When I wrote about my Portuguese teacher from high school, I forgot to mention something for which I was thankful and that I actually talked about in my letter to her: Fernando Pessoa and my first contact with Portuguese poetry.
When you learn a new language, you do not necessarily think of poetry as convenient literature, and you want to reserve it for when you are much more confident with your language abilities. Yet our professor introduced us to some of Fernando Pessoa’s poems. Pessoa is a central, important, and talented European writer, yet he was never mentioned in any of my high school classes. Two of his works really made an impression on me: Mar Português, and O Tejo, written under one of his pseudonyms (Alberto Caeiro).
Mar Portugês is actually what made me think of writing to my Portuguese teacher. When I first arrived in Lisbon for my new job, I saw this poem on top of a taxi cab and it just brought back a whole lot of feelings and memories in mind, from when I was a teenager dreaming of some day living in this historical country, that once dominated the sea. Some dreams do come true. Photo by Louids
Here is an English translation of the original text by João Manuel Mimoso, though I’m not sure it really does justice to the original version:
Oh salty sea, so much of your salt
Is tears of Portugal!
Because we crossed you, so many mothers wept,
So many sons prayed in vain!
So many brides remained unmarried
That you might be ours, oh sea!
Was it worthwhile? All is worthwhile
When the spirit is not small.
He who wants to go beyond the Cape
Has to go beyond pain.
God to the sea peril and abyss has given
But it was in it that He mirrored heaven.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply part of your being that you, that you can’t even conceive of your life without it. Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless”. – Paul Bowles
Magsx left a comment on a post from last week saying that it would be hard to beat my (still current) ride to work, and I have to thank her a lot for reminding me of that. I still agree that riding a boat is pretty awesome but I’ve gotten used to this “routine” and often forget to look out of the window to simply enjoy the scenery.
So last Friday, in the spirit of this quote from Paul Bowles, I took the time to take a few photos to share with you. I hope you enjoy these!
Sunrise from the lake
Birds sleeping together in the morning
Snow capped mountains in the distance
To be honest, I am falling a little behind on my goal of writing letters, which is why I’m delaying the posts on letters for a little while 😉
“Can you believe someone climbed a tree in Morocco, picked a date off it, put it in a truck, drove it all the way to the dock, and then sailed it all the way across the Atlantic ocean, and then put it in another truck, and drove that all the way to a tiny grocery store just outside our house so that they can sell it to us for 25 cents?”
You may recognize this quote from Neil Pasricha’s talk at TEDX that I already talked about earlier this month. It just illustrates perfectly what I want to talk about today.
Last Christmas at home we had a white Christmas. It snowed almost nonstop on the 24th and 25th of December. During our Christmas dinner, my cousin’s boyfriend, who is a firefighter, had to leave for an emergency. And as we were driving to church the night of the 24th, we crossed the snowplow on the road. And I realized something: so many people had actually been working while I was enjoying my holidays. Doctors, surgeons, firefighters, policemen, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and so many others were not spending Christmas with their families because they were allowing many of us to have a safe and pleasant time. They all would have deserved a thank-you note.
Someone I do not know cleaned this road
so people like us could use it!
And not only them, but every day, you interact with people who help to make your day a little better. The cashier at your grocery store who indicates you where you can find the lemon juice (why is it in the hard liquors’ aisle anyway?), the person on the street who helps you when you’re lost, your doctor who gives you the right medicine, the security agent who watches over your car in the parking lot… You’re most certainly one of these awesome people too, for someone.
Even people whom you have no interactions with do things that make your days better, like that person Neil talks about (he was actually quoting his dad FYI). Someone wrote the cooking book you’re using. Someone cleaned up the street in front of your house this morning. A teacher is educating your children, etc. The list is infinite!
So today, why not take some time to be thankful for these strangers’ help? Even if it’s just a quick thought, it helps to feel better, you’ll notice it!
You may know from the letter to my employer that I just resigned last week. We agreed with my employer that I would stay until the report I’m working on is finished, and after I’ll be free to go. This means that I’m having a little more work nowadays as I am trying to finish this report for the beginning of next week, and I’m allowing myself a lot fewer WordPress breaks, even out of the office.
All this to say that I might take a little more time responding to comments and interacting in blogs I like to read. I have however some articles that are scheduled to be automatically published in the next few days, so feel free to come check up on what’s new here!
Also, I am not making a lot of progress in the letters, and as it takes me a little more time to write portraits of people than regular articles, and I do not want to rush either the letters or the blog posts, so I’m going to delay letters 11 12 and 13 just a little bit.
And to leave you, here’s what made me smile today:
As I was walking back to the office after picking up a sandwich for lunch, I passed by a very young girl and her brother. When they saw me coming, they stood up and the little girl said: “Good afternoon sir, would you like some flowers or some grass that smells good?”
Three things here:
- It’s winter here in Switzerland, so she might have stolen those flowers from her parents’ house, which only makes the situation even cuter.
- If it is not option 1 then we might be facing some blatant display of child labour, but I’ll discard that as she was not selling the flowers.
