At that table, in the market: me, my father and Florbela!

At the Porto Alegre Public Market (Brasil), there is a very traditional restaurant, Gambrinus, which is homonymous with the Lisbon (Portugal) Gambrinus. The latter, however, dates back to 1936, while Gambrinus gaúcho was opened in 1889, during the transition from the Monarchy to the Republic in Brazil. My father used to take me there in the 1980s, it was a habit he repeated with me because my grandfather did the same with him decades before – the Gambrinus was the great family programme and it crossed generations. And it is still standing firm in the public market, after surviving four fires and one demolition attempt, as attested by the Council of Architecture and Urbanism of Rio Grande do Sul (CAU-RS, 2019). We went only on Saturdays, because Saturday was codfish day, usually À Gomes de Sá. We always sat at the same table to eat “the best cod without being in Portugal”, as he referred to his favourite dish. And having said that, he would add: “that’s what they say, that’s what they say”!

My father did not visit Portugal, there was no time, because time is the greatest luxury, and it is not for everyone. He left on a sunny May afternoon, he had a book by Florbela Espanca on the small table in the hospital room, where he spent his last days. This book was given to me by him on the day I turned 21, and was accompanied by a beautiful dedication, the meaning of which I could only understand later. He adored Florbela, saying that she was the poetic expression of a human case, and the book contained all the sonnets published in Livro de Mágoas, Livro de Soror Saudade, Charneca em Flor and Reliquiae. We were in Gambrinus when he told me he wanted to know Vila Viçosa, where the poetess had been born, and he mentioned the place as if it were just over there, passing the market and Gambrinus.

Time passed, the Saturday lunches ceased, dad fell ill.  One day he asked me for the book back. “Do you still have Florbela?” Of course I had it. He never gave it back to me, but I knew it was in good hands. Already in hospital, later on, I came across the book on his bedside table. Florbela continued to be the subject of our conversations. I took her brief life as an example, because if she left this world at the age of 36, who was he to complain about life, having already reached 74?

Herr Müller passed away quietly on a sunny May afternoon. A few days before, right there in bed, he had recited Minha Culpa [My fault] (part of the collection Charneca em Flor, 1930), and this was the last sonnet I heard him recite. He even asked me to come back to Gambrinus one of these days, and eat his codfish À Gomes de Sá, “the best without being in Portugal, so they say”…So I did. On any given Saturday, many months after his death, and with the book back by inheritance, I entered the Public Market, retracing the path we liked to walk together, looking at the prices of vegetables, fish and cheese, and it was always in that order. I remembered our stops at the stalls, me impatient to get to the restaurant as soon as possible, dad not in the least hurry because he left the best for last.  And there it was, the Gambrinus, intrepid and centenary, with its beautiful old stained-glass window at the entrance. I looked at it enraptured, the father, already assuming his new persona, whispered to me that there was certainly a Portuguese soul there.

Curiously, Gambrinus was born from a Germanic confraternity, who loved Portuguese cuisine, but as Germans don’t know how to cook codfish, in the 60s a family from Portugal took over and since then Gambrinus has preserved its origins, having a mix of regional Brazilian gastronomy with Portuguese influence, in other words, they joined the useful to the pleasant.

My father always sat at the same table, imitating the chef’s accent and pretending to choose something from the menu, but always ordering the same thing. While we waited, I spied through the door the passers-by doing their shopping at the market. Who were they, where were they going?  I marvelled at that diverse and colourful world, where there were so many people, everywhere. Outside, life was happening in a tumult of sounds and rapid images; inside the restaurant, a world apart overflowing in words, where life fit entirely at that moment, with sonnets and poems from overseas!

Amidst the smells and flavours of a market endowed with life – and what life! – I felt time stop when I heard my father reciting Florbela Espanca, Camões, Fernando Pessoa? And he recited as if he were Portuguese, heavy on the accent, everything by heart, without making mistakes. The cook listened enchanted, and soon joined him, reciting classics, in front of the other customers, amazed by the German with the Portuguese accent and the Portuguese already almost Brazilian, who left the kitchen to have those moments of pure delight with him. “It’s your fault, oh man!”, they said to each other, laughing and joking. And there they went, shouting Minha Culpa for the umpteenth time. I don’t know if Florbela would approve, but, between us, it was really a show apart.

The last time I was there, the Portuguese cook was no longer there, nor was my father, but in his place were all those memories impregnated on those walls and on the table, our table. As I entered that magical place back in time, I came across it, empty, as if waiting for him. I sat down and opened the page marked with a folded ear, dad hated bookmarks. And although Florbela dedicated that sonnet to a certain Artur Ledesma, I ask permission from that flower born in Vila Viçosa to dedicate it now to the one who recited it so often: my father, Gilberto Müller, the most Portuguese German I have ever known.


MINHA CULPA [My fault] (to Artur Ledesma)

Sei lá! Sei lá! Eu sei lá bem

Quem sou?! Um fogo-fátuo, uma miragem…

Sou um reflexo… um canto de paisagem

Ou apenas cenário! Um vaivém…

Como a sorte: hoje aqui, depois além!

Sei lá quem Sou?! Sei lá! Sou a roupagem

Dum doido que partiu numa romagem

E nunca mais voltou! Eu sei lá quem!

Sou um verme que um dia quis ser astro…

Uma estátua truncada de alabastro…

Uma chaga sangrenta do Senhor…

Sei lá quem sou?! Sei lá! Cumprindo os fados,

Num mundo de vaidades e pecados,

Sou mais um mau, sou mais um pecador…

Text and images: Madeleine Müller

Published on 19-04-2022


CAU/RS. (2019). Mercado Público de Porto Alegre completa 150 anos. Conselho de Arquitetura e Urbanismo do Rio Grande do Sul. Retrieved 29-03-2022 from

Espanca, F. (1982). Sonetos. Difel.










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