Single Guy Says, ‘Saudade’

Saudade

When it comes to the full range of the complexity, depth, and range of the human experience, there are just some things English cannot satisfyingly express. Some things are negligible, though nice to have words or expressions for when the situation arises. Like the Japanese term ‘bakku-shan‘, which is what you would call someone who is very attractive from behind but is ugly in front. As in, ‘don’t get your hopes up, that girl over there is a complete bakku-shan, wait until she turns around’. Tragic. Others are so culturally specific it might be hard for others on the outside looking in to grasp. Like trying to explain to my friends what ‘papak‘ is, but how can you explain the term for eating something that is supposed to be eaten with rice without rice when my friends usually eat without rice in the first place? Or trying to complain that American bars have no good ‘pulutan‘, or food that is meant to be had with drinks? Some of the best Filipino foods are these ‘pulutan‘ dishes that just have certain characteristics that scream ‘eat me with a cold beer’. Then there are the deeply complex and emotional terms, like the Danish word ‘hygge‘ that expresses a profoundly peaceful state absent of emotion or complication, a source of gentleness and soothing.

Saudade Painting 2.JPG

Saudade‘ is one of the latter, a word in Portuguese and Galician that captures a very specific and yet universal form of longing. Sometimes for something or someone we’ve lost, sometimes for something or someone we never even had or even knew existed. It is an emotion we have almost all felt, but only those familiar with ‘saudade‘ could accurately describe and therefore, celebrate and even chase after. There are many ways to try and explain ‘saudade‘, but each effort to try and pin it down feels like trying to capture a butterfly only to kill it and mount it onto a frame. It’s only beautiful when it’s alive. As in, when you experience it for yourself. Some expressions come pretty close though. ‘Saudade‘ has been described as ‘memory of something with a desire for it’, or others have called it ‘a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy’. It is the immense weight of longing paired with the deep gratitude of having had it once before. A moment’s recollection when emptiness, appreciation, and yearning happen all at once.

Saudade Painting

I am sure we have all had certain moments where longing for something that is no longer there or missing something that was never there to begin with have in turn affected how we felt about situations, experiences, or people. It’s like a cavity only the dentist forgets to fill it in afterwards, and when you run your tongue along your tooth you can ‘feel’ the emptiness left behind. But, and this is the bittersweet medicine of it all, I don’t believe ‘saudade‘ to be an inherently negative emotion or experience. I believe what makes a moment, an experience, a person, a place, a thing filled with ‘saudade‘ is the implied gratitude, the deep appreciation for being blessed with the realization that there is more to what is already here, what we already have, and the tinge of hope that we might yet find it again or discover it for the very first time. That’s what makes pain something beautiful, what paints longing with appreciation. It is in the very slight tinges of bright color that we dot even the bleakest memories and thoughts. To know and understand and experience ‘saudade‘, we must by definition first realize that there is something great that is missing. For some, we know this because we had it once before and we lost it. Love, romantic love missing the embrace of someone special, or familial love, longing for relatives gone or missing, is an example of this. Or, it could be that we know in the depths of our soul that we are missing something we never had to begin with. Passion, creation, the call to a greatness that would break the static of our landscape, could still be considered ‘saudade‘. It is to know what it is we are missing, what prevents the ‘wholeness’ the ‘completeness’ of our being, to relish in the melancholy of longing that we are fortunate enough to feel and appreciate because we were so blessed at one point to have felt it before, and to be armed with that painful passion, that uplifting burden of loss, to pursue it once again. You left me, and I miss you, and I know I can only feel this deep chasm of longing and emptiness because it was once filled with your love, and though you are gone and I can never have you again, I am happy to know how much I can be filled with love, and I chase now not you, but love.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘Rio de Janeiro Blue’ by Freddy Cole

Compared to his older brother, the legendary Nat King Cole, Freddy Cole is much more laid back with a rough gravelly voice that is perfect for jazz and blues. Which is why I love his cover of ‘Rio de Janeiro Blue’ which was first written and performed by Richard Torrance in 1977. It’s got just that right balance of sophisticated slick smoothness that makes it great ‘turn down the lights, baby’ music. Hahah. But the real reason why I chose this song is because of the end, when Cole keeps repeating this Portuguese word, ‘saudade‘. ‘Saudade‘. Before this song, I had never come across this word, this expression, this (as I later found out) complicated to capture emotion. The emotion of ‘saudade‘.

