I am sure you have been missing the litany of my defeats, so here comes another one, just to keep things exciting: I don’t speak Portuguese. Now this, obviously, is true of many people, but perhaps mine is made worse by a context that, for once, pertains to something I can do: I speak other four Romance languages, including Spanish, which should be Portuguese’s closest relative. To wash away some of my sins, I do moderately read Portuguese, in the sense that I will merrily navigate the articles of the local Vogue at the airport, though God forbid someone, encouraged by such appearances, should ask anything in Portuguese. For that, to me, sounds Russian.
No, I have not chosen just some random language which could have been Mandarin or Tagalog: Portuguese does absolutely sound Russian to me, to the level that I have confused them on occasion, all of this made worse by the fact that besides the above-mentioned Romance languages, I also speak a Slavic one, albeit not Russian, which should give me ample grounds for maneuver.
Had I been proficient at Portuguese, I would have had the privilege of understanding the intricacies of this year’s Eurovision winning song as well, and this, in a supremely convoluted way finally brings me to my topic. Or sort of does. For those who have watched the song contest, and maybe even paid attention to the kooky little introductory videos about the artists (though I always had the suspicion that they were basically invented so you could run off to the kitchen for another beer or a serving of crisps), nevertheless, in his introductory video future winner Salvador Sobral poses a) with the ubiquitous Lisbon trams b) in the Ler Devagar bookstore.
Actually, the whole rambling about not speaking Portuguese was an extra buildup too, so that I can mention that the sole reason why I did not spend my entire stay in Lisbon in Ler Devagar is that I could not have read most of the books- though they do have plentiful titles in English, and I like looking at books no matter what language they were written in. I carefully peruse the shelves of bookstores wherever I go, for I believe that even if you do not speak the language, you can learn a lot about the soul of a nation by investigating the way their books look- and yes, I occasionally smell them too. But of course there are extra dangers when you can buy the books as well, though sometimes having a bookstore to get lost in is the only thing that can redeem a city- such as the case of my running away from the spiteful reality of being in Milan into the pleasant labyrinth of the Libraccio bookstores by the Navigli.
Lisbon, though, would be wonderful anyways, but having a place like Ler Devagar just makes it better. Reading up on it I found out that it moved several times until it reached its present destination in the LX Factory, but it seems to have been meant for this very place. The first thing you notice when you enter is of course the flying lady on a bike, meant to be Pessoa’s muse, and then the tremendous number of books crawling high up on the walls- it feels a bit like a literally bookish version of Jack’s beanstalk, leading up into the many other lands of the imagination- we’re in Pessoa’s land after all, so having many selves with many stories is only natural.
Some books seem arranged according to an order, others pop up randomly here or there, and that’s lovely too, then there’s always someone who looks like they’ve been searching for something for the past day, or maybe more, maybe they just materialized out of a book and are looking for a way into another story. On the ground floor, among a jumble of printing machines, there’s a bar as well, several tables and cozy nooks where you can retreat and lose track of time as you read slowly- which is what ler devagar actually means, so the moniker fits the place to perfection, or hardly at all, because time well spent can also fly here, just like the girl on the bike.
Though I do admit that smoking inside can be a pest, I am somehow still stuck with the Viennese idea that creative thinking is helped along by coffee and cigarettes, so it kind of made me happy to see that you can do that too in Ler Devagar- and perhaps it’s the sheer size of the place, or good ventilation, but smoke seemed hardly noticeable from the other tables. There’s another bar upstairs as well, a record collection of mostly Portuguese music and a maze inhabited by a gentleman improvising toys, which I had to miss out on because I was inspecting the spines of books to gain entry into the Portuguese mindset. The long and the short of this is that perhaps I should learn Portuguese, move to Lisbon and spend a lot of time reading slowly. Seems like a long shot, but I console myself with the pessoan thought that maybe one of my selves is already there doing just that.