In his romance “Quantas madrugadas tem a noite” (“How many dawns has the night”), Ndalu de Almeida, a writer from Angola, writing under the pen name Ondjaki beautifully said:
“…you do not look for poetry like you look for a diamond, you find it, as you find a rainbow…”
In life, we look for many things like we look for diamonds. Love, happiness, destiny… And after many trials and failures, we end up finding them like we find a rainbow. Unexpectedly and by a total chance. And suddenly many things become clear…
The same is with poetry or… the place where we want to live.
I’ve found Lisbon, just like we find a rainbow. I traveled to many countries, I was seeing them, observing, exploring, each time asking myself if I would like to live in them and each time not being very convinced.
But then while traveling across Europe, I came to Lisbon. Without expectations, plans and honestly, without knowing absolutely anything about the city.
There was nowhere else to go. It was a city at the end of Europe. Not a big city, at that time also a little bit forgotten and isolated from the rest of European capitals. Yet, the sensation of being here took my breath away and I felt as if my soul found what it had been looking for for so long. I felt lost and Lisbon felt like home.
This was the place where I simply knew I wanted to be. Without knowing why but it didn’t matter. It was my rainbow and my poetry…
And in fact, Lisbon can be, in all its aspects, compared to poetry and everything that poetry is.
As I always say, to me, Lisbon is a city where the air feels lighter, the sun shines brighter and the time goes slower.
Lisbon is a big small world which lives its own magical life. When you walk around the city, you can see its past imprinted in every building. The walls whisper stories about secrets, poets, artists, the city’s past glory, discoveries and simple people who used to walk around here and whose feet stepped on exactly same limestone sidewalks where we walk today.
You have a coffee looking at the Tagus, observing the people, watching the boats, the seagulls and the sun, you hear the sounds of nostalgic and romantic fado being carried in the air and eventually you feel Lisbon’s soul – saudade. One of the most poetic Portuguese words which refers to romantic yearning for something that’s lost forever or something we’ve never had…
In Lisbon, you can discover indefinite number of charming hidden places and experience many breathtaking moments that can be a pure encounter with poetry.
Portugal, in fact, as the only country, has dedicated its National Day to… a poet… Luis de Camões who wrote “Os Lusíadas” (“The Lusiadas”) which is Portugal’s national epic poem talking about Vasco da Gama’s journey to India and all the 15th-century Portuguese explorations that brought fame, fortune and glory to the country. The poem is considered the greatest and most important work in Portuguese literature – it’s a symbol of the Portuguese Empire.
The poet’s date of birth is unknown so the holiday commemorates the death of this great literary icon on June 10, 1580.
It’s a beautiful metaphor of how poetry is constantly encountered here and Lisbon is its home. In one of Lisbon’s main squares downtown there’s a statue of Luis de Camões who has looked at Lisbon, on top of his pedestal, since 1867.
Another greatest (but more recent) poet was Fernando Pessoa whose statue we can see at Brasileira, the most famous cafe in the old part of Lisbon.
Outside the cafe, Pessoa sits on his chair inviting everyone to sit next to him.
Each time when I pass next to the statue and I see tourists crowding the poor man wanting to take a picture with him, I think to myself that probably it’s not exactly what he would like us to do….
Pessoa loved Lisbon. In fact, he spent here his entire life, never wanting to go anywhere else. Lisbon wasn’t a city to him. It was his homeland. He said about himself that he belonged to Lisbon. For nearly four decades Pessoa wandered the Lisbon streets. It was his inspiration and the background for his reflections.
In his autobiographic notes, he wrote:
“There’s poetry in everything – on the land and at sea, in lakes and river banks. There’s also poetry in the city – let us not deny it – indeed evident to me, while I am sitting here: there is poetry in this table, in this paper, in this ink-pot; there is poetry in the trepidation of cars on the streets; in every tiny movement…”
And each time when I see him sitting there, in the middle of the city, I believe that THIS is what he invites people to do. Not to be tourists, but to sit next to him. Without rush and taking pictures. To have a coffee, to look, to observe, to watch… because this is absolutely the only way we can truly understand this magnificent and magical city.
Because just like Pessoa said himself, using one of his heteronyms, Álvaro de Campos:
“After all, the best way to travel is to feel.”
And once you do this, you will suddenly find different Lisbon. And who knows… maybe it will become your poetry too…