Pirates in 1924 Lisbon by Author Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 21 crime novels, including a historical series featuring young Mary Russell and her somewhat more famous husband, Sherlock Holmes.  King lives in California, but her upcoming novel Pirate King is set partly in Lisbon.

It is the unfortunate habit of crime writers to stumble across dead bodies wherever they go.

It began when my daughter’s husband arranged to spend his sabbatical year with Lisbon’s Instituto Superior Técnico, and I thought, Why can’t I go, too? Not to the Technical Institute — I’m a novelist, not a robotics engineer — but to Lisbon. After all, writing equipment is portable, basically a laptop and a chair.

The laptop I could bring with me. The chair was in a short-hire apartment two floors up from theirs, on Rua Santo António da Glória, a brief climb away from the São Pedro de Alcântara mirador. In the mornings, I would write; in the afternoons, I would explore the city with my daughter.

And since the series I was working on takes place in the 1920s all over the world, there was no reason why my fictional companions couldn’t join me.

In the story, my character, Mary Russell, gets dragged into a motion picture production about pirates — hence the name Pirate King — which for various reasons (this is not a solemn book, by the way) heads off to Lisbon and later, Morocco. Which meant that as I was shopping for fruit at Pingo Doce, riding the #28 tram, buying a printer at FNAC, having a bica and pastel de nata at Café A Brasileira, I was also seeing potential settings for action.

I brought with me a 1923 guide to Portugal, so that I would know what was around for my characters to see. I also brought a Lisbon guidebook by a gentleman named Fernando Pessoa.

Now, I like to use real characters in my novels—Lawrence of Arabia and General Allenby appear in O Jerusalem, Locked Rooms has Dashiell Hammett, and The Game is built around Kipling’s Kim. (Well, more or less real characters.) So I thought, why not a poet?

This being a post about Lisbon rather than Fernando Pessoa, all I will say is, if you haven’t been to the Casa Fernando Pessoa, put it at the top of your list. Only two or three of Pessoa’s 72 “heteronyms” — poetical multiple personalities — appear in the novel, but it was a battle to keep him from taking it over entirely.

Fortunately, as I said, this particular book would be a comic novel. (Thus, the riots and military coups taking place throughout Portugal during that time receive little place in the story.) But it was also a book about the silent film industry, and my crew needed a place to rehearse, so I borrowed the Teatro Maria Vitória. In 1924, the theater was new and dignified, although now it has a rather different personality.

When the picture crew later decides to practice some scenes out of doors, Sr. Pessoa suggests that they move to the adjacent Botanical Gardens, where a certain amount of blood is shed.

But things don’t really heat up until thirteen blond actresses, the makeup woman, the cameraman, and the male lead pile onto a charabanc (there’s too much equipment for the train) and head to Sintra.

In Sintra, I found an embarrassment of choices when it came to setting scenes in a novel (or a silent film, for that matter.) In the end, because the book is also about pirates (whom Sr. Pessoa adored) I decided that the Castelo de Mouros would do best for the purpose. As I left the top of the hill where that Moorish Castle broods, I saw a thing that confirmed that I was indeed making the right choices: a stone in which is carved a skull and crossbones.

So as you walk through the streets of Lisbon, as you survey the harbor and glance at the castle and think about hopping on the train for a day in Sintra, remember: You are walking in the footsteps of Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes, and the cast of that great film of the silent era, Pirate King.

Pirate King by Laurie R. King

The Pirate King book page includes an excerpt concerning Fernando Pessoa: http://www.laurierking.com/

Off-the-Beaten-Path Lisbon by Author Philip Graham

Author Philip GrahamAmerican author Philip Graham has written this post for GoLisbon, sharing his off-the-beaten-path discoveries in Chiado, one of Lisbon’s most visited neighborhoods. His book “The Moon Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon” (a collection of essays narrating the year he lived in Lisbon with his family) is on sale now.

Lisbon, as I’ve said many times to friends and family, will surprise you. Perhaps the best example is that, even in Chiado, one of the most heavily touristed areas in the city, you can still take a short walk a bit off the beaten path that will be filled with pleasant surprises.
Yes, Chiado’s Café a Brasileira, with its outdoor stand of umbrella-ed tables where you can sip and be seen by passing fellow travelers, is a worthy stop. The high-end shops down Rua Garrett deserve window—as well as actual shopping. And there’s nearly always some unusual street performance underway at the Praça Luís de Camões.
But if you’re inclined to make a brief escape from the gravitational pull of the usual tourist attraction, simply walk south from the Largo do Chiado, down the Rua do Alecrim. You’re just a block away from the lovely Largo do Barão de Quintella, a tiny green park centered around the dark marble statue celebrating one of Portugal’s greatest writers, the novelist Eça de Queiroz. He stands (fully clothed) beside the figure of a half naked woman, her arms spread in supplication. She’s meant to represent Truth, and at the base of this statue is a quote from Queiroz, the one that inspired the sculptor:

“Sobre a nudez forte de verdade
A manto diaphano da fantasia,”

which roughly translates into English as:

“Over the hard nakedness of truth
Lies a gauzy veil of fantasy.”

