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My encounter with Fernando Pessoa and José Saramago

We are just back from three weeks in Portugal, where we spent the holidays. As we arrived in Lisbon we walked out of our hotel, very conveniently situated centrally in the old city, to get a feeling for our surroundings, and to find somewhere to eat. We did not find anything to our immediate liking so in the end we let someone drag us into an old restaurant, Café Martinho da Arcana (funded 1782) at the corner of the Praca do Comércio, down by the sea. Turned out to be a marvellous, old restaurang with dark wood from the floor, half way up the wall, painted walls above, light yellow as they liked it in the old days. Table with white table clothes, which made us feel going back in time. We got a small table in an alcove, ordered fish and a bottle of vinho verde and sat down to enjoy.

The waiter who told us that the restaurant was the favourite place of author Fernando Pessoa. He came more or less every day, and they even keep his table free to this day. It is decorated with an espresso cup, a glass of water and a bowl for sugar. There is also a number of his books on the table. As you see from the picture I was allowed to sit down in his place.

Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa (1888-1935) was a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher; one of the most significant literary figures of the last century, and considered one of the greatest poets in Portuguese. Very prolific writer as can be imagined when you see all his professions above. I had his book The Book of Disquiet, but let go of it after just a few pages, it seemed far more than I could grasp. Maybe I should try another of his books, or poetry for that matter, now that we have shared the same seat.

Back at our table again, the waiter pointed to a photo on the wall behind me, and said, there is another Portuguese writer who used to come here. He received the Nobel Prize in literature, and he used to sit here. I realised that I had taken the seat of José Saramago. Even more funny since I brought his book The History of the Siege of Lisbon with me. I have been trying to read that one for a long time, but it is not an easy book either. However, having shared his seat, I just have to finish it.

José de Sousa Saramago (1922-2010) won the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his "parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony with which he continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality.” Maybe a reason I find it difficult.

Walking around Lisbon the following days we found traces of Pessoa's Lisbon. We bought a lottery at his favourite tobacco shop ”Boa Hora” and saw his tomb in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

Two of the most famous Portugues authors and I ran into them in one day. There are small things in life that can make you happy. I did manage to finish Saramago's novel about Lisbon. I don't know if it was the atmosphere of Lisbon and the area where he used to live, or the novel improved half way.

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