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This article is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Fernando Pessoa in Lisbon

Person in Question
Iain Bamforth
AS FERNANDO PESSOA would tell you: there is no better time to visit Lisbon – ‘luminous Lisbon’ – than winter, when the sun is slant, the light weak and diffuse, the streets mostly empty, and the rain gusting in from the Atlantic Ocean sleeks the pavements with a fine skein that turns them mother-of-pearl. Visitors who favour leather-soled shoes have to be careful when they walk the seven hills of Lisbon, though. Not only are Lisbon’s roads paved; many of its sidewalks are paved too, with slick and shiny granite cobbles. And you have to be especially careful if you’re carrying one of Pessoa’s books in your hand.

Not only did I have one of his books in my left hand, the all too appropriately named The Book of Disquiet; I was ill-advisably trying to open a popout map of the city of Lisbon with my right. All I had to do was flick my wrist, and all of Lisbon would open out before me, in a kind of historical reconstitution by the magic of origami; or so I thought.

Obviously I was really rather eager to observe the universe at a slight angle to it, like Pessoa himself…

Lisbon’s air is ‘a hidden yellow, a kind of pale yellow seen through dirty white. There is scarcely any yellow in the grey air. But the paleness of the grey has a yellow in its sadness’, according to Bernardo Soares, putative author of The Book of Disquiet.

Bernardo Soares was Pessoa’s alter-ego, an assistant ...

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