new and untranslatable words, for a new and untranslatable time

pasteis de nata place in lisbon

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the Portugeuse word, “saudade,” encapsulates my emotional state during the COVID-19 pandemic — even though it is technically untranslatable. But, so is this surreal period we are living through. The fact that it defies easy English translation seems somewhat appropriate.

Wikipedia’s definition:

Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for or loves… Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again… It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being, which now trigger the senses and make one experience the pain of separation from those joyous sensations.

If that doesn’t perfectly describe life in the time of coronavirus, I don’t know what does.

The Welsh word, hiraeth, is similar to saudade, I recently learned. One person describes it as:

…a combination of homesickness, longing, nostalgia, and yearning, for a home that you cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was. It can also include grief or sadness for who or what you have lost, losses which make your “home” not the same as the one you remember.

Yup. I’m a bundle of saudade and hiraeth these days for sure.

Meanwhile, according to CNN, the Dutch have been fast and furiously coining new words to make sense of their novel (coronavirus) circumstances. The neologisms include huidhonger (skin-hunger) to describe a longing for human contact while in isolation, and hoestschaamte (cough shame) for a particular COVID-era genre of anxiety provoked by coughing in public and setting off a panic. The new lexicon is being collected in a coronawoordenboek — itself a new word.

Too bad I don’t know any Dutch. I’m sure that dictionary is a cathartic read.

P.S. I just looked through my Portugal pictures from 2016 to pick an image for the top of this post, and now my heart actually hurts, the saudade is overwhelming, and I’m going to bed.

D.C. blues

anne calfo pillows

Hello from the end of another long, sad, scary week in lock-down. My brain feels like it has spent too much time in a milk frother, and that simile probably came to me because I spent the last hour going down an internet rabbit hole comparing moka pots for no discernible reason. Just before that, I wrote a group text to my sister, brother, and father to tell them we should have a surprise virtual party for my mom’s 75th birthday next week. Only I wrote the text to my sister, brother, and mother. For three days in a row this week, I didn’t feel like leaving the house even to get a few minutes of fresh air, so I didn’t. And I almost forgot to eat dinner yesterday. When I finally remembered, I boiled some spaghetti in boxed chicken broth and called it a night.

I am, of course, certain that I am not alone in my malaise and agitation. I know that I am alone together, as it were. That only makes me sadder. The weight of the world’s pain, and the sheer number of variations on that pain, is crushing. Continue reading

hello from D.C.

foggy new yorkI’m not in Washington. It’s just that COVID-19 seems so globally significant, so life-altering, so biblical, that the years ought to be ordered according to their relationship with the disease. Now we are in the D.C. era: During COVID-19. Everything that came before this novel coronavirus is B.C.; everything that will come after is A.C. Continue reading