Portugal will always be the sea. The waters where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic mirror the sun while violently capping against the limestone cliffs and grottoes of The Algarve. An artistic ambiance rises from the sea foam spray like watercolor splashing over gold and orange cliffs.
The Portuguese attribute their notable tolerance of new ideas to their wayfaring spirit of their sailing and exploring ancestors during Portugal’s height of the fifteenth century; for with the exchange of goods, also came the exchange of culture and beliefs. I could still see the sailors as I examined the men on the street. Their dark mustaches and broad shoulders exactly matched the complexion of my spouse, a fifth generation son of a Portuguese sailor who immigrated into the Port of New Orleans to build ships. Portugal, its lovable regions, and its underrated capital of “Lishboa” (Lisbon) do not simply exist in space, but also in time.
Saudade-a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese
The Portuguese long for their golden age of times past. That Saudade can be felt when walking through alleys of the Alfama neighborhood. Fado music trickles out of cafes and the windows of homes where the shadows of ladies cooking listen on their radios. Fado translates directly to “fate”. It’s the traditional music of the country, which is about longing or reciprocated love. The genre has ties back to the golden age of sailing, where lovers were separated by the sea. Alfama is the old Moorish quarter which city officials are trying to gentrify, which many Portuguese find unsavory because traditionally the neighborhood has been a place where tolerance and acceptance were the norm. The questions now arise if the buildings and culture of old be tolerated and accepted with the seemingly imminent changes.
Our local historian, Rafa (pronounced Kafa), could have been mistaken for a tall, burly, sailor himself. He educated us on the stereotypes of the Portuguese such as being small but mighty. Not only did they sail and spread throughout the world, to lands where most people hadn’t even dreamt of at the time, but also because their big brother Spain was always trying to take over their little country but they were able to resist. He described his people as being infamous for being poor planners & procrastinators, but being FANTASTIC, THE BEST, at fixing problems quickly once they arise.
During my stay I discovered that the golden age of Portugal will be present in all times. Sunlight reflects off of the River Tejo which leaves “Lishboa” dripping in yellow. The bells of little yellow trams ding as they click by like Twinkies on rails. The statues of once nobles look down their noses at you as a proud people walk alongside their pastel domiciles and shops. Yellow castles sit on hillsides hidden by evergreens and white towns dot the hills of the coast. The golden thing for the Portuguese will be how they intertwine new with the old without letting go of their beautiful collective identity.