Out the open French doors of my pensione on a narrow street in Sevilla, the warm silence is periodically broken by church bells, calling doves, the clatter of hooves on cobble and the rumble of luggage being dragged by tourists to their lodging. Cars are impossible in these ancient streets.
I left Lisbon. After many goodbyes, last pictures and drinks, after watching the sun set and lights come on across the hills, I awoke to a city bereft of the faces I’d become friends with, then packed up and got in a cab myself. Curving through the narrow streets then out along the river Tagus, I watched the hills of the city fall behind and I knew I felt it. Saudade.
As freedom and the 4th of July are integral to America’s identity, so is saudade to the Portuguese. Saudade is variously defined as a deep longing or melancholy for something irretrievable, but is more frequently described by the Portuguese as something essentially indefinable. At times it seemed to me that they prefer keeping it that way, as if the experience of saudade is as essential and dear as, well, as the concept of freedom is to Americans. While one might agree that people everywhere value freedom, America has made it a lifestyle. Freedom is our essential cultural lightning rod, fireworks, red-white-and blue bunting and all. However, how freedom is defined is not only politically charged, but deeply personal and in that sense, indefinable. Perhaps that’s something of the significance of saudade in the Portuguese psyche.
Saudade shapes fado, the music I’ve posted these past 2 weeks, a music both celebrating and keening in the same song. Here is Amalia Rodrigues, the fadista who brought fado, and Portugal, back to life after the Salazar regime.
As those of you in the States prepare and celebrate America’s freedom tomorrow, so I celebrate saudade from my pensione in Spain, understanding now what one writer explained, that saudade is not only a sadness for what has been lost, but a simultaneous tender joy in having once known such love for some one, some place, some thing. It is a privilege to know such sorrow.
When we get to wine country, I’ll let you know.