It’s a shame that so little good foreign literature finds its way to Portugal. This is presumably due to the fact that we live so far away, out here on the edge of Europe, with just a single neighbour and so much sea around us. This makes us a little isolated. But if we were to look at it from a different angle, then Europe begins here in Portugal, and people who live in isolation should make time for wise decisions.
Even if we took into consideration that Portuguese is one of the world’s ten most-spoken languages, the market for its own literature is smaller than that of The Netherlands. There – in contrast to Portugal – a lot of foreign literature is read, because there is a centuries-old tradition of books and education. People took to the seas in Holland too. But compulsory education in Portugal is just 44 years old. Almost everyone can read today. Almost. Compared with Britain or Germany, Portugal’s own free literature scene is very small. The Portuguese book market is rather insignificant, unfortunately. Our language deserved better than a lot of hesitation. Famous Portuguese authors cannot survive if they are not simultaneously published and sold in Britain or Germany: Lídia Jorge and Lobo Antunes are just two examples.
Now, if we compare a German reader, who spends an average of 312.50 euros per year on books, with a British one, who still manages 231.70 euros per year, Portuguese people, on average, invest less than 150 euros per year in their own literature. Perhaps they prefer to purchase TV channels from MEO and other providers, along with a big screen, and watch football via cable or satellite.
What is happening to literature, one of the country’s most important pillars of education and culture? Elsewhere, I will answer the question about whether Portuguese people don’t enjoy reading or whether the publishers publish bad, insignificant books that are hardly sold and are read even less. In Portugal, there is no widespread, centuries-old tradition of reading among the population, and hence they hardly have any of their own literature that is worth reading on, for example, the forests, our trees, or nature; there’s not even good reading material on economics, which, for example, could explain economic relationships to people in the cafés (where televisions are on non-stop), why we in Portugal are sacrificing our natural resources to unrestrained economic developers, and what kinds of solutions there might be for this.
Because I wonder why it is only now that we want to drill for oil off our coasts (Aljezur) while other countries did that as long as 50 years ago. Did we miss the industrial revolution just because we slept through it? Was it just by mistake that we protected our natural surroundings for 50 years? No, instead of drilling for oil, we planted eucalyptus trees in over half of our country and, in the process, are sleeping through the next revolution because the production of paper will become insignificant in the coming years. Although the sun shines all day long in this part of the world, some of our elites (who can read English and buy their books abroad) would have us believe that only Chinese or other foreign investors will make investments in solar, water and wind power here. Where it is only cash that counts, culture and ethics fall by the wayside, of course. That is something we must change.
We shouldn’t sell off the best parts of our economy, because then we could be the richest and happiest country in the world and wouldn’t just stand idly by while more and more forests go up in smoke each year. And, while watching, we get poorer by the hour, because, with every forest fire, we are pulling the rug from under our own feet and are once again being taken for a ride somewhere. Waking up and doing something is what is needed. We can change all this.
Like this for example: we send António Costa to Bombardier in Canada. There, he buys 20 brand-new, CL 415 firefighting aeroplanes (cost = 800 million euros, less 20% bulk discount, 85% subsidised by the EU) and stops hiring firefighting aeroplanes from somewhere or other that are ready for the scrap heap and are paid for from our meagre tax revenue. He tasks the air force to carry out the firefighting and stops hiring dubious pilots from Spain, Morocco, Ukraine, or wherever. That would work as it did in the past, when, in 1762, the Marquis of Pombal commissioned Count William of Schaumburg-Lippe to travel 2,964 kilometres to Portugal with 50 soldiers on horseback with artillery; he took command of the Portuguese Army and freed the country from the Spanish, combating them with guerrilla warfare and building up a proper fighting force. Still, he freed Portugal like that. The story can be found in a book that is only available in German, unfortunately. And, like so many stories, this story was lost to Portugal. You can look it up at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William,_Count_of_Schaumburg-Lippe
In Portugal too, important knowledge is getting lost every day. Every year, less is passed on by one generation to the next. And, at school, our children hardly learn anything useful about real life in the biotope of Nature any more. People who still manage to plant one tree per year subsequently have no idea about the fact that this little tree that has just been planted requires quite intensive care, if nothing else to get it through the hot summer. It has to be watered. It needs water, some trees every day, others once a week. During which season do we plant a tree, and where? No idea? Go into the forest with some youngsters, with a school class. Ask them if they can tell the difference between an oak and a chestnut, a beech tree and an ash tree. Ask the children if they can distinguish one bird from another in the forest by their song and their calls, a nightingale from a cuckoo, a sparrow from a tit, a hoopoe from a lark? How do I recognise a carp and what is a brown trout? Simple questions that for once have nothing to do with the internet. When we talk about nature we talk from a position of superiority, as if we knew what Nature is. On closer inspection of the so-called knowledge, we realise that knowledge about cars, fashion and travel is more important than knowing why the forest is on fire again.
Exceptions prove the rule. Of course there are some private schools such as the International School in Aljezur, the Waldorf and Montessori schools around Lisbon, and a few state establishments that place our natural environment and our life within it in a wider context, passing on cyclical knowledge, as well as background information and details about our interconnections with the world around us. But it doesn’t surprise me that whole armies of wood cutters are marching through Portugal before the summer and are creating firebreaks around the villages and cities and cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees in order to reduce the danger of forest fires. It’s as if the architect forgot to install the windows when building a house, and now orders light to be brought into the house in buckets. ECO123 talked to a well-known landscape architect from the Alentejo, who has been working successfully in her profession for a quarter of a century. It concerns the way we could all solve the plight of the Portuguese forest, if we wanted to.