he admires the thickness of her thighs, wonders what her underwear will look like, under her trousers, her tight jeans, boots that almost reach her knees, the warmth of light, discreet, snug cotton. What do you value most in a woman?" (A Taste for Imperfection)




Detective Jaime Ramos by Francisco José Viegas