Navigating the Lisbon Sky
I postponed a trip to Portugal for a long time. Brazil, my country of birth, was a Portuguese colony from 1500 to 1822, when the son of the Portuguese king, D. Pedro I, proclaimed independence and decided to stay down in the tropics a little longer. Differently from many Brazilians, who are curious about the obvious similarities and comparisons with the motherland, I never cared very much about going there, despite a line of friends of different nationalities who raved about it. Finally, last summer, I decided to pay Lisbon a visit and just fell in love at first sight. Besides sardines, wine, tiles and viewpoints from charming hills, I was struck by the Lisbon sky.
It’s made of a different kind of blue: intense, deep, ultra bright. It engulfs you in color and you feel the blue sparks inside. If I were a chromo therapist, I would recommend Lisbon to every depressed person in the world. One week there, cured! But it’s not just the shade of blue and the unique light. The Lisbon sky and the water that surrounds the city expand your mind, pushing you to always look beyond yourself, taking you somewhere far. I can’t help associating this feeling with the quest for new lands that pulled such a small country to navigate unknown seas centuries ago.
The Portuguese navigators went far with their caravelas in the 1400’s and 1500’s: Vasco da Gama found the way to India navigating around Africa and Pedro Álvares Cabral followed the winds that took him West, until he ended up on the Brazilian coast. Of course there were many economic reasons and power disputes in Europe at that time to propel the boats in search of new resources and wealth, but when you see the exact place from where the fleets left, with no certainty to come back, right where the Tejo River (Tagus) opens up to the Atlantic, all you can hear is that sky calling you to expand, to navigate.
Navegar é preciso, viver não é preciso.
(Navigating is necessary, living is not necessary.)
Fernando Pessoa, one of the most famous Lisbon poets, borrowed this quote from a Roman general, and made it famous as the beginning of one of his poems. There’s no better way to see Lisbon with a blue-sky state of mind than to get to know Fernando Pessoa, who lived and died in the city on November 30th, 1935, 84 years ago last week. He is all over Lisbon, in museums, cafés, but mostly in spirit. You can see the house where he was born, the house where he lived the last 15 years of his life (now a museum), or you can sit beside his statue in front of one of his favorite places in the Chiado neighborhood (like I did). Don’t miss him. He is the best guide to navigate the city before you go back to the sea. Pessoa’s poetry will do to your mind what the blue sky and the ocean view do to the soul.