The meaning of fado

(This one’s quite long and quite personal: if either don’t interest you, skip it! 🙂 )

“Who’s alone now?” burbles the background muzak in this all-too-‘international’ Hotel Ibis. “Who’s alone now? It’s not me! It’s not me!”

Well, it is me, actually.

Which hurts.

It’s been a long time. One hell of a long time. With the exception of one brief but truly disastrous attempt at ‘relationship’ from which it literally took me seven years to recover, and a handful of what what I might wistfully describe as even more brief ‘progress reports’, I’ve been on my own now for more than twenty years. That’s more than half my adult lifetime. Half a lifetime lost to invisibility: I have almost no photographs of myself in that time, for the simple reason that there’s been no-one there to take the pictures. And given that I’m a nominal-adult nominal-male in an Anglo culture, that means I’ve also, in a very literal sense, been out of touch with the rest of humanity for a very long time. The Untouched. The Untouchable. The Outsider.

And I feel the bleak absence of that sense of connection every day. Every single day. Not much these days in terms of “Lay lady lay / across my big brass bed”, as Bob Dylan croons in the background here: might be nice, sure, but that kind of connection with anyone is so far in my past – measured in years, now – that I’ve all but forgotten even what it’s about, or why. Rather, I feel it much more in the absence of having anyone with whom to share. To be, together.

It’s perhaps why I feel so literally driven, unable ever to stop, to rest: I’ve driven almost 4000kms on this ‘holiday’, driving on and on, three, four, five hours a day at the wheel. And whilst it’s true that on this trip I have had brief hints of what that kind of sharing might be like – talking architecture at Guimaraes with architects Carlos and Sonia; the Roman ruins at Conimbriga, with a young Belgian engineer whose name I never did catch; aboriginal sites and Almendres with two Australian engineers, Rob and Ray; neolithic sites near Evora with archaeologist Manuel – there’s still no sense of focus, of that sharing actually leading somewhere, a shared focus or purpose. Each incident just is. Isolated. Drifting. Aimlessly. And ultimately empty. An acheing void.

The absence of something, keenly felt; little knife-cuts in the everyday, usually small, sometimes sharp, harsh, deeper than mere pain, always there just beyond any possible reach or redemption. It hurts. Every day. Every single day. And although in time, for most of the time, it’s just part of the background noise of life, it never actually stops. It never stops.

English has no word for this. But Portuguese does, if more in the form of song: fado. It’s even better described by the Welsh word ‘hiraedd‘: often translated with appalling inadequacy as ‘homesickness’, it’s more accurately “a deep longing and grieving for what is not, has never been and can never be”. A grieving for what is not there, rather than what is.

To live alone, always the Outsider: yes, that does indeed seem to be my fate, my ‘wyrd‘; and despite the nature of the wyrd – “there’s always a choice, there’s always a twist” – it does seem I have very little choice in that. And yes, it’s true that most of the value (if any?) of my work – my insight, if you like – comes from that ‘outsight’ of the Outsider. But it’s not an easy life; not one that has much in it except a gaping emptiness. A life that hurts so much, yet a hurt that is so hard to explain, even to describe, precisely because of that unending emptiness.

Fado. Hiraedd. Not easy to live with, at all. Yet live with it we must.

Oh well.

1 Comment on “The meaning of fado

  1. Dear Tom,
    Hello, hello and hello. I am thinking of you. Hope to catch up with you soon.

    I googled the word ‘hiraedd’ and lo, you are the person I found! Well met again. It was you who first told me of this word.

    Where are you right now?

    Our family is travelling very well, and in gratitude for this; I am at home writing and gardening amongst other exquisite things (such as breathing, cooking, meditating and reading). I left my job about two months ago. A very good decision.

    With love,

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