Now, maybe you’ll be curious and you’ll want to just Google the term for yourself to find out what it means. If like me this was your first time hearing this word you might be tempted to look it up. But, if you’re able to resist the urge, it is a tradition in Brazil to celebrate the feeling of ‘saudade‘ on January 30th, which happens to be tomorrow. And I wanted to introduce this song today so that tomorrow I could write about ‘saudade‘ means to so many people and of course, what it means to me. So if you can manage to stifle your curiosity and maybe just listen to this song once, twice, or even thrice, to get an idea, an inkling, a feel for what you think ‘saudade‘ might mean, we can investigate it and discover it, tomorrow, together.

Here are the lyrics to help you get started.

Rio de Janeiro Blue
The clouds come-a creepin’ and you got me weepin’ this moment
I can’t believe you’re really gonna leave this town.
Everyone knows, I can’t make a move without you
your turnin’ my whole world, upside-down.
And I get a feelin’ that I’ve seen the last of you, Rio de Janeiro Blue
The salty air, your wind-blown hair, reflection on a dream.
Thoughts of you with who knows who, flowin’ through me like a stream.
Brazilian serenaders, linger on
help me lose my soul, in your song.
And I get a feelin’, that I’ve seen that last of you, Rio de Janeiro Blue.
Months go by, I wonder why, I’m left here on my own.
Could it be my destiny, is to live this life alone?
These dark and rainy days have turned me cold
Long and sleepless nights, gettin’ old.
And I get a feelin’ that I’ve seen the last of you, Rio de Janeiro Blue.
Rio. Rio. Rio.
Saudade. Saudade. Saudade.

Single Guy Tries Making Katsudon and Tonkatsu

Thanks everyone for your kind words of condolence. Much better now and glad to just be trying to gain back some semblance of normal and routine as life marches ever forward.

Speaking of forward, I know this is exceptionally tardy but I wanted to share with you all pictures and stories from way back in November when my cousin stayed at my family’s home over winter break and I decided to use the opportunity to cook together. My first ever attempt at making some of my favorite Japanese ‘comfort foods’, crispy tonkatsu and rich katsudon.

Regina and I December.jpg

My cousin and I toasting before we start cooking

It’s almost unbelievable to think it’s already been ~4 years since my cousin arrived to begin her Master’s at the esteemed Juilliard School. Having her so nearby all this time has been an incredible opportunity for the two of us to get to really know each other, spending many nights and afternoons talking, sharing, and exploring New York and New Jersey. But one of my favorite experiences with her has been helping her learn how to cook. I remember one time going into the city and meeting up with my cousin to go grocery shopping and then make a full meal from scratch in her apartment. So it seemed only natural that, given the time we had over the holidays, I’d want to have another night for the two of us to cook and bond.

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My cousin and I standing proudly in front of our work

This was going to be quite the special occasion for a number of reasons. For one, it was the quality of the ingredients being used, which I’ll discuss more later. For two, it was two days before Christmas and we were all getting into the festive spirit. And last but not least, this would be a rather large undertaking (a meal for six people with three different side dishes and two selections of entrees). For the most part up until now, these cooking experiences with my cousin were simple dishes meant to highlight fast weekday casual meals and simple preparations for easy home cooking. And for the most part we had disparate roles, more like teacher and student than chef and sous chef. But it had been four years, my cousin has in that time become a skilled and confident kitchen presence, and so this was our first opportunity to both really take charge and take equal roles.

