Thursday, September 11, 2014

Souvenirs from Portugal

Last week I spent seven days with my family in Portugal in a very small village.  I thought of blogging my experiences the way I did my choir tour this past spring, but I had writer's block the entire week until the very last day, when it all kind of flowed at once and I knew what I wanted to say.  I wrote it with the intention of reading it as a sort of spoken-word piece, but I think it also works well as a piece to be read to oneself.

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Souvenirs from Portugal

You say you want to travel the world
but there are some places you cannot go even if you travel there.

Here I am, nestled in the small village of Tojal,

wondering what I can bring you, a piece of somewhere you’ve not yet been; a placeholder; a rain cheque;
something to keep the longing at bay.

If I could, I’d bring you the taste
of one of my late-grandfather’s sun-warmed oranges just picked,
or the subtle scent of pine and eucalyptus that permeates the hot air, or a bite of fresh bread from the baker down the road that appears as if by magic on our door handle every morning, or the sound of roosters singing not just in the morning but whenever they so please.  

I’d bring you the juice of my uncle’s sweet peaches dripping down your fingers.

I’d give you the feeling of rough bark under your feet to reach the ripest figs in the tree behind the house as you look down at stalls that used to hold chickens but now hold only memories of clucking 

I’d give you thirst from the hot sun on your head as you walk dusty paths through vineyards until you finally reach the spring and cup your hands under the small stream and sip the water cool and clear as the day my grandfather first discovered it.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *

Then I’d take you down the roads and hills to Batalha and give you the sounds of gypsies shouting prices in the market, the taste of fresh goat cheese cool and soft, vibrant colours of scarves thimbles wooden spoons fish beach towels baby chicks plums lettuce more fish leather shoes cheese walnuts rabbits pears...

and the sight of the Mosteiro
towering
full of history
echoes
ancient memories of kings    and queens      and battles
I’d give you the sound of your footsteps against smooth stone from centuries of footsteps I’d give you
the eerie feeling of walking amidst the past and the present at the same time

*             *             *             *             *             *             *

And then, NazarĂ©! 
Would that I could bring you the feeling of wildness
frigid waves crashing against your entire body

I’d lend you
my stirred soul
for just a minute
if there was a way to give you      memories of myself as a child being tumbled
          a small bundle of limbs salt water rough sand

but no fear.

I’d give you salt-coated fingers from thick pumpkin seeds eaten while seated on grainy sand
I’d give you salt-sprayed hair I’d give you salt-coated fish I’d give you salt-covered skin from white foam

I’d bring you
the crash of ocean echoing against cliffs

I’d give you
for a second,
the beating of my heart in perfect rhythm with these waves
and the ache of leaving them.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *

There’s no novelty mug
that could capture the feeling of watching my mother sift through
old boxes stuffed with letters in her own handwriting
addressed to people no longer here

no postcard I could send that would give you
the sense of saudade
that seeps from the unused tractor still sitting quietly in the shed
                     the little windmill that no longer spins
                     the fields of corn and grapes and olive trees now covered in weeds
                     the attic full of broken furniture with locked drawers of old black and white photos
                     the missing love letters from my grandfather that my grandmother burned after he died                                                                          
no keychain I could bring you
that would tell you what it’s like to be a child of people that left this all behind but still search for a place that no longer exists and hold it in their hearts and tell stories of the way it used to be, freedom and poverty and hard work and forever roaming and stealing fruit and and drinking homemade wine and friends and family long passed away and hunger and meeting companions in the fields and making their fun out of sticks and grass and imagination and then growing up and longing for escape and a bigger world and taking a plane across an ocean to make a life somewhere else and have children in another land who would never really 

belong here

and yet somehow still
belong here.

Saudade is a birthright. Inherited.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *

There’s no souvenir I could bring you
of a decades-lost Portugal
for there are some places you cannot go even if you travel there.