#001 - the Saudades series.
I’ve always had a thing with words—it’s an exciting mix of curiosity and admiration. The ability to appreciate words from three different languages is a blessing I do not take lightly. My favorite words are the ones that carry a more complex meaning, almost as if they are trying to explain the inexplicable.
As a native Portuguese speaker, I've only begun to appreciate certain words after I moved from Brazil to New York. Saudades, for example, is my favorite word in Portuguese not only because it sounds poetic, but because of what it can mean for so many different people.
Dictionary.com put it perfectly:
“This untranslatable Portuguese term refers to the melancholic longing or yearning. A recurring theme in Portuguese and Brazilian literature, saudade evokes a sense of loneliness and incompleteness.
Portuguese scholar Aubrey Bell attempts to distill this complex concept in his 1912 book In Portugal, describing saudade as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present.”
He continues to say that saudade is “not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” Saudade can more casually be used to say that you miss someone or something, even if you’ll see that person or thing soon. It differs from nostalgia in that one can feel saudade for something that might never have happened, whereas nostalgia is “a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”
Loneliness and incompleteness.
My mother, Cleusa Aparecida Paula, moved from Brazil to New York in 1996. I was still a baby. Needless to say, saudades was a word we used daily over the 13 years we spent apart.
I asked my mom to share the first thing she thought of when she heard the word saudades. Her eyes sparkled in an innocent, child-like way. She gave me a naïve, sweet answer, that was able to transport me back to the fazenda she grew up in, even though I've never actually been there.
“It’s been 22 years since I moved to this concrete jungle. I feel lots of saudades of my land. The smell of grass and the sound of roosters waking us up at dawn announcing a new day. The moo from the cattle, and the horses’ neigh. Happy dogs, barking in excitement as they greet their owners. Little birds singing, and the parrots' endless conversations. Oh, how much saudades that makes me feel. I love to live in New York, but this saudade shall follow me for many more years to come.”
While my mom described what she felt when she heard about saudades and what she felt saudades of, others decided to share their definitions of the word.
“Saudade is feeling the presence of something that’s not there. It has your thoughts in sync with your heart, in a combination of absence and love. It is sweet and bitter. It is having our minds full, and our vision, empty. It is the happiest of sadness.” – Bettina Avila
The Brazilian filmmaker living in New York City decided to explain her thoughts the best way she knew how: with a video that transports us to a gorgeous country and a mellifluous soundtrack.
“I left Brazil to study in the US before I turned 18. I never really fit in back home, so I thought I wasn’t going to miss anything besides my family by not being around. Little did I know that the distance would teach me to increasingly appreciate my country for what it is and for what it has the potential to be. Before, I would never take the time to think about the nature around my home or the fact that I’m lucky enough to pick my fresh fruit from my backyard. I learned to appreciate things that I completely took for granted before. I started to pay attention to the beautiful sunsets and to make peace with the loud birds that hang out around my bedroom window every day. I made this video during my last trip home so I could have a reminder of how much I love and miss my country. I hope others enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.”
When I asked Brazilian journalist Isadora Vareijão to share her thoughts on the word, she provided me with a deep meaning and explanation of saudades, touching on the psychological and tricky state of mind and soul that it puts us on.
“It wouldn’t be wrong to say that saudade is a state of mind. Under such effect, one’s mind is flooded with a helpless feeling of desiring, wishing, longing and/or indulging on what you can’t currently have. However, I do consider saudade more as a state of the soul. Because the mind has this scientific-psycho-analytic scheme to it (blame it on Freud) that people think they can categorize, analyze, medicate. We can’t do that to our souls, though. Nobody knows how its waters move, but one thing I do know for sure is that saudade comes from this deep unexplored place within them.
Saudade always takes you by assault—you never see it coming. It is disparate, paradoxal. It can turn a memory of the biggest joy ever into the cause of ultimate pain, and vice versa. It takes over the mind, the guts and the heart. May the devil stay away—when we feel such “soul hunger,” we might even negotiate with him. Like Richard III in the namesake play by Shakespeare, we offer our kingdom for a horse. Or someone’s presence. Or a touch. A place. Just like Richard III, we are taken by the illusion that feeding whatever saudade is after can heal all the wounds and save us from an imminent annihilation. Think it is tricky? Sometimes, we even feel saudade of things we don’t know. A touch we never felt, words we never heard, places we never saw. For saudade is a direct connection to our most true self, our soul, and most of the times, we don’t know what is up with that either!”
I asked Isadora to share an image or video that would best illustrate her thoughts on saudades. Her choice was interesting, unexpected, and accurate.
The Moon tarot card represents illusions, fears, desires and fantasies. According to Isadora, it also represents our subconscious. And, the moon itself, rise the waters within ourselves.
Saudades can bring all of those feelings up, and cause an internal storm we sometimes don't know how to handle.
How about you? What do you feel saudades of?