Today I have seen my grandmother again.
So much has happened here and I feel small and vulnerable! I discover stories left and right that if it were not for my impulses and gut feeling that brought me here, I would never know of them. My role as an observer is useless and leaves me feeling empty. I’d love to partake in some action, nut my role as a tourist gives me no such right, and even though I feel it feverishly in my chest, this story does not belong to me. Today I’ve felt it stronger than ever and none of the protagonists are alive to help me make sense of it.
Today we arrived at Lota Macedo de Soares’ home early in the morning. Today it is a pilgrimage site for architecture students, landscape architects, lovers of nature, and the occasional old soul who has stumbled upon Samambaia. There is a Portuguese tour guide, another British one, and another group of young people who read Bishop’s poems aloud in the very ambiance from which they were written. The groups dilute through the beautiful gardens and picturesque outhouses while I remain on the porch of the main house. It’s perfectly intact from Lota’s time: modern and clean.
To describe Lota’s home one needs not only to convey images and sounds, but also smells. It smells of jungle, nature, and peace. Lots of peace. From the dense vegetation emerges a large plant, where rock, metal, and wood mix to form a unique space that doesn’t break the ambiance, but accentuates it. The songs of the toucans and the sounds of a creek nearby receive me warmly to this porch with stone floors. Some beautiful flowers surround the hammocks and benches, a testament to the numerous meetings Lota and Elizabeth must have had here.
I enter through one of the large screen glass doors, admiring the metallic beams that support the structure. Was this the concept that inspired so many architects, Lota included, to present the idea for the Flamingo Park? From one of the beams hang picture frames and I smile as I see pictures of Calder and her family at the pool, Aldous Huxley, Portinari…
…and there she is.
What I already knew has been confirmed. I cam looking for her and there she is. Inspire of that, her image paralyses me. My grandmother is smiling in a photo surrounded by people I’ve never known and new will know. I study her face, her clothing, the people who surround her trying to interpret something even if it be false. But too many pieces are missing. I only see her, smiling. I leave. I separate from the group. There are so many voids to fill it hurts. I walk and try to control my breathing the best I can.
Without even noticing my feet have brought me to Elizabeth’s study, built by Lota as an act of love. The floating structure is simply marvellous, the nature that envelops it unique. I now understand how this home has served as inspiration for so many architects. I keep thinking about her and ask myself what part of this did she play out firsthand: did she see her write? Did she oversee the construction of this floating study? Was she cognisant of the effervescence of the moment? I smile, at last. I wonder what that women in the photograph would think of the her granddaughter on such a powerful and vehement exploration for the truth.
I begin to understand the complexity of the word Saudade, the difficulty of that nostalgia, that melancholy, that loneliness, that anguish, that anxiety for what is already gone, for what will never change.
I hear some of Bishop’s verses and the saudade in me takes on new meaning. A university student is reading it aloud. I imagine Bishop writing them with this view from her studio, inspired by every breath.
But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty
And that is very true. The pain could have been unbearable and the longing impossible, but getting lost in the monotony of not feeling would have been much worse.
That is how adversity makes us grow and strengthen. That is how the pain of loss finds us and finds us dancing, ready for the next challenge. That is how saudade is lived.
And in that moment I see her again. I see my grandmother leaving the kitchen with freshly baked sconces and dressed in her blue and white flowered apron. I hold my breath and tears. I don’t want to stop seeing her. Se takes off her apron, ditches her shoes, and sets the sconces on a wooden log on the lawn. From one pocket she removes a pocketbook and pen and begins to write. She writes a lot. And her smile never fades away.
A touch on my shoulder brings me back to reality.
“Mrs. Manuela, we’re heading off”
When I return my gaze she is no longer there.
In the car that takes me back to my hotel I feel strange. I have her in the corner of my eye and I don’t want to lose her. As if from instinct, like she did, I take my pocket book and begin to write.