Monthly Archives: March 2017

Encounters #5 Fernando Pessoa

“Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveller. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.”

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Fernando Pessoa. By now it almost feels like I’ve met him personally.

Travelling in Portugal, it seems hardly possible not to encounter this most iconic of Lisbon poets. Over the years, I’ve met him in the streets of Lisboa, sitting outside one of his faourite hangouts and coffee shop ‘A Brazileira’ in the Rua Garrett in Chiado; he’s greeted me for breakfast on my coffee mug in downtown Porto and his unmistakable face invites readers to delve into Lisbon’s poetry from every book stall at every airport in the country. My favourite incarnation of this writer, who allegedly used more than 72 pseudonyms, I encountered in Evora, where he braved the elements somewhat uplifted on the doorstep of the amazing “Fonte de Letras’ bookshop.

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72 pseudonyms! He preferred to call them heteronyms, because he felt pseudonyms were too close for comfort. One of his most famous alter ego, Ricardo Reis, even became the hero of “The Year of Death of Ricardo Reis”, a 1984 novel by fellow Portuguese writer and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago. Inspired by the heteronyms was also Italian writer Antonio Tabucci, who was so enchanted by Pessoa and his work that he began studying the Portuguese language.

“My soul is a hidden orchestra;
I know not what instruments,
What fiddlestrings and harps,
drums and tamboura I sound and
Clash in myself.
All I hear is the symphony.”
Fernando Pessoa

“The Book of Disquiet”, (Livro do Desassossego, composto por Bernardo Soares), Pessoa’s lifetime project and what he calls a ‘factless autobiography’, is signed by one of his heteronyms, Bernardo Soares. It is also the source of many of the Pessoa quotes floating around the post cards and coffee mugs of downtown Lisbon and Porto.

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Not only in Portugal….

“To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”

Fernando Pessoa was a poet, writer, philosopher, publisher and translator, born in Lisbon in 1888. His father died when he was five years old, and after his mother remarried, the family moved to Durban, South Africa, where Pessoa would live and learn for the next ten years. He learned to love the English language and began writing and publishing poetry under various pseudonyms.
In 1905 he returned to Lisbon for good and embarked on a life of writing, publishing, translating and philosophizing. He died in 1935, and in 1985, fifty years after his death, his remains were moved to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon, where he rests in the illustrious company of the likes of Vaso da Gama and Luís de Camões.

“To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think.”

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From Reading to Riding

Times fly – never has it seemed more true to me. I had nowhere near finished reading all the books I wanted to read about Portugal, and had barely touched the surface of all the blogs there are to explore – about the country, adventuring and long distance cycling – when I found myself sitting on the plane to Faro. With my bicycle.

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Waiting for the train to the airport

To say I could have been better prepared is an understatement, but I guess that’s what happens if suddenly the opportunity arises to turn a dream that has been festering for ages into reality. Now or never. If I didn’t take this opportunity, which had just presented itself, I might as well let go of the idea and move on. Which might have been the sensible thing to do, but also a testament to lost dreams.

 

The original idea, which had managed to get itself firmly entrenched into my head, was to ride from Kiruna to Cadiz, from the Polar Circle to the Southern Edge of Europe, from cool Scandinavia to warm Andalucia, from the lands of Scandi Noir to Flamenco country.

Why?
For many and no reason in particular.
Because I can.
Simple as that.

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Meeting Fernando Pessoa

Well, that’s only partly true. There is more to it, somehow, although not very tangible. I’ve always been fascinated by the variety of landscapes and cultures and people that make up the European continent. They are so similar in so many ways, yet at the same time so different. The same difference. And what better way to explore that, than at the speed of pedaling two wheels. Where half a day’s ride can move you from one language, one culture, one landscape to another. Where everything suddenly looks and feels and sounds and smells different. Where borders between countries and provinces, cultures and languages can be crossed with a few pedal strokes.

Anyway, so now here I was with some unexpected time on my hands. So why not? I had to ask myself. Very simple, for two reasons. Time wasn’t quite enough to do the entire trip, and secondly, mid March was definitely a tad too early for my taste to cycle anywhere near the arctic circle.

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I realized though, if i were to wait for the perfect conditions, I’d never go. So why not be flexible, cut the trip in half and start from the south. Follow spring from the edge of Europe to the centre. Start at the end of the world and ride towards the middle of Europe. See how far I get. Just do it. Now!

So here I am, a week into my great European adventure ( or the first half, anyway😉), a week from the end of the world.

 

A week of cycling through Portugal, of meeting new sights and sounds and smells and delights. Cork oaks and castles, pasteis de nata, bookshops and windmills. Also a week of encountering more books, and I wish I had the time to read them all, now, while I’m here.

But the road beckons and times fly…

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Evora, March 2017