When the poet Fernando Pessoa put a tourist guide about his city of Lisbon

About ten years ago, many avant-garde cinema aficionados who used to admire them in German cinema, Wim Wenders, were surprised when the Cannes Film Festival presented them with a film that at first glance, despite its absolute artistry, seemed like a tourist movie. The film will wander in the alleys of the city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, moving from square to square and from one building to another, as the most beautiful of the tourist strips. Nevertheless, the spectators considered that when Wenders began to use poetic phrases and descriptions in the narration accompanying the images and scenes, drawn from the poems of the great Portuguese avant-garde poet Fernando Pessoa, the cinematographer inserted all of this in order to give his film “tourist” an elitist and cultural character no more. But the truth, as it will turn out later, in a completely different place, was in the fact that the German cinematographer was translating with the picture at that time a “book” written by Pessoa specifically in 1925 entitled “Lisbon: Things that a Tourist Should Watch.”

English only book

Absolutely yes, there is no typo here and there is no similarity in the names. In that year, the eccentric and elitist poet, usually above worldly affairs, and God’s simple and good creation, published a tourist brochure with drawings of foreigners visiting his country. He put it specifically in English for English tourists who could have imagined, but wrongly, as we shall see, how they had read it extensively decades before Wim Wenders “discovered” him, and visited Lisbon on his gift, not knowing that it was written by one of the great European poets. No matter how few of them would be, I thought that there was a similarity in the names, as there is no doubt that the vast majority of them would not have heard of the poet’s name, and if she had heard of it, she would not have understood anything of the whole story! The funny thing about the story is that Pessoa, when he wrote the book, was in the prime of his maturity, and he will leave our world ten years later, and he was still writing in English so that his first book would not be published in Portuguese until 1934, a year before his departure. However, what remains the strangest, and we will explain it after a few lines in the tale of this symbolic poet and writer who is considered one of the great founders of literary and poetic modernity in Portugal, and who hardly left his homeland or even his city, whose streets and alleys he will describe a corner in the “tourist handbook”, is that the four volumes that His poems, which were issued after his death in 1935, included the following titles, successively: “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (1942), “Poems of Alvaro de Campos” (1944), “Poems of Alberto Caiero” (1946) and finally “Ode to Ricardo Reyes” (1946). Also) note that there is a manuscript of his poetry found in 1946 as well, entitled “Pages from Dotrina Aesthetica”.

Names for one name

What is strange about this? The strange thing is that all of these names were names that Pessoa invented and called himself at one stage or another in his literary and poetic path. He would sign with them what he published in various avant-garde newspapers and magazines of his time, and always in English, but for him they were not just pseudonyms, but names that he allowed himself to be named after for a very good reason. Reason related to what his real name itself, Pessoa, means in Portuguese. As in French, personne means “someone” and “nobody”, pesssoa means the same double. The boy who was Pessoa when he discovered that “truth” could not be “nobody” or any “person” he was, and so he made the decision to name himself according to the circumstance of every signature he signs and every piece he publishes. Perhaps the most remarkable strangeness for him here lies in the fact that he chose the pamphlet which might be the furthest from his own experimental poetic taste, in order to affix it with his name, which we suppose is the real one, more than any other name he used. Perhaps this is related to his provocative and quarrelsome nature.

always poetic language

Nevertheless, the reader of this book, and will be many since Wim Wenders made the film that we suppose he translated it visually, can see how elegantly poetic the language Pessoa uses in the text is, immersed in descriptive poetry in most of the paragraphs, and reflects a view of the city whose writer seems to be Integrated into it and wants to express that integration creatively and creatively. Hence what appears immediately to the reader that the writer does not look at the city from outside it or look away from it, but rather from inside it, specifically the view of the son of the place and its owner. Perhaps this is the most beautiful thing about this interesting text and what attracted the great German cinematographer to him, considering himself “participating with the great poet in drawing a picture of the city.” Perhaps it is obvious here to say that what contributed to the credibility of the film is that the topography of the city that Pessoa monitored in the first quarter of the twentieth century was still the same at the end of the century, as it is known that Lisbon was not affected by dramatic urban changes throughout the last century.

Like the Alexandrian

And here we return to Pessoa, the son of that city whom he is known to have left his whole life only when he was a young boy, when he made a voyage, not long in any case, to South Africa to join his mother, who had been married to his father there, but he did not join her Rather, he returned to the Portuguese metropolis to live until the end of his life, just as his counterpart of Greek origin, the poet Cavafy, lived in Alexandria, which was like Lisbon to Pessoa. Nevertheless, we are struck by how the latter’s poems, which numbered about two hundred and thirty poems, and his prose pieces, which are no less than 132 texts, are filled with travel and mentioning countries and cities. It is certain that Pessoa did not visit any of them, but he knew how to describe them accurately, rather how to depict his movement between them as if we found him. In one poetic text, he travels from Singapore to the Maldives in Mauritius, passing through Macau and Java, as if he is moving between orchards and gardens he owns. We know how fertile the imagination of Pessoa was, who swirled the world, in his abundant language, but always in English.

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Another thing in which Pessoa is similar to the Alexandrian Cavafy is the meager amount of his writings published during his lifetime. Practically nothing of the Lisbon poet and knight has been published, including his tourist pamphlet about it, which, contrary to what one might suppose, was found only among his papers some time after his death, denying the idea that he had originally written it for a tourist authority or official institution concerned with promotion. He wrote it for himself expressing his love for Lisbon and his attachment to it, and it was only found among his papers during the eighties of the twentieth century, two-thirds of a century after the writer’s departure! The funny thing is that the critics who commented on the book, and this reached their knowledge of Wim Fenders through their way, unanimously agreed upon viewing the text, as it remained in Pessoa’s handwriting, that it is still valid as a tourist guide… even today. The English will be the first recipients of the book praising its abundant English, followed by the French praising it in turn at the same time that they had begun to discover Pessoa, his poetry and his many names, that is, during the nineties, the day the Georges Pompidou Cultural Center crowned that discovery by setting up an exhibition on Pessoa’s life and works It constituted a good surprise for French literary enthusiasts, and paved the way for one of the major literary publishing houses in the French capital to publish a huge volume containing many of his poems and prose texts. That legend, especially in its relationship to the city, Lisbon, which has since taken on seemingly different features.

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