In 2005 I traveled to Lisbon to continue writing songs for “NO STRAIGHT LINES.” I was considering moving there at the time, where I thought I might try to set up a European legal practice representing high-end clients needing advice on U.S. intellectual property law. I met with several of the largest Lisbon firms and explored various strategies with them, made a few friends I still keep in touch with today, and wound up doing a few Portuguese deals afterwards as result, but eventually decided against the move. I was also hoping to meet up with Mafalda Arnauth on that trip to see if she might be interested in singing on the album, but she was out of the country on tour.
But all was not lost, of course, because I was there mostly for Fernando Pessoa.
Tucked away in a corner of Praça do Comércio (back behind the red trolley car in the photo above), the main square of Lisbon that fronts the Tagus (i.e., Lisboa’s version of St. Marks’ Square in Venice), one can find the illustrious Restaurant Café Martinho da Arcada, Pessoa’s favorite haunt. I of course needed to eat there at least once, though I chose not to try the juliana soup (see below), cod and fried eggs with cheese Pessoa usually ingested there. I can’t remember what I had, but it was probably the grilled sardines or caldo verde, neither of which I could ever get enough of in Lisboa.
I am in the process of re-reading one my favorite books of all time, Fernando Pessoa’s remarkable “The Book of Disquiet.” Pessoa’s work has been swirling around my head ever since I first discovered him in the early 1980s. I often read Pessoa while I was working on “No Straight Lines,” and plainly see his influence on certain lyrics on the album, especially I suppose “At The End Of The Day.” But it has been now more than 10 years since I last read cover-to-cover this tour de force of prose. I’m savoring it page by page.
For anyone who has never encountered the amazing work of Fernando Pessoa here is an exquisite short poem of his from 1933 found in “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown), Ecco Press, one of my very favorites:
To be great, be whole; exclude
Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
The whole moon gleams in every pool.
It rides so high.
I owe my discovery of Pessoa to Dori Caymmi who, at a feijoada at John Pisano‘s years ago (more on that subject and John later), told me Pessoa was his favorite poet in the Portuguese language. That led me to first read Pessoa’s poetry, and later everything of his I could ever get my hands on. This being back in the 1980s, a fair amount of his work still wasn’t readily available in the U.S. in English translation then, including “The Book of Disquiet,” though that has changed.
It turned out that I had already by then heard a fair amount of Pessoa without knowing it. It wasn’t until I traveled to Lisbon in 2005 that I discovered the album “Various Artists – A Música em Pessoa”
and realized I had been listening to these songs for years without knowing the lyrics came from Pessoa — songs by Jobim, Edu Lobo, Dori and his sister Nana Caymmi (my favorite female singer from Brasil, at least from the MPB era) and many others I knew so well. Vicente Soto Sordera”s “Pessoa Flamenco” is another great offering, showing Pessoa’s influence extending into the flamenco realm.
I’ll write more about Pessoa later. I’m far more interested in his literary output than others’ use of his work as lyrics, but it’s gratifying to see the world embracing this visionary poet and thinker.