Shrek and saudade are two things that don’t usually go together. One is a heartfelt sense of longing and nostalgia, whilst the other is a children’s film about a grumpy ogre and his misfit gang of fairytale friends. However, this week, Shrek helped me understand saudade in an unexpected way.
Saudade was defined by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” We don’t generally associate ailments and suffering with happiness, but I can see why saudade is included in the book this column is based on. It’s a word that describes the sudden pang you get for home when you’re on holiday or the wistful feeling of flicking through old childhood photos. It’s about the joy of reminiscing, but also the bittersweet recognition that these moments don’t last.
When I spoke to Portuguese tutor Georgia Nasseh, she explained that the awareness that nothing lasts forever is an important part of saudade. As a Brazilian living in the UK, she said she found that “it’s very much linked to the idea of home and the impermanence of things”. “Sometimes saudade isn’t something you feel after the fact, maybe you’re in a situation and the knowledge that it will come to an end already creates the feeling of saudade”.
This, she added, is part of the appeal of carnival. “I think carnival is a really interesting phenomenon in Brazil because carnival is short. It has this sense that it’s very limited, it’s only that short period of time.” Each year millions of people across the country take to the streets for five days of drinking, dancing and just generally having a good time. The knowledge that carnival isn’t forever, Georgia explained, means that people can really let their hair down and enjoy the celebrations while they last.
Sadly, Coronavirus meant that organising our own verison of carnival was out of the question, but this week my household made an effort to get together for drinks in the evenings to channel the celebratory spirit. I also tried to catch up with friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while over zoom. One afternoon I met up with a friend from school and we chatted happily about disastrous dates and summer plans over a cup of coffee. I was reminded of how nice it is to touch base with people from back home, especially since Oxford can sometimes feel like a bit of a bubble.
My household also decided that a Shrek movie night was the ultimate way to re-live our childhood experience and feel saudade. As I watched the film surrounded by friends laughing and chatting, I felt nostalgic, but also incredibly grateful for the chance to make new memories to add to old. I realised that these were the times I would treasure in future, and the words from a song Georgia had quoted came to mind. “Tristeza não tem fim / Felicidade sim”. Sadness has no end but happiness does. Moments like these wouldn’t last forever, but that just made them all the more special.