Fernando Pessoa - Pessoa The flâneur

Pessoa The flâneur

Walking on these streets, until the night falls, my life feels to me like the life they have. By day they’re full of meaningless activity; by night, they’re full of meaningless lack of it. By day I am nothing, and by night I am I. There is no difference between me and these streets, save they being streets and I a soul, which perhaps is irrelevant when we consider the essence of things.

Fernando Pessoa, from "A Factless Autobiography"
in The Book of Disquiet, tr. by Richard Zenith.

If Franz Kafka is the writer of Prague, Fernando Pessoa is certainly the writer of Lisbon. After his return to Portugal, when he was seventeen, Pessoa barely left his beloved city, which inspired the poems "Lisbon Revisited" (1923 and 1926), by his heteronym Álvaro de Campos. From 1905 to 1921, when his family returned from Pretoria after the death of his stepfather, he lived in fifteen different places around the city, moving from a rented room to another according to his financial troubles and the troubles of the young Portuguese Republic.

Pessoa had the flâneur's regard, namely through the eyes of Bernardo Soares, another of his heteronyms. This character was supposedly an accountant, working to Vasques, the boss of the office located in Douradores Street. Bernardo Soares also supposedly lived in the same downtown street, a world that Pessoa knew quite well due to his long career as free lance correspondence translator. In fact, from 1907 until his death, in 1935, Pessoa worked in twenty one firms located in Lisbon's downtown, sometimes in two or three of them simultaneously. In The Book of Disquiet, Bernardo Soares describes some of those typical places and its "atmosphere".

Pessoa was a frequent customer at Martinho da Arcada, a centennial coffeehouse in Comercio Square, surrounded by ministries, almost an "office" for his private business and literary concerns, where he used to meet friends in the 1920s. The statue of Fernando Pessoa (below) can be seen outside A Brasileira, one of the preferred places of the young writers and artists of the group of orpheu during the 1910s. This coffeehouse, in the aristocratic district of Chiado, is quite close to Pessoa's birthplace: 4, Largo de São Carlos (in front of the Opera House), one of the most elegant neighborhoods of Lisbon.

In 1925, Pessoa wrote in English a guidebook to Lisbon but it remained unpublished until 1992.

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