Written by Swati
March 9th 2023
I’m fully convinced that people who live in places with nicer weather are better people. Never have I been smiled at on the street so often or found street musicians playing love songs from the early 2000s as the sun set. In the coastal cities of Portugal: Porto, Aviero, and Coimbra I see such an affection and pride for life. Life is art and art is the simplicity of life. Pastel de nata with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice first thing in the morning, the laughter of children tinkling in the background. In Portugal I see public displays of emotion for the first time in Europe, couples dance in the streets, babies waddle up to drop change in open guitar cases, others stroll by on daily walks, laughter in their eyes. How could life even be that bad with a protective blanket of sunshine over you?
I see a woman swipe away tears on the train to Aveiro, a connection on my way to Coimbra for a day trip out of Porto. White wired headphones in, I can only imagine what was floating through her ears. An old love song, reminders of a former flame, or a voicemail from a loved one thousands of miles away. Gentle waves lap at the shore out of the window, tenderness clouds her face. When our eyes meet she sends me a sad smile and I wonder what realizations she’s having on this train ride, where she’s headed, and what decisions she’s made recently that led her up to this moment. Accompanied only by a simple black tote bag, worn leather heels, and a swipe of red lipstick, she could be headed off to see the lake and decompress after a long work week or mourn a loss in her starched black dress pants. Maybe she hugged someone for the last time or hasn’t seen the sea in years and the fondness of it all brings tears to her eyes. This must be saudade. The longing and melancholy for something lost, something that may have never existed.
Across from me a French couple does crossword puzzles together. If I was feeling any more adventurous I would’ve struck up a conversation but I’m too wrapped in scribbling down answers to Physics practice tests, sneaking in glances at the sea, and making up backstories for my fellow train dwellers. I love catching people in the midst of existence. Running to catch the bus, nodding off on early morning transportation, caught in the rain, burnt tongues from hot coffee, sticky fingers from melted gelato, widening eyes when realization hits. Struck by the humanity of it all I made the last minute decision to stop off in Aveiro and spend some time by the water before taking the next train out to Coimbra two hours later. With the lake a 30 minute walk away, I took a waterside stroll, saw Aveiro’s salt fields, and sat by the pier. On the way back to the train station I had bacalhau à lagareiro com batatas (cod with potatoes) and the blend of fresh caught seafood, homeliness of the restaurant, and kindness of the waiter made for an incredible meal. I was a bit rushed to get back to catch the train, but Aveiro was a sweet coastal town.