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A meeting with literature…

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“I miss Pindela. From here, in this room with a view to S.ta Catarina street, your wide green-black valley, the House, bellow, old-fashion and grave, half-sleeping between the trees, and the little chapel whitening up above […]. A tight hug to you both, jewels, from yours c. Eça de Queirós.

This is an exert from many of the letters written by the writer  Eça de Queirós at Grande Hotel do Porto. This one was addressed to the diplomate Vicente Pinheiro Correia de Melo, Viscount of Pindela, and his brother, the writer Bernardo Pinheiro Correia de Melo, Count of Arnoso. The view from Eça’s room to Santa Catarina street betrays the hotel location, in one of the busiest streets of the city and, curiously, a street that was home to some of the most important figures of Portuguese literature of the XIX century, like Camilo Castelo Branco, Arnaldo Gama e António Nobre. We can easily imagine them strolling by the hotel vicinities, on a street where throughout decades, other names of the literature and arts also strolled by, heading to one of the most beautiful cafés of the world, the Majestic, only 100m away from the hotel. We highlight writers such as José Régio and David Mourão‑Ferreira or the plastic artists  Júlio Resende and José Rodrigues.

From its Victorian facade, the Grande Hotel do Porto combines the Comfort and the luxury of the 19th fin de siècle, featuring a revolving entrance door and a glamorous décor with velvets, mirrors, chandeliers and marble columns. Equipped in 1880 with public baths open to the public, we may find it referred in the romance The Captain’s Daughter (2004), from José Rodrigues dos Santos:

“As there was no connection to Minho during the night, they slept at the Grande Hotel do Porto, on Santa Catharina street, a building built specifically to be a hotel and that offered guests a sophisticated annex for baths and showers.”

The Grande Hotel do Porto is distinguished, therefore, for its architectural and cultural value, but also the quality and sophistication of the facilities. According to Hélder Pacheco, in his book Porto (1984),

“flanking the lane called Pombas, rises the Grande Hotel do Porto that in the 19th century had the admiration of visitors”.

An admiration that brought here, for example, D. Pedro II (Brazil former emperor and son of D. Pedro IV), that sought refuge here with his wife – D. Teresa Cristina –, when the monarchy was abolished in that country in 1889. The hotel honours this visit by giving the emperor’s name to its restaurant, where guests more or less famous may learn about this story while having their meal. For instance, the poet Eugénio de Castro, in a letter from 17 of August of 1903, refers to going to Porto, scheduling a meeting at the Grande Hotel:

“Dear friend: I leave for Porto tomorrow, Tuesday, and should arrive there around 7:49 pm. If it is not too much trouble, you may show up at that hour at  Gde Hotel do Porto, and we schedule the first session. Hug”.

The poet Teixeira de Pascoaes was also a regular Guest at Grande Hotel, referring to this fact in his romanticized biography of Santo Agostinho (1945):

“Go up Clérigos street, and stroll by Via Láctea. Have lunch at Grande Hotel do Porto, and it is no miracle if you dine, that same day, with Pluto, in his Tartaric palace”.

Another emblematic space of Grande Hotel do Porto is the “Hall of columns”, which pays tribute to several Porto writers like Almeida Garrett and Júlio Dinis, and others that, not being from the region, were guests at the hotel, like Luísa Dacosta and Lídia Jorge. In her inscription on the hotel’s Guest Book, from 10th May of 2014, Lídia Jorge writes:

“Much obliged for the welcoming in this Hotel, once Grand and Grand today. Whenever possible, I shall return, to enjoy this ancient environment that makes bridges to the future of this city[…]. See you soon”.

The  filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, an enthusiast of the 1920s tea-dances, returned to this room, where the cult of reading, conversations and well-being is privileged, to shoot scenes from his films “Doom Love” (1979) and“ Cristóvão Colombo – the Enigma” (2007).

The Grande Hotel do Porto hosted several famous guests such as the ucranian dancer/choreograph Pavlo Virsky, the soviet piano player Sviatoslav Richter or the spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno that, in 1907, sends from Grande Hotel, a letter to his friend, the writer Azorín, with a poem dedicated to Portugal:

“Portugal, Portugal, barefoot land,

Nestled by the sea, your mother,

Weeping with longing

Over tragic loves […];

and, in this slow shipwreck, meditates,

on its oriental glories, singing slow and tearful fados” [underscored in the original]

This space is, therefore, elected by many know characters of the Portuguese and foreign social, political and cultural life scene. The hotel pays tribute to some of these names, by baptizing different hotel areas, such as the restaurant, bar and signature suites.

One of those suites is dedicated to Eça de Queirós, that stayed several times in the hotel, probably when coming to Porto for affairs concerning his wife’s heritage – The Tormes farm (Santa Cruz do Douro); or matters related to the publication of his books by Lello Bookstore (“Chardron Bookstore” at the time), or simply to spend time with many of his fellow writers.

Once again, we use his book references, in a letter written during one of his stays at Grande Hotel do Porto, addressed to the writer Luís de Magalhães:

“Dear Luís: I left Porto today […]. In the rush, the servant from Hotel do Porto forgot to bring to the station a small wood box, with a gift from my mother to Maria. I will write to the hotel for them to keep the box at your attention. Please send for it, when you may, and address it to me, in Paris […]. – And now, a big brotherly hug and sans adieu […] from yours, Queirós.

Among the writers that regularly come by to the Hotel, we should speak of Guerra Junqueiro, that published several of his work in Porto, where it is known to have declaimed verses in several spots in the city, including this hotel. As the poet Alberto d’Oliveira reports,

, “I remember a thousand meetings and lectures, that I will better name dazzling monologues, in which the poet intoxicated us with his images […]. I can hear him recite the poems that later formed “Os Simples”. I can hear him on the streets and Porto sidewalks, in Nova square (or D. Pedro), in the Palace, at Hotel do Porto”.

Evidencing a clear connection with important names from the literature scene, the Grande Hotel do Porto seeks to perpetuate the charisma and memories of these stories and experiences through photographs and frames of the hotel’s Guest Book with the words of some of the guests that stayed here throughout the years. Among them, and to mention only a few, Júlio Dantas, Aquilino Ribeiro, Fernando Pessoa, Volodia Teitelboim, Fernando Namora, Luís de Sttau Monteiro, Eduarda Chiote, Alice Vieira, Margarida Rebelo Pinto and Fernando Assis Pacheco that, in 1990, writes in the hotel’s Guest Book the following words:

“I am so beaten at  Grande Hotel that I already deserved to be considered a piece of furniture. Other than that, that is it: the Grande Hotel has been my house in Porto for several years. I feel here like a chick in an egg”;

and António Lobo Antunes that in 2004, presents at Grande Hotel do Porto, his novel I shall love a stone”, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his literary career.

Throughout its vast history, the Grande Hotel do Porto has welcomed several known persons from several different areas, being the literary one of the most striking ones. To stay at Grande Hotel do Porto means to dive into this story, to cross paths with those who were here before, to move in a unique environment, in a privileged space in terms of heritage, history and culture!

Article by Ana Cláudia Salgueiro da Silva

Literature researcher

Note: This text was written in Portuguese. The English translation was made by the hotel and the translation of the literary pieces is not an official one.

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