That’s as pithy a description of most people’s daily reality as can be found in literature, and it’s worth pausing to contemplate. You can continue your contemplations as you then make your way to the southeast corner of the park and walk across the street to Sant’anna (95-97 Rua do Alecrim), an excellent shop specializing in Portuguese azulejos. These are traditional colorful tiles, an art form that was originally influenced by the abstract patterned tiles of the Moors, who ruled over much of Portugal in the Middle Ages. The Portuguese versions, however, go much more for representation, the patterns featuring leaves, flowers, fruit, etc. You can also find pottery and dishes at the shop, though the tiles are the main attraction.
But be careful what you buy. Over ten years ago my wife and I purchased a couple boxes of azulejos from Sant’anna, and that initial purchase of about $150 turned into the basis of a very expensive—but satisfying—kitchen renovation.

Other azulejos tell a story, each square tile forming a small part of a larger illustrated drama: battle scenes, depictions of daily life from other centuries, religious miracles, all designed to be displayed in one’s home or on an exterior wall. One might say that Portuguese azulejos were one of the earliest forms of popular graphic art.

Once you’ve explored enough in Sant’anna, simply walk one block east, along the southern edge of the Largo do Barão de Quintella, and you’ll be in sight of BdMania (Rua das Flores, 71), a small shop where you can find another, more contemporary kind of graphic art; this place is stacked with all manner of graphic novels, comics, Japanese manga, you name it. Are you a fan of steam punk? This is the place for you. Each table is packed with an amazing range of merchandise. I once bought for my wife there a French graphic novel about a traveling band of klezmer musicians.
After your extended stint of exploring in these two shops, perhaps it’s time to think about lunch. Keep walking south on the Rua das Flores, in the direction of the Tejo river. You’re looking for Restaurant a Carvoaria (Rua das Flores, 6), but don’t look for a sign, there isn’t one. There isn’t a menu posted outside, either. Just look for the street number—6—and there you are, standing in front of what looks like a hole in the wall. Literally. Just a darkened open doorway beckons you to a not entirely welcoming darkened space. Have no fear, though—take a few steps inside, let your eyes adjust, and then head for the stairs on your left. You’ll enter a much better lit but still cavernous space, chock-a-block with long tables filled with Portuguese business people and workers enjoying their mid-day meal in a restaurant that only serves lunch, within a two-hour window, from noon to a little after 2 o’clock. The food in Carvoaria is simple but satisfying. Go for the seafood, though the chicken dishes are just as succulent. Y’know, the rack of pork is fine too. The house red wine, served in ceramic jars, goes down smoothly—be careful, it will creep up on you. The entire atmosphere is of a happy, noisy family.
But don’t order a dessert or coffee. Save that final course for your last stop on this little tour, the nearby pastelaria Quatro Estações (Praça de São Paulo 17). Simply continue walking south on Rua das Flores, make your first right, onto Rua de São Paulo, and then take your first left. There you’ll find Quatro Estações, located in the middle of the block at the eastern end of the Praça de São Paulo.

The Moon Come to Earth: Dispatches from LisbonMake sure you grab a table near the window facing the praça—from there you’ll have a lovely view of the Church of São Paulo on the other side of the praça. I suggest this pastelaria not because the offerings of dessert or caffeinated beverages or freshly squeezed orange juice is better than any other of the myriad such pastelerias in Lisbon (though they are quite good here); instead I recommend it because of the clientele. The owners are a Brazilian couple that has created in their establishment a welcoming air to all and sundry, and the place is often swinging with an unusual cast of characters. I relaxed there several times during a year I spent in Lisbon, and while lingering over an espresso or the spongy goodness of a bolo de arroz, I could take in the informal rotating house entertainment of a pair of gypsies reading patrons’ palms for hints of the future, ancient veterans selling raffle tickets, and local characters who’d invented their own language or who imagined themselves powerful political figures. Strangers air-kiss other strangers, and for all the odd moments, the pastelaria maintains a mellow, happy mood. This is a real neighborhood gathering place, and as far from a den of tourists as you can get in downtown Lisbon.
Oh, right beside Quatros Estações is a dental clinic, but I doubt you’ll be eating that many sweets at the pastelaria.

