16 February 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

At a time when coffee drinking was looked down on in Portugal ‘A Brazileira’ venues opened up around the country, with the with the aim of introducing and teaching the art of drinking coffee. Adriano Telles, originally from Portugal, made his fortune in Brazil in the coffee business and when he returned to Portugal, he wanted to promote drinking coffee amongst the Portuguese. He opened two A Brazileira in Lisbon in 1905, although only the one in Chiado is still in operation. The building was renovated in 1908,  making the ground floor into a place for drinking coffee, with the aim of selling coffee by the cup, something unheard of until then, and because this was so unusual, Adriano Telles decided to give out cups of coffee for free, so for 13 years, drinking coffee at A Brasileira was free. It is not known when the ‘z’ in Brasileira changed to an ‘s’.

With coffee culture becoming part of a Lisboetas way of life by the 1920s, A Brasileira in Chiado became a popular meeting place for intellectuals and artists. One of these was Fernando Pessoa, possibly the most widely recognised name in Portuguese literature, and beloved in Portugal, more about him later. In 1988 a bronze statue of Pessoa, by Lagoa Henriques, was erected outside A Brasileira.

Fernando Pessoa

Café Restaurante Martinho Da Arcada

What is now known as Café Restaurante Martinho Da Arcada, the oldest café in Lisbon opened in 1782, and was called Casa da Neve, selling drinks and ice. It has had a variety of names until 1829, when the new owner, Martinho Bartolomeu Rodrigues, gave it his name. Café Martinho played an important role in the cultural and social life of the city and many artists and intellectuals, including Fernando Pessoa, came here. Inside, the table where Pessoa always sat is still reserved for him, and the walls display photos of him in the café.

Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888, he is described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century. His father died when he was 5 years old, and when his mother remarried, the family moved to Durban, South Africa, where Fernando’s step father was the Portuguese consul. Pessoa returned to Lisbon when he was 17, and spent 2 years at university before dropping out to study by himself at the National Library. He started writing when he was a child, he wrote his first poem when he was seven. He published his first essay in literary criticism in 1912, his first piece of creative prose in 1913, and his first poems as an adult in 1914, however he didn’t publish very much while he was alive, even though he was a prolific writer.  Respected in Lisbon as an intellectual and a poet, he regularly published his work in magazines, but his literary genius went largely unrecognized until after his death.

This statue stands outside the house where Pessoa was born, and lived until he moved to South Africa, a plaque on the wall states his home was on the forth floor of the building.

Fernando Pessoa

Pessoa was convinced of his own genius, and lived for writing. He created over a hundred literary figures, which he called ‘heteronyms’, the most well known were Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos, which had distinct biographies, temperaments, philosophies, appearances, and writing styles. Pessoa explained that, ‘the pseudonymous work is by the author in his own person, except he signs it with another name; the heteronymic work is by the author outside his own person, it is the work of an individual  completely fabricated by him, as if they were the words of any character in any of his dramas’. He said ‘This tendency to create around me another world, just like this one but with other people, has never left my imagination’. When he died a chest in his bedroom had over 25,000 manuscript sheets of poetry, prose, plays, philosophy, criticism, translations, linguistic theory, political writings, and horoscopes written in Portuguese, English and French. Pessoa wrote in notebooks, on the backs of letters, envelopes, scraps of paper, advertisements and handbills, and on stationery from the firms he worked for and from the cafés he frequented,

The apartment where Pessoa spent the last 15 years of his life is now a museum, housing the private library of Pessoa, some 1300 books, half of which are written in English. Many of these books have notes, comments, questions or even an entire poem written by Pessoa. He also translated, underlined and wrote in the margins of these books, exactly what the reasoning, characters and words of other writers aroused in his own thinking and in his writing practice. All of these books are available on line, (casafernandopessoa.pt). The museum also has artists representations of Pessoa, a quiet and private man, he only sat for one portrait in his lifetime. The photographs of him were taken by street photographers.

The only portrait Pessoa sat for

Fernando was taken to hospital on the 29 November 1935, where he now famously wrote, ‘I know not what tomorrow may bring’. He died the next day. He was only 47 when he died, his death is thought to be due to cirrhosis of the liver. Eighty five years after his death, Pessoa’s huge legacy of work has still not been completely charted by researchers, and a significant part of his writing is still waiting to be published.

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