Over the last few years, as I labored on the Life & Times trilogy, I listened to the music of Madredeus. I like to write to music, particularly passionate music, because it sets the mood for inking in the nuance of character, etc. And, while much of the story deals with Danny Boyle, an Irishman, his growing up in Ireland, his move to Canada, and his trials and tribulations, I found Madredeus’s arrangements of Portuguese folk music set the perfect mood for what I intended to be a universal story.
And, as is often the case in life, this led to that and I found myself fascinated by a single word: Saudade. Over at Wikipedia they suggest that:
“Saudade is a Portuguese or Galician word that has no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return. A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.”
But something else caught my ear in the aforementioned music, and in the hours of Fado that I have enjoyed. There was something ethereal that awoke a thread of the common memory I believe we all share, even if only subconsciously.
“Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one's children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.”
So? You may ask. What has all of this got to do with an Irish writer living in exile?
Well I’ll tell you. I still have a bit of the wild Celt in me. I am, despite my best efforts to conform to the world around me, a nomad at heart and am about to head off into the great and wonderful world to go and look at the places that hold significant interest for me. I probably won’t get to see them all but I don’t worry about such things anymore.
And, as a Celt, I have always been drawn towards the edges of the world. Before the Romans, and Gothic kings, the edges of Iberia were populated by Celts. When the Romans encroached, as they were wont to do, many of them (the Milesians in particular) packed up their belongings and headed to Ireland.
Whether or not I am descended from them, I am drawn back and the pragmatic side of me agrees. After thirty-six Canadian winters, life in a warmer climate beckons. So, in the spring of next year, I am selling up all that I have and moving to Lisbon with my wife and my dog and very little else.
Now I am not a wealthy man despite the presumption that all published authors sleep on mattresses stuffed with hundred dollar bills. I am simply divesting myself and going back to what I was when I was young and foolish: a wander who followed his heart.
One of the things writing books has taught me is to learn to determine what is essential and what is padding. I am still learning this but when I looked up from my pages, I couldn’t help but look at my life that way—something that is compounded as I filter through all the stuff in the basement.
Now I do not discard my life in North America so lightly. I came here as a very troubled and disquieted young man, tormented by demons and looking for a fresh start. Unlike poor Danny Boyle, I found one and managed to put much that troubled me in the bottle and firmly cork it. I became a husband and a father here and, depending on who you talk to, not the worst of them!
I will always cherish the times I spent with my two boys when they were young and full of wonder. (They still are but they must follow their own guidance now—which is the way things are supposed to be.) They are both in the early twenties now and more than capable of finding what they want from life on their own. They are always welcome to come and visit but the parental phase of my life is over and I am moving on to the next adventure.
Writing Life & Times reminded me that life, no matter how it is lived, is always about phases and stages and that I was never the type to settle for meandering into dotage. There is still so much to see and do.
For my loving wife, too. She will have to manage the transition from mother back to woman, and that should be exciting.
Now the reason for sharing all of this with you is I am planning to write about all of this as it unfolds. Once I am settled in Lisbon, secure in a nice little place in Alfama, I intend to wander through what was once Al-Andalusia in search of all the was lost in the Reconquista.
Now before you start imagining me riding a stallion at the head of a horde of Berbers, I want you to know that I am going to see the places where science and medicine once blossomed at time when the rest of Europe was using leeches and slashing each other with swords.
You see, for me, as I look around the world today and see the new versions of the old hates, I long for a deeper understanding and a sense of peace. It is the view of Fr. Patrick Reilly, of Life & Times, that in many ways the world is no better, nor worse—that it still spins on its same old axis, sometimes wildly and sometimes gently. And, having written it, I have decided to go and see what was true and what was nothing more than a rationale for war and conquest.
Not that I am going to bore you all with a revision of the retellings of all the distortions of history. I am going to write about the lingering echoes of the really important things in life—the story of ordinary, everyday people still living in places that can still fill us with wonder. Places like Cordoba, Seville, Granada, the great wonder that is Alhambra, and of course the narrow, hilly little streets of Alfama.
The good folks at The Story Plant have kindly agreed to publish the accounts of this adventure as it unfolds so, if you are interested, check back for more.(Originally posted at