- Children are awesome. They can approach each other and strangers without wondering if what they say will not sound awkward; and that’s something I would just love to be able to do but somehow un-learned. (At her age, I was giving earthworms to cars that stopped by, a little less cute and a little more boy-ish). Don’t you ever wish sometimes that human interactions were a little less complex?
Here’s part of my ride to work by the way:
As promised in the first post, I’ll briefly talk about responses I get to the letters I send once in a while. So here it is:
Letter 1: Nonnie. No response yet. I am not worried though, Nonnie is the one who wrote to me in the first place to tell me she loved me.
Letter 2: Sarah. There’s already a post about it. We keep in touch.
Letter 3: My brother. When I came home for Christmas I asked him if he had received the letter and he said “Oh yes. It was such a nice letter, really”. Great!
Letter 4: Lucette. My parents actually told me that she found the post card beautiful and that she was very touched. When I went to her house she also added that it was a very pretty card and the first one she had from Portugal.
Letter 5: To the post office employees. I haven’t had the courage to post it. Next Christmas I’ll write a better one and actually post that one.
Letter 6: Erin and David. I received a nice message on facebook from Erin. They really appreciated the letter and pictures and send lots of love from South Africa. What’s nice is that I was afraid that sending them a letter might scare them considering that we’d not known each other for that long, but it didn’t and was just a nice gesture.
Letter 7: My Portuguese teacher from high school. We have an exchange student from Texas who goes to the same high school I used to. So I left her the letter. She gave it to her Portuguese teacher on a Monday and received the reply on Tuesday. It is a very nice Christmas card, with two pages. My teacher says she remembers me well, wishes me to take advantage of travelling to Portugal, and says she was very surprised and appreciated it a lot. Great.
Maybe I’ll have a full mailbox someday…
Photo by Louids
That’s about it for the responses. I really find it nice that people respond positively and that some took the time to write back. It is not as scary now as it first was, especially considering that nobody got scared by what I was doing and thought I was a psychopath in the making.
On a more personal level it feels really good to send the letters. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment (it doesn’t take much I know). I tend to be more appreciative of the people in my life and more grateful for the little acts of kindness I notice every day. I’m also learning to show people I appreciate their company (but there’s a learning curve to that, I still have a long way to go), which seems to improve my relationships in general. Finally I’m also learning to see myself in a more positive light: I can do good things!
Thanks for reading 🙂
I’m having a hard time giving letter 10 to the person it is addressed to, and since I only want to write the blog post after I’ve done it, I’m going to publish a short story today instead.
Sometimes you know or meet someone whose story gives you hope in the ability of men to do good things even in adverse circumstances. Ennio’s story is just that, which is why I wanted to share it with you.
Ennio is my brother’s best friend (so much so that his girlfriend says that if he leaves her it will be to marry Ennio), so I’ve known him long enough to tell his story. His life started out pretty normally, in a small village of the French Alps with his brother and parents. Then his mother left them and they’ve never heard of her since. We all have different relationships with our parents but you’ve got to admit it’s pretty rough for a kid to be abandoned by his mom.
With his mom gone, Ennio’s trials started. His father was either working or out drinking, so Ennio and his brother went through primary school mostly without support. Then his father remarried and went away for months at a time, leaving the two brothers alone through crucial periods of middle school. At this age I could only make yogurt cake so cooking must have taken a bit of motivation from them.
I know this starts to look like a Charles Dickens story even more because Ennio also had to work since he was 11. But working is actually what really helped him. His boss, Boileau, was not always easy on him but that’s how he made his apprenticeship and learned a job. That’s also how he paid for school, because at 16 he had to move out of his father’s house. Now he and his former boss are really good friends and he is forever grateful that he helped him when times were rough.
There are several very humbling aspects in Ennio’s story. First, as Randy Pausch said: “You cannot change the hands you are dealt, just how you play the hands”. I have seen many cases of children growing up in unfavorable environments and who became either violent or depressed. Ennio instead is one of the cases of such a kid showing resilience and hanging on to the right people to help him (teachers, Boileau, etc.), because the people you spend the most time with influence you a lot. It also shows that this kid is really good at heart, never complaining about his situation or chaotic way to adulthood, but instead enjoying his situation as it is and making the best effort to create himself a better future.
Another nice element of this story is that even though he could have just dropped out of school and got a job, Ennio still worked part time to pay for school with his own money, because he saw education as a way to improve his condition. I have complained many times about a class being too hard and homework being unpleasant, perhaps I should have looked to people like him, who know education is a privilege we’re getting.
Finally, Ennio could have been in my letters too. A couple of summers ago Ennio and my brother wanted to go on vacation in Southern France. I was the only one with a driver’s licence, so they invited both my girlfriend and me to spend the holidays with them. I didn’t think that they were both paying for the apartment we occupied. They never mentioned once that they had just treated us to a free vacation, I found that because our mom told me. I felt a bit bad for never thanking them properly, while they were very thankful for me driving them. So the next time I see Ennio, I’ll definitely do something nice for him.