When my friend said that word, saudade, my mind raced to the beautiful woman (who only in my mind became my wife) and then to the Portuguese classes I had taken in Brazil over a decade ago.
It was then that the instructor-guardians of language at USP and UFBA, along with others I had come across at bus stops, light conversation somehow always moving into the theme of saudade, made declarations in distinct iterations, unified only by their firm stance on the untranslatable: ‘saudade, or saudades in the plural form, is a word that only exists in Portuguese, it’s something only Brazilians can feel, there is no other word for saudade, nothing compares to it, there is no translation and no equivalent term in any other language.’
The decree had a nation (‘but wasn’t Portuguese one of the most-widely spoken languages on earth,’ I remember thinking, ‘didn’t Amália Rodrigues’s Casa Portuguesa and the Fado tradition embody it?’), but somehow answering those questions didn’t really matter to me. And somehow it also didn’t really matter to me that I may or may not have been included in this unique capacity to experience saudade.
One never knows, I certainly do not try to, and I, as a person, was far less interesting than this word saudade that represents something so deep inside of Brazilian (and perhaps human) experience that it resembles a kind of homeland and also a homeland with finite borders.
Written in English by Jacob Dyer Spiegel, this is the Second of Nine Articles on “Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade.” There are many more articles on language, culture, and translation themes on the SiroccoBlue Facebook Page. Please check it out and “Like” it!