November 18, 2011

Music is a large part of my life  but, before I came to Portugal, I admit to having been a bit sniffy about Fado, Portugal’s only significant contribution to music; it’s a country that has produced no world-status composers apart from those that hail from Brazil.  Fado means fate or destiny and the songs are mostly sad.  They sing of lost love, lost chances, regrets and all the subjects that are normally ignored by the glossy artistes that we are used to.  The world has to be a happy place, doesn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  There’s surely room for something that recognises that life isn’t always a basket of roses.   Saudades form a major theme; this word is difficult to translate but can best be described as a longing, call it homesickness or however we northern Europeans try to compartmentalise emotions.  Saudades is sadness, but with happy memories and that, in most cases, is Fado.  It is performed by a solo singer, male or female, accompanied by a Portuguese guitar (a large 12-string mandolin that can sound like a harp) plus a Spanish guitar.  The instrumentalists have free rein to improvise, as does the singer, and the result is rather lovely, simple, pure, clear and emotional.  The diva of Fado was Amalia Rodrigues.  If I have to compare her to anyone it would be to Edith Piaf; they both sing from the soul, but Amalia is less grating on the ear.

On a whim, I bought a Fado CD set from our local post office.  Tonight, we had Luis’s mother, Celeste, to dinner and I played the CDs to her.   While I listened to the vocal artistry and the instrumental ornamentation, I glanced in her direction; she was listening with her eyes closed, conducting with her arthritic hands, transported back two generations. Later, she told me how, when she was young, she had seen Amalia Rodrigues in Lourenco Marques, how divine she was, how they had so much difficulty getting tickets, so much trouble parking.  Mozambique was then an outpost of empire and a visit by Amalia was something to tell your grandchildren about.

For a while, as she had listened to the music, Celeste had been a young teenager again; you could see it in her eyes and smile; a sparkle of youth’s optimism that said that nothing could ever really go wrong, listen to the words and be sad because life won’t really be like that.  Fado is like watching a play, surely; experience the emotions then come back to your life.  But fate has a way of biting you on the hand.

It was wonderful to watch the magic wrought by those simple words and music.  So, I am a convert. Now, I realise that Fado isn’t a play, it’s real life.  Maybe that’s why Celeste loves it so much.


Building bridges

November 6, 2011

Last night, I drove my son James to the airport.  He’d been with us for two weeks and his girlfriend, Romy, was with us for the first of those.  It had been their first visit to Luis and me, their first visit to Portugal, so was untrodden ground.  They both graduated this year and, for them, it was a chance to chill out and for us it was….well…maybe I’d better go back a bit.

I got divorced when James was pre-school, so me as a father is a rather hypothetical concept as he had soon a step-dad, Chris, who, incidentally, I have always had a lot of time for.  My role became more like an uncle and, as my job took me to far places then to the continent, I have never been as close to my children as I should have been; send cards, send presents, a bit of cash when needed, you know the sort of stuff.  In the case of James, this distance was partly me because he was not told I was gay until he was mid-teens, so I always felt rather sensitive to the fact that Dad’s ‘friends’ were rather more than that.  OK, regrets are the past crippling us in the present so time to put things right.

Now I look back on his jorney to adulthood, we never really had much of a chance to talk about things that mattered; it was all more matter-of-fact, he more interested in chilling with his friends and I more interested in the drink in my hand.  Such is the way of things in most families, I suspect, now that the evening family dining ritual has faded into memory.  Well, here, we had a chance to try to build a bridge over twenty years and the setting was food.  Good food.  James turns out to be the new Jamie Oliver, only better spoken.  Over numerous meals and too many bottles of vinho, I rediscovered my son and found that blood really is thicker than water.  How nice to be able to say that you are proud of the way your children have turned out, not that I claim anything more than genetics.

What impressed me about James and Romy was how ‘together’ they were.  Not just as a couple, but in their understanding of a world that is a bit alien to me, as an old fart.  They have the optimism of the young and the years to make it all happen.  Never mind that they are new graduates, and life is tough these days.  They understand their world, are comfortable with it, and will mould it the way they want.  They can change things and they will. because the future is theirs.  They have enthusiasm and the years to do it and I’m happy for them.

I’m happy for me as well, because every parent is content once their children are off on their own, knowing what they want and doing it together.  I feel I’ve regained part of myself that I thought I’d lost.

I should have taken twenty years writing this, not ten minutes, but I write it with a smile on my face; a smile that I hadn’t expected and one that will probably stay pasted to my soul.

Come back soon!

Seasonal Blues

November 2, 2011

It’s as if the creator had flicked a switch marked ‘Heaven’ to the ‘Shit’ position.  Although we’re not on first name terms, I’m prompted to ask why He can’t organise some smooth transition from summer to winter so that it comes as less of a trauma.  In the frozen north we’re used to it because the autumnal shock is rather muted, heralded in advance and anticipated.  In Portugal, we go from high summer to something that Noah and his ark would be quite familiar with but it happens in an instant, like the clocks going back; at about two in the morning.  The swallows and swifts have departed for the south and, as I write, the rain is sheeting down in squally bursts, roads have become rivers, windows opaque.  The sky is leaden and drags my mood down with it.

OK, I know that  it’ll pass, and I remember that last winter was bright and blue for most of the time.  I can’t say that it’s cold but that didn’t stop us having a fire last night; the first this winter.  Now that’s compensation.  The light has started washing from the sky by 5:30 but flaming logs bring the colours of sunset inside to warm your soul.  For six months of the year, we mostly live outside but, now that it’s wet and wild, the  warmth of the hearth beckons with a smile.  Nothing nicer than listening to the rain pelting against the windows whilst cozying up, golden sprites  dancing off our faces and over the walls, the fire glowing like a ruby’s reflection in a glass of wine.

Carvoeiro is getting much quieter now with few people about. Like a theme park in winter, the visitors have gone into hibernation.  It’s not a real working village and only exists for the holiday trade; half of the restaurants will close for a couple of months but there are enough expats to keep the place alive, although its pulse will be weak.

I’ve spent Christmas here most years recently and promise not to be disappointed.  I know that nothing much will happen here, there will be few lights and Santa is a northern European invention (actually, I think he was invented by Coca-Cola).  There will be no snow, deep and crisp and even, no Feast of Steven, nor any holy or ivy.  Ye Faithful will be with their familes indoors and rarely venture out.  In this Catholic country, Christmas is a muted affair and there has never been a tradition to drag some poor wilted tree indoors to drop needles everywhere.  So, that will be Christmas.  New Year will come in with the usual fireworks as Portimao and Ferragudo compete with each other from either side of the Rio Arade.  Carvoeiro itself will be a ghost town.  January will be as if the village had fallen asleep but visitors will start to migrate from Canada in February and March, fed up of the Canadian winter but not able to face Florida again.  Then comes Easter; the season will kick off again and winter will be but a memory.

Seems like wishing my life away, but I guess winter’s always like that.