In Search of... Miguel Cardoso
"One day he remarked, without lifting his head, 'In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.'
- Joseph Conrad
It was a series of exchanges on the website Metafilter that led to my initial acquiantance with Miguel Esteves Cardoso (hereafter known as MEC)
Like a portuguese explorer from the age of sea voyages, MEC's first act was to proclaim himself and plant his flag:
I have never before written anything without being paid for it. I'm one of Portugal's most successful writers and, thank G-d, the books I've written, as well as the newspapers and magazines I've founded and edited, are all very popular. In fact, the only other Portuguese writer who sells more books than I do is José Saramago, the recent Nobel Prize winner.
The weekly newspaper I founded and edited, "O Independente", is Portugal's number two weekly, though admittedly far behind "Expresso".
What he said was indeed true but it was greeted by the insular Metafilter crowd as little more than over-inflated words, the rants of an anonymous persona - the insecure declarations of an Internet neophyte.
From these humble beginnings, MEC went on to become one of Metafilter's most prolific posters and one of its premier personalities. He posted daily, many times a day, and drew (as is to be expected) his share of both admiration and ire.
He wrote about music and art and photography and American culture and food and theater and religion. Even poetry and travel and book-collecting and portuguese fado and espresso and restaurants. And even vibrators and toilet etiquette. And about alcohol. Especially, alcohol. During his tenure there, MEC praised the virtues of cocktail books and wrote about Port and Champagne and bourbon and whisky and tequila and rum. Over 400 posts.
Slowly, over a period of years MEC had managed to craft a persona in a manner far more effective than he had done in his initial appearance. It was clear that this man -whomever he might be- was astoundingly articulate, highly literate, educated and, above all, a connoisseur, an aficionado who delighted in the indulgence of the senses - an aesthete and a gourmand.
This grand presence however, was too large for this small community of thousands. He regularly ignored rules (or perhaps delicately overstepped them) and became a symbol of defiance itself. Many users resented this personality of imposition, but most either defended him or were swayed by his words, or his patient charm. His most loyal defenders even earned the name "Miguelistas" - a band of wily insurgents who did what MEC would not do himself - attack his attackers.
2. The Writer and Celebrity
MEC is in fact well-known in Portugal. He is both a well-known journalist and novelist with over 11 published books. His journalistic opinions there have earned him a reputation as a literary bad-boy, a contrarian and critic. He is foremost an essayist, writing nostalgically about love and passion and with a fondness for the traditional and the beautiful over the garish and new.
His novels also tend to ruminations on the unique Portuguese psyche, a minor atlas of the landscape of old Lusitania - both its habits and heritage as well as its emergence into the modern world.
He also has two grown daughters who have earned their own reputation as newscasters, as society figures, as FHM models.
A collection of MEC books at Livreria Lello in Porto, Portugal.
3. The Almost
I did not go to Portugal to meet MEC but on a trip there last week I informed MEC that I would be in his neighborhood. He immediately replied with a joyful and gracious email:
Fico muito contente que voltes a Lisboa!
Eu moro aqui no Estoril,
Mas pode ser em qualquer lugar.
Um grande abraço (e boa viagem!),
I had told him that I was staying at the
Bairro Alto hotel in Lisboa but his suggested meeting place was in Cascais.
Much of my time in Portugal was spent traversing the country, from Lisboa
to Porto (and a meal in a tiny restaurant that I will savor for a lifetime)
and into the northern areas such as Brufe (the restaurant O Abocanhado pictured above), wading in waterfalls, briefly skipping across the northern border into Spanish Galicia.
MEC and I were supposed to meet upon my return to Lisboa but the day before I received this email from him:
Dammit, I can't meet you after all. I'm off to Germany tonight for the bloody World Cup, which I'm covering for O Jogo, every single day (http://www.ojogo.pt/22-113/artigo559175.htm)...!
I was really looking forward to it too.
I hope you're enjoying your stay - you certainly seem to know your way around.
All the best,
And so, it was not to be. Perhaps next time, Senhor Cardoso. Algum dia...algum dia...