“Journalists were also sleepless men in the revolution of April 25”

Journalist Maria João Avillez has spent the Carnation Revolution in the newspaper headquarter, she got to know Sá Carneiro like only a few did and she has interviewed Álvaro Cunhal several times and was the first to ask intimate questions to the man that no one knew. She has done a monumental work on Mário Soares in the book Soares: ditadura e revolução (Soares: dictatorship and revolution). According to her, Sá Carneiro might have had sleep disturbances because of his back problems, whereas “nothing would keep Mário Soares from having his sleep, not even the country”.


I believe you worked at the newspaper A Capital at the time of the Carnation Revolution. Did you hear the news by the morning? Did you manage to sleep in the following nights?
On the next morning I was not at the newspaper headquarter but in a farm near Lisbon, on the Westside, where we sometimes live as well, aside from Lisbon. My husband called me and woke me up, saying “this time it was for real”. The amazing thing is that I have spent that day alone with my children, who were still very young. I could not go to Lisbon right away because entering the capital was something uncertain, and no one could “visit” me either. I only got there on the following day. I have spent the April 25 completely alone.

How were your journalism times in the PREC [the period from the Carnation Revolution to the new constitution], when you were working at Expresso? Did everyone sleep less?
Those were spectacular, noisy, thrilling and exciting times. With no sleep. It was said that the men of the Armed Forces Movement were “sleepless” men. We too. Expresso journalists, or some of them anyhow, slept very little and sometimes not at all. Those were unforgettable times. Few things, for better or for worse, compare to it.

At the Siege to the Constituent Assembly in November 1975 there were members who simply did not sleep at all. Do you know if the members of the Communist Party, in addition to having eaten chicken, were able to sleep?
I suspect that all members must have dozed a little… Even the Communists.

You knew Sá Carneiro well. How was his relationship with sleep like?
I have a distant, vague and indistinct idea that it was bad. He had serious health problems, he had back problems, he underwent several surgeries – it was only natural that all that would affect and interfere with his sleep. But I wish he was here, even if sleeping.

What about Álvaro Cunhal, whom you interviewed several times? Do you know if he had insomnia or if he slept well?
Cunhal was meagre and frugal in talking about himself, thereby feeding his own myth in a very skilful way, which the Communist Party gladly and militantly preserved: who was he, deep down? Where did he live? With whom? Whom did he love? All I got was inviting him once to go to the movies with me, which he declined horrified, and lending him a video of a Herman José [comedian] episode which he had not seen, at the time when Herman was a genius.

What about Mário Soares? Of the three he was the one who took naps, which by the way had excellent political results, as seen in the television debate for the 1986 presidential elections, when he faced Freitas do Amaral.
Nothing would keep Soares from having his sleep, not even the country. He slept like a righteous and, above all, he would fall asleep anywhere, whether it was noisy or silent and whether he was alone or accompanied, in the car or on the couch at the office or at some concert to which he was incautiously pushed to… He would fall asleep during trips, whenever he was bored or just, briefly, to refresh between two meetings, two hearings, two rallies. I saw him do that in a number of election campaigns. He knew more about politics in bed at night, asleep, or dozing in the chair of his office, than poor Freitas do Amaral awake, as indeed it turned out in that historic television debate. In fact, when sometimes visiting the Soares early in his home to work, for newspaper works or books I did with him, I do not remember seeing him cranky or sleepy in the morning. Soares would wake up in a good mood, at piece with life.

Live today is very different, but it seems that politicians still sleep poorly and are not very sensitive to sleep hygiene behaviours. Do you find it disturbing that men and women who make crucial decisions actually do not sleep much?
But sometimes they have no other choice but to decide on a few hours of sleep! Political life is as hard as demanding, both for the mind and for the body. There is no place to leisure, pleasures, life, whims. I am not part of that group, surely very smart, very cultivated and snob, who thinks that politicians are “terrible”, mocks them and displays an audible contempt for the political class. On the contrary, with some exceptions, I have respect for it.

What do you think about the expression that God does not sleep?
I do not know what I think of it, but I know I use it a lot. In fact I use it, almost automatically, when there is something I wanted to happen, though I fear it will not, or when I suddenly have a pleasant and unexpected surprise. I keenly hope that on the 4th of October [day of the Portuguese elections], God does not sleep.

Literature is full of references to sleep and dreams. It is a mystery that writers like to portrait…
It is. And I understand them very well. There is nothing more mysterious than dreams – it is a real, pure fascination.

What is your favourite literary passage on sleep and dream?
“God wants, man dreams, the work is born…” [Fernando Pessoa]. There would be others, many others…

Have there been situations in your personal life when sleep was good adviser? To what extent did it help you?
One must realize first of all that sleep is absolutely essential, it is a factor of health, balance, energy, wellness. Sleeping well is always half the battle; on the contrary, there is nothing more tiring, stressful and detrimental than sleeping badly. The effects of poor sleep are devastating. It wears out, it reduces and spoils the nervous system and it makes anyone age.

Do you fall asleep easily? Are you more of an “owl” or a “lark”?
I sleep very well, but only a few hours straight, which is bad. I sleep four or five hours and then I wake up. I have a really hard time falling back asleep. I have to discipline myself not to give up, not to jump out of bed at 6 in the morning or take something to sleep, which I abhor. That said, I am both an owl and a lark, which is an absolute gift. I love good evenings until late, and I love mornings. I like to celebrate the morning, to go out early, to plunge right into life. I always wake up in a hurry to live.