All this exceeds the logic
Imposed on things by reason,
And it all has something of love,
Even if this love can’t speak.
—Fernando Pessoa, 4 October 1934
A nice thing about settling in for a few days in one location is the chance to poke around at leisure in the neighborhood, which for us was The Chiado in Lisbon. I hadn’t connected all the dots beforehand, so a sense of serendipity accompanied our realization that the Café A Brasileira—a well-known Fernando Pessoa haunt—was nearby.
I’m intrigued by public statues and monuments, and stumbling across statues of a country’s literati is an especial treat. Café A Brasileira has a famous one of Fernando Pessoa seated outside the café, with an empty chair beckoning nearby. So, yes, I had to do the tourist thing of being photographed with him, nothwithstanding that it would likely have been the last thing he’d wanted—and the last thing I would have presumed to do—if he’d been there “live.”
More enigmatic was the nearby statue of António Ribeiro, “O Poeta Chiado,” to which no one paid the slightest attention. Turns out he was a poet, too, a contemporary of 16th C poet Luís Vaz de Camões, who is “[g]enerally regarded as the greatest poet of the Portuguese language, at least until Fernando Pessoa came along.” [cite] Camões is most famous for Portugal’s great national epic, Os Lusíadas, which is “in certain respects modeled after the Aeneid and taking Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India as its immediate theme.” [same cite]
About Ribeiro, in contrast, I found no works at all and little in English about the man, though Pessoa does give us this:
On left stands the monument to Poeta Chiado (i.e., the Poet Chiado), the name popularly given to a sixteenth century friar, Antonio do Espirito Santo, who abandoned his habit to become a sort of embodiment of the rollicking spirit of the times and to develop into the favourite popular poet; his extant poems show considerable merit. This statue is due to the sculptor Costa Motta (the elder); it was erected by order of the Town Council and unveiled on the 18th December 1925.
With the unreliable aid of Google translate, I learned that Camões mentioned Chiado in a work of poetry (“num dos versos do Auto de El Rei Seleuco”)—though I have no idea what the reference, which is here (p. 18), means. Even more intriguing was the note that, in 1925, when the statue was erected, intellectuals at the time objected to its position, situated amongst Portugal’s literary greats (Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiróz, and Camões). (“Está situada entre as estátuas de nomes grandiosos da literatura portuguesa (Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiróz e Camões), num largo rodeado de igrejas, teatros e livrarias, facto que levou alguns intelectuais da época a oporem-se veementemente à localização escolhida.”)
Enticed to go yet further down the Google rabbit hole, I was rewarded with this:
[From Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, K. J. P. Lowe, Chapter 16, pp. 345-347, “Black Africans vs. Jews: religious and racial tension in a Portuguese saint’s play,” T. F. Earle]
In another delightful bit of serendipity, we discovered that Anneli, whom we’d met while in Tallinn a couple years back, was staying in Estoril with her friend Liisa at precisely the time we were in Lisbon. We met up one day at the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado. As these things go, the Museu, where I’d hope to find a cache of late 19th-20th C Portuguese art, was under renovation, so no art was on display, but they did point us to a place nearby that housed a temporary exhibit, “Narrative of a collection – Portuguese Art in the Collection of the Secretary of State for Culture (1960-1990).”
We repaired from the Museu to Cantinho do Avillez, where we had a truly memorable lunch. (I’m not the most knowledgeable about these sorts of things, but José Avillez seems to be a sort of Danny Meyer of Lisbon cuisine.) After lunch, we poked around in various shops and stopped in at Bertrand’s (claimed to be the world’s oldest bookstore) and a fado-specialist store. At the close of our time together, we stopped for pastéis de nata and other treats at a pastelería to which Liisa guided us after I sent us in the wrong direction. We still haven’t got over our good fortune in meeting up with them: it’s a wonderful thing to make friendships around the world, enriching in so many ways.
In the course of exploring our neighborhood, we ran across a statue of Pessoa that we didn’t even know existed. It stands in front of the building where, on the 4th floor, Pessoa was born and gives new meaning to the phrase “head in a book.” These days, it’s within spitting distance of a Godiva chocolate shop and Belcanto, a 2-star Michelin restaurant that is the foremost jewel in the Avillez crown.
I wonder what Pessoa would have thought.
Credits: Sources for the quotations are linked in the text. The photographs, as always unless otherwise indicated, are mine.