A couple of years ago I ran across a term that was new to me - a Portuguese word saudade. It's one of those "impossible to translate" words that doesn't have a clear or easy definition in English. It's close to nostalgia or melancholy, both of which have Portuguese equivalents, but there's another aspect to it that makes it uniquely Portuguese (though a few other languages have similar expressions). Of the many attempts at definitions on the wikipedia page, the one I like best is "a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist." Emphasis added - it's that last bit that I like best - the feeling of longing for something that no longer exists and yet could not exist, or maybe never really existed.
I've felt saudade several times over the past couple of years - most often in the summers on family vacations that bring up old memories and old echoes of family history. I feel it when I think of my tenuous connection to my Portuguese heritage, and how ever more fragile it is for my children. And I feel it when I think of the loosening connections to the eastern shore, and my mother's family and my old friends.
A couple of weeks ago for some reason I was thinking of how much we document of our modern lives. The blogs, the videos, the 10,000 photos on my computer. But the past is all just memories. If I close my eyes, I can remember the cadence of both my paternal grandparents' accented English. I have a vague feeling that I remember a little of my maternal grandmother's, but almost no memory of what my maternal grandfather sounded like - it's moved just beyond my memory. I do still hear the voice of my mother's sister in my head. Oh, honey, is what I always remember her saying.
A few years ago my parents sent me a self published memoir/recipe book written by a woman who knew my paternal, Portuguese grandparents when they lived in Brunswick, Georgia. My grandfather, who immigrated by himself at age 16 to this country, was a pillar of the Portuguese community there. He welcomed new immigrants, help run the social structure of the community, and it was he who raised the money and traveled to Portugal to bring back the statue of Our Lady of Fatima which is still used for the Blessing of the Fleet on Mother's Day.
My grandfather is the man on the far left in the front. We went to the Blessing of the Fleet once, when I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents were still alive and I don't actually remember much. It was hot. There was a lot of Portuguese spoken, which my brother, mother and I did not understand. It was just a little boring for me and my brother. My grandparents, who followed the shrimp and left Brunswick for Key West in the 1950s, were very proud to be there, and very popular among their old friends.
I believe there is a small plaque in the church that talks about how Our Lady was brought to the US. I believe it may mention my grandfather, but I'm not sure. I think maybe someday I'd like to at least stop by on some family trip, with Elizabeth and Andrew in tow. They will be bored. I will sit in the cool, dark church and light a candle for Our Lady and feel just a little saudade.
The From Left to Write Book Club consists of over 100 bloggers who read books and then write posts inspired by the book (not a review of the book). This month's post was inspired by Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons, a lovely book that was entirely about saudade. As a member of the book club, I was given a free copy of the book, and, because I quickly and eagerly accept free items and was one of the first 20 bloggers to sign up for the book, also a package of Walkers Shortbread. Thank you, publishers. I usually pass along these books to someone else, but I think I'd like to hold onto this one for a little bit. You can borrow it. Or visit your local library or Amazon or better yet a small, quaint local bookshop in the countryside and you won't be disappointed.
Tell me, when do you feel saudade?
National Math Festival
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