The Lisbon of Antonio Tabucchi

The Portuguese capital has always fascinated me for the great love for a Tuscan writer, whom I read, esteemed and appreciated with great affection: Antonio Tabucchi. When I was young I dreamt of Lisbon between his lines, chasing in his stories the smells, the scents, the colours, the shadows of a magical city. A city on the geographical border between the earth and the ocean and, literally, a city on the border between imagination and reality, a combination that makes his discovery adventurous and exciting.

A magnificent summer day, sunny and breezy, and Lisbon was sparkling. (Antonio Tabucchi)

When I was in Lisbon for the first time, I followed romantic suggestions and memories and was surprised at how magical reality was, steeped in history and melancholy. The city of Tabucchi’s novels and tales is a metaphysical city, an always elusive chessboard where several visual and narrative planes intersect: discovering and unravelling these elements is what unites the reader and the traveller. I thus sensed a real city blending in and blending happily with the imagined one, finding new alleys and new writings, like those of Saramago and Pessoa.

At that hour the light of Lisbon was white towards the mouth and pinkish pink on the hills, the eighteenth-century buildings looked like an oleography and the Tagus was ploughed by a myriad of boats (Antonio Tabucchi)

My journey began with the cafés: the “Café Orquidea” of “Sostiene Pereira” (now an excellent pastry shop) and the Café Brasileira, where Pessoa used to stop and which is the oldest café in the city. The photo of this café recurs in numerous covers of Tabucchi’s book, a visual evocation of impact for the reader-traveller.

Café Brasileira Photo credit: ART-Ko on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

A necessary route is the one aboard the legendary Tram 28, which takes us through the streets of Lisbon and leads us to the Alfama district of Africa with its alleys and arabesque shops.

Lisbona - Tram
Tram – Photo by Nik Guiney on Unsplash

Another stop in the streets of “Requiem”, another fundamental novel by Tabucchi for Lisbon, is “Casa do Alentejo”, the wonderful palace of Azuelos, a building rich in history and home to an excellent restaurant, run by the community of the Alentejana region.

And he felt exhausted, says Pereira. He managed to drag himself to the nearest tram stop and took a tram that took him to Terreiro do Paço. And in the meantime, from the window, he watched his Lisbon slowly parade by, he watched the Avenida da Liberdade, with its beautiful buildings, and then the Praça do Rossio, English style; and at Terreiro do Paço he got off and took the tram that went up to the Castle. He got off at the Cathedral, because he lived nearby, on Rua da Saudade. (Antonio Tabucchi)

Continuing close to the Ocean, two steps on the quay at Alcantara make one perceive the ideal link between Tabucchi and the Portuguese intellectuals who used to meet here.

Photo on Visual Hunt

Following the notes of fado along via Rua San Miguel, it is easy to set off in search of Rua da Saudade. It is precisely the Saudade in this phantasmagorical and real at the same time itinerary that becomes a category of the soul: the soul of the reader traveller who discovers suggestions and glimpses capable, in their union, of giving life to a city once again renewed. <

Nostalgic and dense notes that become one with Tabucchi’s endless and timeless writing. At the end of the day, as Saramago recalls, isn’t this also reading and travelling?

The traveller is about to conclude his tour of Lisbon. He has seen a lot, he has seen almost nothing. He wanted to see well, maybe he saw badly: this is the constant risk of any trip. (José Saramago)

La Lisbona di Antonio Tabucchi
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