Good-Bye to Lisbon’s “Mr. Hello”

Senhor do Adeus

A couple of years ago, in a post about unusual or strange things in Lisbon (“Weird Lisbon“), we told you about a gentleman who had become a local celebrity by simply waving hello on the street, at night, in the center of the city. He originally did it in Saldanha Square uptown, but in recent years he was mostly seen in his neighborhood, Restelo, by the Belém district. Although known as “Mr. Good-Bye,” he said he prefered to be called “Mr. Hello.”
His real name was Mr. João Serra, and today we’re sad to report that he passed away yesterday at the age of 80. In print and television interviews he recognized that what he did was unusual and that he understood if everyone thought he was crazy. However, that doesn’t seem to be the opinion of the thousands of people who waved back at him over the years, many of whom will today be standing in his honor at 10PM on his spot in Saldanha Square, doing what he did for years — saying hello and hearing the cars honk back and cheer in return.
Mr. Serra was born into a wealthy family, never really worked, but was a well-traveled and cultured man. He went to the movies every week and there was even a blog created with his insights. His reason for standing in the middle of the city was to “connect with people,” something that arose from solitude at home, and the need to bring “life” to a city deserted at night ever since “television took people away from the theaters and the streets.”
Despite his celebrity status, Mr. Serra said his actions were not for exhibitionism, and that was the reason why he refused so many invitations to appear on television. His actions, he said, were purely “therapeutical.” It wasn’t clear if he meant that for himself or for the people of Lisbon, as for a couple of seconds those who saw him would at least crack a smile.
Mr. Serra preferred “hello” to “good-bye,” so in this case we’ll only say “Cheers!” to him and the hours he dedicated to brightening Lisbon’s nights.

Lisbon According to Poet Fernando Pessoa

Lisbon by poet Fernando Pessoa

There have been several tourist DVD about Lisbon released by the city’s tourism office over the years, but although they all feature beautiful images of the Portuguese capital, they always seemed to lack something in the narration, adding no more than what a Flickr gallery or GoLisbon’s own photo album could offer. But a recently-released DVD has changed that, offering beautiful shots of the city (from aerial views to close-up details of landmarks) together with an insightful guide to Lisbon by one of Portugal’s biggest cultural icons. That is Fernando Pessoa who’s also widely considered to be one of Europe’s greatest poets of the 20th century, who left behind an English-language tourist guide to Lisbon when he died. It was only found and published much after his death, and although it dates from the early 20th century, it’s interesting to note just how current it remains. That’s because his description of the view of Lisbon from the river Tagus is timeless, and because a large part of the city’s attractions are its centuries-old landmarks and the emotions they can all create together.
But this DVD also starts out by showing contemporary Lisbon and goes on to present the tour suggested by Pessoa, with a narration that includes some of his poems and the text from his “What the Tourist Should See” book. That narration is available in several languages — English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German, as well as two Portuguese versions — one for Portuguese viewers, and another by a Brazilian narrator for those Brazilians who may have difficulty in understanding the accent from Portugal.
At the end of the film there is a number of extras, all interviews with some of the narrators (the Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish, and American), plus the director and a literary advisor who’s compiled much of Pessoa’s work. They all talk about their involvement in the process of creating the film and share their personal relationships with Lisbon, as well as how Fernando Pessoa has helped them better understand the city and even themselves. Especially evocative of the Lisbon magic and the mark it can leave on visitors is the interview of the Brazilian narrator which is subtitled for those who don’t understand Portuguese.
This is therefore a film that no one from Lisbon will want to miss, and one that tourists will want to acquire as a reminder of their visit to the city.  It’s also a great way to share the city with others who haven’t yet visited.
Look for it wherever DVD are sold in the city, with the most popular and perhaps most convenient being the FNAC store in Chiado. The price is 20 euros and you can get more details here.

Lisbon in New York – Part II

Aldea Restaurant, New York

It’s been a while since we brought you a Lisbon in the World post. Today we’re taking you once again to New York, pointing out the places where you can get to know a little of Portuguese culture across the Atlantic. In the previous Lisbon in New York post we highlighted the Big Apple’s Portuguese restaurants and the historical Portuguese Synagogue in the city, and had previously told you about how the borough of Queens is named after Portugal’s Catherine of Bragança.
Today we also remember Emma Lazarus (Lázaro), the poet of Portuguese Jewish background who’s best known for the sonnet “The New Colossus” engraved on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”), and also tell you about the first non-native citizen of New York, Jan Rodrigues. His last name reveals his Portuguese background, and he was recently remembered in a New Yorker article about Governor’s Island south of Manhattan, where he arrived in 1613 on a Dutch expedition. Rodrigues lived in what was to become New York as a trader of Dutch weapons for the local Indian tribes, and later married an Indian girl.
Another historical personality of Portuguese background in New York was Benjamin Cardozo who was a famous lawyer who went on to become the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 20th century.
Moving to the present day, a special taste of Portugal can currently be found in the SoHo neighborhood, at the Kiosk design shop. It sells products found during the owners’ travels, and until mid-February of next year Portugal will be the highlighted country. This is the second time Portugal is the featured country of a New York shop in the period of a year, as last year the popular “Whole Foods” showcased Portuguese cuisine in a special “Adventures in Portugal” month.
Other recent Portuguese-related news in Manhattan was the opening of Aldea Restaurant by Portuguese-American chef George Mendes. His specialty is Iberian cuisine, after having interned at one of Spain’s best restaurants, the three-Michelin-star Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian. The name of the restaurant means “village” in Spanish, perhaps chosen instead of the Portuguese “Aldeia” to look easier for American pronunciation. Although the dishes are Portuguese and Spanish, the wine list also includes labels from France and the United States.