In a meeting room named in Pessoa's honor, decorated with a portrait of the writer in his cloak and fedora, a group of men and women passionately discussed literature in operatic Portuguese.
I kept discovering monuments to Pessoa throughout the ancient maritime city, amazed that a country would so passionately honor a writer. A bronze statue of Pessoa sitting at a table at the Cafe Brasileira, one of his favorite places. Banners hanging from public buildings. A memorial at the hotel near the airport.
Before leaving Portugal, I purchased a copy of Pessoa's "Book of Disquiet." The dreamy, philosophical pieces reminded me of Vallejo and other European writers for whom language was like music.
Pessoa invented 75 alternative personalities who wrote distinct works. He called the invented characters heteronyms. Alberto Casesiro, Alvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis are the best known. Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago based a novel on the latter.
After Pessoa's death in 1935, 25,000 unpublished papers attributed to his different personalities were discovered in a trunk. Pessoa wasn't well-known in his lifetime. The discovery led to Pessoa's recognition as one of Europe's greatest writers.
The writer has been receiving a burst of attention this summer, with the publication of a major biography by Richard Zenith, which has received a number of positive reviews.
Reading about Zenith's book, I'm taken back to Lisbon's festive streets, where Pessoa's presence remains palpable. Pessoa illuminated Portugal's soul but belongs to the world.