Saudade

Only after the sun turns away his vengeful face, letting dusk’s bandage soothe the blistered city, only then does the wind blow. It is as if Lisboa has finally exhaled, after holding her breath all through the red ache of day.

Now is the time for Fado.

At the bar of Tasca do Chico, I watch a woman sear a horseshoe of chorizo over a shallow clay dish billowing with blue flame. She fills small glass bowls with olives, bruised and swollen as severed toes. This Fado club has only seven tables, and a line growing into the street. An exposed cement beam creates a doorway between dining room and bar. The walls are a mosaic of photographs: Fado’s archangels and beloved saints under thin panes of glass. The low ceiling irons down the crowd, pressing the supper chatter down to a flat hum.

I wait for Fado, full of an anticipation as effervescent as the finely sparkling vinho verde (green wine) in my glass. I long for a melody more intoxicating than wine, a melody I have only imagined. Longing is the soul of Fado, for Fado is the music of Saudade, a Portuguese word-sphere that encloses melancholia, nostalgia, longing for the lost Love, and something more lushly Portuguese than English can hold.

Two bent men on a bench babble like toddlers. The men look as old as the restaurant, shoulders hunching as the decades drag the ceiling lower. A young woman sails in and gives the one in the checked shirt a kiss on the cheek. He coos, grinning gummily at the diners. She laughs, gliding back behind the bar. She is the singer, the night’s fadista.

Two guitars, a Spanish six-string and a Portuguese twelve-string, hang on the wall like a pair of idols. There are no stage lights, no stage, only a bench and darkness to sharpen our ears.

As the club’s owner sinks into the first song of the night, a rippling folk melody, the man beside me at the bar raises his glass to mine, ‘Saúde!’ The singer’s voice climbs and plunges like a ship on galloping waves, bass notes throbbing like hull timbers. The guitars sail alongside him, frolicking like dolphins in the surf.

Between sets, the gummy old man in the checked shirt digs up a stool from somewhere, and signs to me that it would be his greatest pleasure if I sat down. With at least eight decades dragging on his bones, he’s much closer to the sedentary age than I, but his chivalry can only be answered with gratitude, and I sit. From a pick-n-mix of Spanish and Portuguese, I pluck out his name: Fernando, and age: 87 years. Obrigado, Fernando.

The windowsill has become a makeshift bar. Street-side onlookers savor glasses of ruby Red, thirsty for Fado. The young fadista comes to stand beside the guitarists. She wears a shirt like fine silver mail.

Her voice seethes with the storm itself, plunging to the depths of the sea, leading the guitars down with her mermaid’s song. She is the anchor and the storm, the longing for lost harbor and the feral waves that drag you away. The guitars chart a measured course beneath her, but she dives into churning waters. Her voice resonates through her skull like deep water in a dark cave, then rips away, like rays of light streaming skyward, so thin they fray into silver air.

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