Wednesday, October 7, 2020



Saudade (Portuguese). Google Translate simply describes it as “missing” but a book I read recently gave a more poetic definition: “A vague longing for something that cannot exist again, or perhaps never existed...” 

St George Street during Nights of Lights. The magic already getting dimmer in my memory.

We have loved living here, the last 7 years. But now, the very vibrancy of the town we enjoy so much, the historic buildings and attractions that draw the visitors from everywhere, is exactly what makes it dangerous for us. So many of the ways we worked and volunteered in town involved close contact with large numbers of strangers. Festivals on El Galeon, where we welcome two or three thousand people per day aboard after they've stood in line sometimes for hours, when many days my job was to greet them at the top of the gangway while discretely holding a clicker-counter in each hand to ensure that we didn't exceed the Coast Guard maximum of 150 people aboard at any time, and when the poetic Captain Pablo commented that the ship couldn't breathe when it was that crowded? Yeah, not so likely now. Strolling crowded St George Street in pirate garb and posing for photos with strangers? Um, thanx but no thanx. Volunteering at the Castillo, standing behind a table of artifacts while surrounded by visitors, explaining the everyday life of a soldado on patrol, letting the kids touch the tools and implements, hold the dummy musket and try on a great coat and tricorn hat? A recent email from the ranger coordinating the program explained that when they do reopen, there will be no cannon firings, and no one will be allowed to dress in period clothing, for fear visitors would be too tempted to ignore social distancing to get close. 

After a day dressed as soldados at the Castillo, we'd walk across the street and have pizza at Al's. No Castillo anymore, or eating pizza on Al's balcony either.

So from the safety, comfort -- and isolation -- of the townhouse we rented for the summer, we ponder all we've lost, and what to do next. 

We've learned so much, the Spanish history and culture here from the early days, as well as the civil rights history, the Underground Railroad that ran south from South Carolina and Georgia to Spanish territory where runaways were given their freedom if they pledged allegiance to Spain. That knowledge, of course, will be with us forever.

But the tourism that is the engine that drives this wonderful town and all the opportunities here, are continuing to keep us isolated. And I can't even begin to talk about the varied restaurant scene that has been decimated since March. Although restaurants are open again, we don't feel safe eating in, and takeout food has never been my thing. The other tourist things, the historic lighthouse and climb to the top; the alligator farm and native bird rookery where we visited every week last spring to watch the baby birds grow; the weird Victorian and Gilded Era collections at the Lightner Museum; or just walking the wonderful old streets and the architecture, all are either still closed, or closed-to-us now as we continue to keep isolation in the wake of Dan's scuba accident and general cautiousness. All are dimming in my memory. We did know how good we had it. We'd often turn to each other and say, "I love where we live!" Now, though, it is as though the word saudade was invented for these times. Wistfulness, memories, and loss.  There's a similar word in Welsh, hidraeth, a blend of homesickness, nostalgia, and longing. The memories are still there of things we did and people we met, but they are flat; I remember but do not feel the emotions that went with them. It's like reading about something that happened to someone else. The affection remains, but the passion has evaporated, silently and without fanfare, like a mist blown by the night wind. 

No comments:

Post a Comment