Cozido

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All this talk about literature is making me hungry.

The above photo is of Portuguese cozido, a typical Portuguese stew.   It can be made from a range of vegetables and meats including pig’s ear, pig’s tail, blood sausage and other various “unmentionables.”  Ahhhh…

When I went to Lisbon to write, two friends I made there, Ana Bárbara Ramalho and Pedro Simoes Dias, separately both wanted me to do the very same two things (so I did them): go to a particular Japanese tea house they loved, and eat a genuine Portuguese cozido.  In its eclectic use of unmentionables, a cozido is not all that divorced from a “feijoada,” the national dish of Brazil in which I have seen pig’s tails.  I was later surprised to learn that the Portuguese actually also have their own various versions of feijoada, some made with white beans.  Nao posso acreditar!  By the way, my Brazilian Portuguese (not that it’s all that great any more) was utterly useless in Lisbon.

It rained a lot of the time I was in Lisbon, perfect cozido weather.  I stayed in my room a lot, working on “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I wrote most of the lyric for a song called “Tale Of My Life” that didn’t make it on the album (but which I’ll release separately next year).  Over the process of making the record I wrote three entirely different sets of lyrics for the song that became “Road Of Pain,” one of them in my little room in the 2-star Albergaria Senhora Do Monte, situated on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills.  Here was the view, without the rain.  The good life.

 albergaria-senhora-do

Speaking of feijoada, the guitar part in “Road Of Pain” was very Brazilian-influenced, a holdover from my past.  I was expecting to hear lots of Brazilian and maybe some Angolan or Mozambican live music in Lisbon, one of the principle reasons I was exploring possibly relocating there during that trip.  Although Brazilian music is nowadays ubiquitous worldwide (though I spent a lovely evening listening to two guys playing bossa novas out of the Real Book in a tiny restaurant on Santorini all the way back in 1979) I either didn’t know where to look or Lisbon wasn’t a great international music town — disappointing given how musically rich Portugal’s former colonies were and are.  (And speaking of the “Real Book,” a song I wrote with Jimmy Haslip for the Yellowjackets years ago called “Sonja’s Sanfona” is included in Chuck Sher’s classic “New Real Book.”  I wrote the opening of that song in a hotel lobby in Belo Horizonte (speaking of Brazil) in 1984 waiting for Toninho Horta to pick me up to stay at his house.)

But I did hear some wonderful fado in Lisboa though, in the back streets of the Alfama and once in a jam-packed club in the Barrio Alto where the players didn’t start playing until 2:30 am!  Lisbon is most definitely a late night city.

A couple of the currrent era fadistas I quite like are Mafalda Arnauth, especially her “Encantamento” album, and Ana Moura.  (For me Amalia Rodriguez is too much an acquired taste from another era, or I’d recommend her initially as well.  Fado can be a bit like crawling through fudge for all its sentimentality, though this from someone who admittedly speaks limited Portuguese.)  Here’s one of the many beautiful songs off of “Encantamento” called “As Fontes.”

When I got back I wanted to incorporate some kinds of Portuguese influences on “No Straight Lines” beyond the mere fact of having been inspired so deeply by Fernando Pessoa (see my last post) and having spent time in Lisbon.  I early on wrote a couple of songs in a fado style for the album but never felt comfortable singing them and abandoned the idea.  I also really wanted to use Portuguese guitarra on the album, but had no ideas for players.  I called my good friend Don Cohen (who has written great introductory books on not only fado, but also tango and gypsy music), who told me to forget about trying to find anyone nearby or even in California who could play the instrument well (though I did find one guy who could do that), let alone play it outside a fado context.  I toyed with the idea of doing a long distance session with someone from Portugal but for various reasons it was too cumbersome.

So, for better or worse, I bought one and played it myself — not all that well, mind you, and surely not anything like a real fado player, but passably, I hope!  What an amazing instrument, very particular, and incredibly fun to play.

BG 6ML

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On Bronzes

235px-Cafe_Brasileira_in_Lisbon

Fernando Pessoa appears to be Lisbon’s largest tourist attraction.  In front of the Café Brasileira, pictured above, sits a statue of Pessoa in front of one of the most popular restaurants in the Chiado where tourists and university students flock to get their pictures taken seated next to the man whose writings they have likely never read.

In my last post I mentioned Pessoa’s amazing “The Book of Disquiet.”  It is remarkable that Pessoa only published one book (“Mensagem”) during his lifetime.  When he died he left behind a trunk filled with his unpublished and unfinished manuscripts, some of which became the basis for “The Book of Disquiet,” published 50 years after his death.  By clicking here you can access one person’s selections of pithy quotes from that book (though many of my favorites are more humorous).  I guarantee if you buy this book and can get through the first 50 pages or so (I always find it starts a bit slowly) you may find yourself richly rewarded with your own list of discoveries!

“The Book of Disquiet” was “written by” Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “semi-heteronyms.”  Pessoa wrote under numerous heteronyms.  According to the ever-authoritative Wikipedia, “heteronyms differ from noms de plume . . . in that the latter are just false names, while the former are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies and writing styles.”

My favorite heteronym is Alberto Caeiro, about whom Pessoa claimed “Alberto Caeiro was born in 1889 and died in 1915; he was born in Lisbon, but lived almost all his life in the country.  He had neither profession nor any sort of education.”  (From a letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro, January 13, 1935.)  As Alvaro de Campos, another of Pessoa’s heteronyms and himself a disciple of Caeiro, once observed, “My master Caeiro wasn’t a pagan: he was paganism.  Ricardo Reis is a pagan, Antonio Mora is a pagan, I am a pagan, Fernando Pessoa himself would be a pagan if he weren’t a ball of yarn rolled up inside himself.”

I highly recommend Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown’s “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (though it may no longer be in print).  Below is a short stanza from Alberto Caeiro’s “Keeper Of Sheep” (and here is someone’s more extensive compendium of selections from that work):”

When I sit down to write a poem
Or when ambling along the main roads and bypaths,
I write lines on the paper of my thoughts,
I feel the staff in my hands
And glimpse an outline of myself
On top of some low-lying hill,
Watching over my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or watching over my ideas and seeing flock,
And smiling vaguely like one who doesn’t understand what’s said
And likes to pretend he does.

During my Lisbon trip I was reading Jose Saramago’s “The Year Of The Death Of Ricardo Reis,” a book based upon the life of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms — a fiction balanced on top of another fiction.  Bravo!  After Saramago died, Portugal declared two days of mourning and billboards like the one below appeared along the boulevards:

 ObrigadoJoseSaramago“Thank you, Jose Saramago”

What makes Portugal so proud of its writers?  Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, but were there public outpourings like that here when Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner died in 1962?

I was primarily raised in Bloomington, Illinois.  In its airport there is a seated bronze — more or less just like the one of Pessoa in Lisboa — of Adlai Stevenson, who hailed from there and was certainly a remarkable man.

IMG_0622MLTaking nothing away from Stevenson, I’d love to think there will someday be a bronze outside some cafe of David Foster Wallace, who lived and wrote in Bloomington for many years before moving to California.  Now that he is dead people make pilgrimages to his office, which, ironically, was in Stevenson Hall.  Oh well…”The World was not made for us to think about…” (Pessoa, “The Keeper of Sheep”)

PS: Here are a couple of cool links to the syllabi Wallace was using during those days: http://flavorwire.com/373519/learn-from-the-best-10-course-syllabi-by-famous-authors/view-all; http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/releases/2010/dfw/teaching/