In this article, Federico explores the relationship between two cultures that seem opposed to each other—those of Brazil and Portugal, which at the same time clearly have so much in common (and not only their passion for soccer!). Brimming with admiration for the Portuguese language, Federico tells about oceans, bridges, ports and rendezvous.
“This is where the sea ends and land begins”—that’s how José Saramago described Lisbon, the city where he wrote and where I live, painting a picture of the Portuguese capital and the mouth of its river, the Tejo. In old times, just like today, ships sailed from the mouth of the Tejo towards the unknown immensity of the horizon; after a long time, the same ships returned home to Lisbon from that infinity-like distance, bringing their precious cargo back to the place where land ends and the sea begins.
Oftentimes, these ships were heading towards, or were returning from the northeastern coast of Brazil, perhaps from Pernambuco, bringing products such as coffee, cocoa, or tropical plants and their seeds, arriving to take root in a new land. Walking through Lisbon today, I can still see the tall palm trees adorning the streets, some of them grown from seeds brought by these very same ships—which were themselves the seeds for Saramago’s inspiration, leading him to write his novels.
Saramago is known for his strict narrative style. His novels, which I got to know only after having dedicated myself to learning the Portuguese language, are written in a continuous flux, almost without any interruption, inserting dialogue, speeches and reflections within long sentences, with no space for periods or dry punctuation, but with much space for innumerable commas, inserted where many other authors would have chosen to finish the sentence. For each one of Saramago’s great paragraphs, which often spread over a number of pages, other authors would have written whole chapters. And he doesn’t use inverted commas or dialogue lines, leaving the reader with the possibility that the lines of dialogue might have been only thought or imagined, not spoken out loud.
At the same time as Saramago, Jorge Amado, another famous writer of the Portuguese language, hailing from the Brazilian city of São Salvador de Bahia, was also writing his famous works, but—and I beg pardon to the literary critics—the fact that they used the same language is where the similarities between the two of them end. And it’s also with the language that—and I beg pardon to whomever might want to disagree—the similarities between the two people, the Brazilian and Portuguese, start and end.
The Portuguese tongue is one of the richest and most beautiful in the world—not only for its cornucopia of tonalities and words, some of which, they say, are not found in any other language, but also for the vast heritage of writers of prose and poetry, coming mainly from two cultures which, as much as one might expect them to be similar, stand notoriously in opposition in almost every sense. Portugal, with its classical, noble and nostalgic culture, offers the perspective of a world hemmed in between Spain, through which anyone who wants to go from Portugal to the rest of Europe must pass, and, on the other side, a vast and perilous ocean. The Portuguese surmounted both of these obstacles time after time, with enormous courage and perseverance. The character of the Portuguese people has certainly been marked by this fact of their history. They conquered the ocean, and this victory is celebrated even today in their sad and nostalgic fado music. Every evening, it fills up the small streets—the becos—of the Alfama neighborhood with songs brimming with the melancholy longing—saudade—for those sailors and fishermen that ventured, sometimes never to be seen again, into the ocean’s domain, that immense liquid desert which starts nearby.
Across the ocean, the Portuguese colonized a land that they called ‘Brazil’, and they gave it a bit of their own identity, although it was also shaped by strong East Indian and African influences. But it seems to have happened somehow that, across the depths of this vast ocean, on their travels of conquest, somewhere on the way to Brazil, the Portuguese lost their melancholic mood. Perhaps it was because in the new land, there was no more time for apathy—there, one needed to survive, and live to the fullest, without losing themselves in faraway memories, without surrendering to the sossego, that melancholy calm. In Brazil today, life still has the same intensity, never letting go of the opportunity to live all there is to live, never stopping to think about what has been achieved or what is still needed. In this young and fertile land, you live every single moment, because every moment runs away, and once it escapes, you can never find it again, like the ever-changing waves of the ocean.
The Portuguese language spread, just like a wave, from Portugal to South America, Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Far East, and it remains today the only true tie between two amazing countries, Portugal and Brazil—as in terms of culture and way of life, the difference between them is truly ocean-wide. There are more disputes, contrasts, differences and disagreements between the two countries than can be counted. Each has their jokes about the other. Even the language gives a perfect example of their simultaneous similarity and difference: both peoples complain of not understanding the accent of the other, each claiming that the other speaks Portuguese in a strange, wrong, ridiculous or overly rigid manner. And yet, it is this language, after all, that still connects them today, like a long bridge across the ocean.
This story has initially been written in Italian by the impressive plume of Federico A.R., our native Italian writer. It was then beautiful trans-created by Eugen R. our native English translator, and carefully proofed and polished by Eugenia P., our native English Editor until it shined like a diamond. Finally, it was all magically spelt out to you by our lovely Project Manager Katerina. Learn more about our Italian to English services here.