Then a Mexican man got on the bus, and my heart leapt. I almost never see Mexicans here, a sign of the area's extreme joblessness. Likewise, I want to dance on the rare occasions that I come across an Orthodox Jewish couple, or a pair of frum women with their children in the park; it's a reminder to me of home, of the world outside of this place, the world of color, of music, of warmth.
Speaking of color, music, and warmth, I got a catalogue in the mail the other day listing the scholarly books on music published by Ashgate, the English academic publisher. One of their new releases is a book called Fado and The Place of Longing: Loss, Memory, and the City. According to the catalogue blurb:
Fado, often described as 'urban folk music', emerged from the streets of Lisbon in the mid-nineteenth century and went on to become Portugal's 'national' music during the twentieth. It is known for its strong emphasis on loss, memory and nostalgia within its song texts, which often refer to absent people and places. One of the main lyrical themes of fado is the city itself.
Reading the book description, in addition to making me think that fado should be the official musical genre of this blog, brought to mind a memory of my old home.
For a long time back in New York, my across-the-hall neighbor was a single, middle-aged woman who shared my first name, and who was herself apparently mentally unstable. She was an artist whose work was exhibited, but in her day-to-day life she seemed anxious to the point of being severely troubled and not entirely functional. I was surprised one day to meet a beautiful young woman coming out of her apartment, who, as it turned out, was my neighbor's only daughter, D., come to live with her for a while. D. seemed like someone I wanted to know: she was sophisticated and smart, and was a former writer for the Village Voice whose music criticism I had read. But one night, as I was coming home late, I saw her moving all of her stuff out of her mother's apartment. They had had a huge fight, and D. was moving to Staten Island by taxicab to live with a man she'd recently met. I assumed I'd never see her again, and I was chagrined.
But D. came back. In fact, she came back more than once. At one point, she moved to Italy to try to make it work with a different man, but returned with a diagnosis of breast cancer. After treatment, the cancer went into remission, and D. was unsure where to go next. She was trying to restart her life, and she had a book contract from a major publisher to write about cancer from the perspective of a woman like herself, a hip young New Yorker, who would refute all the bullshit New-Age cancer platitudes -- you caused your cancer with your own self-hatred, you can heal through visualization, but only if you want to badly enough, etc. She came across the hall to tell me about it one day in the fall of 2002, when I had just come back to the Catholic faith and had just started graduate school. And the reason she had knocked on my door that day was that she had heard the notes of this fado song leaking out through the doorjamb, a song she had first heard on a recent trip to Portugal.
The wonderful singer is the part-Mozambiquean, part-Portuguese Mariza, who even looks strikingly like the biracial D. According to a fan-written translation, this is the meaning of the text, sic in its entirety:
Is both mine and yours this fado
destiny that tides us (together)
no matter how much it is denied
by the strings of a guitar
whenever one hears a lament
of a guitar singing
one is instantly lost
With a desire to weep
Oh people of my land
Now I've understand
This sadness which I carry on
Was from you that I received
and it would seem tenderness
If I let myself be soothed
my anguish would be greater
my singing (would be) less sadder
Oh people of my land
This time, or so it appeared, D. had come home for good. She was broke. But we never did hang out much; our schedules didn't mesh. She went to a nearby café to write during the day, while I was traveling between the university and my office job; and she stayed on at the café at night when it became a bar, while I was too busy and tired to go out (and was also experimenting with not going to bars or drinking at all, in what I saw, perhaps misguidedly, as solidarity with my then-boyfriend, who was recently sober in A.A.). Our paths continued to diverge, and, right around the time I moved out of my long-time and beloved home to get married in 2005, I was shocked to learn that D. had died at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, the cancer having returned and metastasized to her bones. I wrote to her mother from my new home in the Bronx, but never heard back.
From what I understand, D.'s mother is somehow keeping on, God knows how. But in writing this, I have realized that it's been a long time since I've remembered to pray for D. or for her mother. Dear readers, if you have it in your heart to do so, please say a prayer for this them.