The Ministry of Saudade*



The most extraordinary thing happened to me on my flight home the other day: I found the joyful part of saudade.


I was fortunate to have the combination of a window seat, daylight hours and amazing visibility during a flight from São Paulo, Brazil with a stopover in Bogotá, Colombia. I found myself taking one photo after another. After randomly bombarding friends and family with snippets of what I had seen via WhatsApp, I decided to organize the perspective with a bit more intension and context.

One of the ox-bowed tributaries to the Rio Negro in the Amazon River basin, visible from the flight.

Voilà, this short video that tracks the journey from the peri-urban edges of São Paulo into the Amazon basin, and then onwards into sunset and a dark descent into Bogotá.


It also tracks the paradoxical journey through both the joy and sorrow that is the imminently untranslatable concept of saudade. During the flight I had a soundtrack running through my mind that was a blend of stories from my past, present and future, backed by the imagined songs of Karen Carpenter, the Indigo Girls and Joni Mitchell. This is my usual mental state in airplanes, which is where saudades seem to lurk.


I hope you enjoy the video, either with the sound off to simply get a sense of the immense beauty that is the Amazon, or with the voiceover where I interpret what I saw and felt, influenced by the wisdom of those women’s voices.


Bonus track:


Below are images from my first visit to the Amazon in January, 1990 while on a field trip with my high school in Brasília where I lived during a Rotary exchange in Brazil. This is what it looked like on the ground beneath that flight during some of the times I was remembering. I have much more to say on time spent on the ground there. To paraphrase Alanis Morissette — another influential songstress whose melodies move through my mind frequently — that journey needs time to marinade. And while Alanis thanks India, I hereby thank Brazil.


View from the bank of the Rio Negro near one of the places we stopped to explore during the week-long field trip in Amazonas in 1990. The river partially floods and drains the forest throughout the year, filling the waterway with the nutrients that sustain so much aquatic life.

We spent several days based at an outdoor school of ecology near Manaus. This is where I first learned about global warming, or "the greenhouse effect" (o efeito estufa) as we called it then.

We traveled by boat throughout the week, sleeping in hammocks that were strung up in the rafters during the day. Here my classmates and I step back on the boat to carry on to our next stop.


* There isn’t really a Ministry of Saudade in Brazil, or anywhere as far as I know, but I think there should be and I recently submitted my application to be its Minister. Watch this space.

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© 2018 B. Lorraine Smith