About a month ago (it feels like such a long time), when the sun reached high in the sky but did not yet warm the air, a sort of paralysis set into me.
On the surface, nothing changed. I was there for my father and gave final grades; I continued the gargantuan tasks of indexing the family library and organizing thousands of photographs; and I started making important decisions about what I can realistically pass on to my daughters and what must be auctioned, or given away.
You could say those are practical, necessary things I had to do. But I have also done things not strictly necessary, like write papers (yes, those I could write), travel to England to give a talk, meet with friends, see a movie or two (please do not miss Wenders’ Pina Bausch).
I have also kept my ability to feel, and felt deeply. What I seemed to have lost was the ability to write about it. I simply could not find the words to tell the sadness and the beauty I live in; perhaps there is too much of both.
In the meantime, the sun grew warmer and the people walking the streets changed. Tourists replaced the portuenses (the people of Porto), who emigrated to the warmer seas of the south for the month of August. For the past two days TV has shown images of highways streaked with winding lines of cars, stretching, they say, from the northern tip of the country to the southern. The city was transformed by foreign sounds coming from foreigners holding large cameras and peering at iphones for street map instructions.
Only a year ago I was much like them (minus the iphone). I looked at my surroundings through a real, and an emotional, photo lens. Now, I’m the blurred figure walking past the blue and white tiles of the church they just photographed. A local, a stranger – that’s me, I thought, as I walked along Foz yesterday, the place where the sea and the river blur into each other, no longer one or the other, but something entirely its own. I arrived there on time (which in Portugal means I was early) to meet a friend, and so had time to see the evening spread against the sky, as in Prufrock.
Everything was infused with a golden tinge. I felt a stirring, an impulse to write it down, but how could I describe the glowing quality of the light without sounding corny? To make it worse – and I mean, of course, better – the long glass walls of the riverside restaurants reflected it back onto those who did not join the southward exodus: old couples holding on to each other for balance, a few joggers, and me. On the glass we became one long wave of molten gold, taking in the water, the boats, and the palm trees, and shimmering off the angel standing a few feet away.
I know this angel well. It was carved by Irene Vilar between 2001 and 2012. She called it “Mensageiro” (Messenger). I photographed it often through these last months, in different angles and light conditions. Yet yesterday it looked as if it had just come down and was still suspended against the water and the bridge. I came close enough to see the tiny, delicate flowers someone had left at its feet. Light streamed down its dark bronze cloak, and I felt a surge of boldness. “Please,” I said, “I would like to write again. Something, anything. Really, I’m not fussy, just desperate. Thanks.”