Saudade do Meu Querido Rio

Praia Vermelha in Rio de Janeiro, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background

I’ve been feeling a lot of saudade recently. It’s a word that is uniquely Portuguese in that it doesn’t have a direct English translation.  It’s often used in colloquial Portuguese as “missing” someone or something, but its true meaning is much more nuanced than that.  It’s more of an ineffable feeling, something like: longing, yearning, aching, nostalgia, or fondness in memory for someone or something that was once there but is now gone or whose future is uncertain.  The wikipedia page (trusty ole wikipedia!) uses the phrase “the love that remains,” which I think is a great way to put it.  The Portuguese language blog Transparent puts it: “the feeling of missing something you love while knowing that its likelihood of return is unknowable and entirely left to fate.”

I wrote in my last post about thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere. My favorite of those sun-drenched elsewheres is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I called home for almost two years.  It is a city that captures people’s hearts like I’ve never seen before: Everyone I knew who visited fell in love with it, and many decided to stay and live there–some for many, many years, with no intentions of leaving to go back to their homelands.

Rio is perhaps most famous as a city that sizzles with sensuality, beautiful people, crazy nightlife, and heady music (ever heard of Carnival?).  But beyond that, Rio stands out in my mind as one of, if not the most gorgeous natural cityscapes in the world.  Its picture-perfect crescent beaches and jungle-covered green karst hills will continue to awe you even a year, two years, even a lifetime of living there.  Brazilian culture–the result of a true melting pot of ethnicities and traditions from Japan to Europe to Africa–is rich, fascinating, and vivacious.   The thing is, after you’ve been seduced by all of the above, Rio tempts you to stay because of the wonderful, warm, and genuine people, and then once you realize, it’s too late.  You’ve become an expat just by succumbing to Rio’s charms. It is, in short, a cidade maravilhosa–“the marvelous city”–and even the nickname falls short in capturing Rio in all its greatness.

I am uncertain of when (or if?!) I will go back to Rio. But I miss it incredibly. I miss gazing at the breathtaking scenery (it literally gave me pause every time I passed it) along my daily bus ride to and from my classes: the Praia de Botafogo (Botafogo beach), with the Christ the Redeemer statue keeping watch over the city on one side and the beautiful Bay of Botofogo dotted with sailboats on the other.

I miss getting off of work, or taking advantage of a free morning or afternoon by walking outside my apartment to the beach, where I’d soak in the wonderfulness of my life on the sand. This is my life? I’d marvel, as I sipped refreshing matte leao, a sweet black tea that simultaneously rehydrates and rejuvenates like the life-rejuvenating drink that it is–I am not exaggerating.

I miss meeting my friends at coqueirao (“big coconut tree”), a meeting spot on Ipanema beach for the young and hip crowd (or the pothead surfer crowd, but those two groups overlapped quite a bit).  We’d spend entire weekends just wiling away the hours there.

I miss so much the casual culture of dancing, drinking, eating, convening, listening to live music, and socializing in the streets.  Who needs a drab bar interior when you can have cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, and the stars above as your backdrop?

I miss walking the steep, winding cobblestone streets of Vidigal favela and feeling a bit like a part of a community there, talking to strangers who felt like neighbors of mine from long ago.

I even miss the freaking prato feitos, “fixed plates” usually consisting of rice, black beans, salad, a protein like chicken or beef, and either fries or mashed potatoes. I got so sick of eating prato feitos by the end of my time in Rio (all I wanted was a decent bowl of Thai food or any kind of ethnic food for that matter), but I would gladly eat them again now if they were available!

I miss the language. Ohh Brazilian Portuguese. It’s such a beautiful, fun, quirky, sexy language. It soothes the soul, is mellifluous to the ears, and, it’s a lover’s language. A tip to gentlemen suitors out there: Learn Brazilian Portuguese and women will melt into your arms. Just sayin.

And of course, I miss my friends there. Brazilians have a warmth about them; they want to know you, to befriend you, to invite you into their homes and social circles.  They are some of the nicest humans I’ve ever come across in my travels around the world, and I am proud to count some of them as my friends.

IF ONLY I had several million airline miles (or the equivalent in money) to be able to make the trip to Rio regularly.

But all this talk about Rio is really just to encourage you to go yourself! Rio will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m sure once you visit you’ll understand why.


2 thoughts on “Saudade do Meu Querido Rio

  1. You make me want to jump on a plane right this minute! I was in Rio for only a few days, long ago, but I’ve always felt I’d like to go back. Ah, so many countries, so little time!

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