Posted October 19th 2012 at 9:15 am by
in Fresh Eye Friday

Saudade: Longing and Belonging in Portugal

Wandering the cobblestoned hills near Calçada da Glória, Bairro Alto in Lisbon, a Portuguese friend and I came across this beautiful and moving mural, depicting three torsos decorated with past and present icons of Portuguese culture and history.

Fresh Eye Friday: Saudade

Saudade mural detail in Lisbon, Portugal

On the arm of the right-most torso there is a little verse juxtaposed with the word saudade, one of the themes of the mural:

“É tão certo eu te amar,

Como o corpo carne ser,

E só deixarei de te amar,

Quando o corpo a cor perder.”

“It is so certain that I love you,

As the body is made of flesh,

And I’ll only stop loving you,

When the body loses its color.”

Saudade is one of those words without translation – it describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return (wikipedia).

Fresh Eye Friday: SaudadeFull mural of three torsos

Viewing this mural, I suddenly had an acute sense of belonging to Portugal, a feeling that had been with me more softly throughout my two weeks in the country. This was my first time in a country from which I have heritage. I am mixed race: of Chinese, Portuguese, Irish, and German heritage, with the Chinese and Portuguese sides having arrived in the US with the generation preceding my parents. My parents divorced when I was very young, yet lived spatially close to each other. I grew up with a paradoxical sense of belonging to many and to none at the same time. It is an interesting type of “belonging” to be: a paradox that can never be quite resolved, resulting in a subtle sense of saudade flavoring my life’s journey.

Saudade was a thread weaving together many of my images of the Portuguese soul I had during my brief stay: the feelings stirred in me by the sounds of fado; the pride tempered with a subtle sense of loss in the voices of the Portuguese as they recalled the acute end the earthquake of 1755 had brought to their golden age and its beautiful artifacts; the goodbyes of the mothers and partners of departing sailors.

I, like many of this era, am a nomad rich with diverse experiences, yet will never be able to collect all of my place- and people-specific memories together in one place, in one time. Saudade: a song for the modern soul.

Karen Noiva is a MIT PhD candidate in Building Technology.

2 responses to “Saudade: Longing and Belonging in Portugal”

  1. Alexa Mills says:

    What a beautiful story! I love this.

  2. Dayna Cunningham says:

    I heard the word “saudade” in Brazil, where I was told that it described the feeling of missing something like a slave misses his/her homeland. It’s the feeling of loss made excruciating by the experience of bondage, the certain knowledge of a life of suffering with no hope of ever seeing your homeland again. Your post is beautiful.