There was rain, and plenty of it. Living with drought teaches you to love precipitation in all its forms. I destroyed a pair of leather boots walking through history in the rain, and discovered my umbrella has holes in it. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Before the trip I got hold of a copy of The Lives of Things (Objecto Quase), a collection of short stories by José Saramago, the Portuguese writer who took the Nobel for Literature in 1998. The first story in the collection tells his imagined history of the actual deck chair whose collapse led to the unexpected death of right-wing dictator António Salazar in 1968. The Centaur is his brilliant and breathtaking story where its horse and human halves are at war with each other, physically, emotionally and erotically. How, for example, can a horse lie down to sleep in a way that will also be comfortable for a man? A political parable, to be sure, but also a heartbreaking story.
A day later, I'm walking under the giant cedar in the middle of the Jardim do Príncipe Real when I spot a VW camper van by the side of the road with matching shelves, quite obviously selling books. I go for a closer look and discover Tell A Story, a small mobile bookstore in a refitted VW camper van that has recently branched out into publishing English language translations of Portuguese writers.
It's a loooong walk down there, and along the way I'm stopped by French tourists in need of directions. Never mind the fact I was fairly lost at that point. But I eventually find my way to the expansive, book-filled Ler Devagar. The bookstore's name translates as "read slowly." Which of course I think we all should do.
There's so much more to literary Lisbon: watching tourists take photos of themselves arm in arm with the statue of Pessoa; the antiquarian bookstore with dozens of political posters from the anti-colonial movements in Angola and Mozambique. I'll just end here with a quote from Pessoa's disquietude, and a few more photos.
"The part of my life not wasted in thinking up confused interpretations of nothing at all, has been spent making prose poems out of the incommunicable feelings I use to make the unknown universe my own."