The theme of the night’s dinner was Japanese comfort food, and I wanted to really focus Wakame Saladon the incredibly delicious and satisfying, deceptively simple looking yet complex in flavor, home meals. For sides we prepared shrimp and seafood gyoza, pork gyoza, and a wakame salad with slices of octopus, tobiko, and toasted sesame seeds. The wakame is a variety of seaweed with a firm chewy texture and slightly sweet flavor. You can find it sold in dried strips in Asian markets, and we first rehydrated and plumped them back up with a mixture of water and seasoned Japanese vinegar. I mixed the wakame with thin slices of cucumber that also slightly pickled in the vinegar Gyozamixture, then garnished with slices of boiled octopus, toasted sesame seeds, and tobiko, bright orange flying fish roe with a wonderfully sweet and salty taste that bursts in your mouth. The key to good gyoza (dumplings) is in the balance of steaming them to delicate doneness while frying the bottoms just enough to add crispiness and a slight crust. My cousin was entirely in charge of watching the gyoza, steaming them at first and then, once the water was all evaporated, frying the bottoms to a nice crispiness and creating the gyoza dipping sauce with a blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, and Japanese chili oil.

Tonakatsu 1

But the real star (I mean aside from my cousin and I of course) of the night was the incredible Berkshire pork loin I brought home from my local Japanese grocery store. For those of you who might not be familiar with Berkshire pork, consider it the Kobe version of the other white meat. Berkshire pigs are a prized breed from England and are pretty Tonkatsu 2.jpgrare. They have an incredibly tender, juicy, and fatty meat with a large amount of marbling that makes it just oh so perfect for frying in high temperature without risk of drying up or becoming tough. Instead it remains tender, moist, and retains so much of its incredible fat and flavor. I would be preparing the pork pretty much the same way but then finishing it in very different styles. The pork I pounded with a mallet just a bit to break up the fibers and further tenderize the meat, then a standard flour, egg, and dip into Japanese panko breadcrumbs flavored with honey. I then deep fried the thick cuts of juicy pork until GBD. Golden brown and delicious. The much coarser style of Japanese breadcrumbs created a beautifully rugged and jagged surface area that crisped and made a satisfyinglyKatsudon 2 loud crunch when I cut into it and the meat inside was perfectly done. The first preparation, tonkatsu, was to serve it sliced right out of the fryer on top of a bed of shredded lettuce alongside a homemade tonkatsu sauce that I made with freshly ground sesame seeds, chili flakes, and a thicker Japanese sauce similar to Worcestershire. This meal is especially popular with students around exam season, as ‘katsu’ in Japanese means ‘to win’, so it’s eaten for good luck. My brother, aunt, and father had it prepared this way. My mother, cousin, and I had it a different way, which is my favorite way to also have grilled eel. After the pork is fried and sliced, I place it in a shallow pan with onions simmering in a broth of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and dashi broth and then pour an egg on top, cooking it til just barely done, then putting it all over rice with a lot of mistuba, or Japanese parsley. The flavorful simmering liquid soaks into the rice and the still runny egg adds a layer of richness and creaminess.

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You should have seen it. My cousin and I moved around that kitchen like a well-oiled professional machine. We finished everything in an hour and a half, and that’s with me finishing a growler of beer and my cousin almost completely downing a bottle of wine on her own. Because drunk cooking is the best kind of cooking and the most fun way of cooking. The constant motion, the sounds and smells, the intense concentration and sense of purpose, it was a great night. And the food? Tasted better than the pictures. But honestly, that’s not the pork, or even the chefs. That’s just plenty of good old-fashioned love.

In Loving Memory, Aida M. de Vera

There is a lot of catching up to do, and I think the best way to start is with the most recent events. It’s been hard to get back into the regular flow of things for the past week. The weather here on the East Coast two weeks ago, with its strangely named ‘bomb cyclone’, meant that all the snow and ice canceled our flight back home from Vegas. Of all the cities in the world to be ‘stranded’ in, Las Vegas would definitely not be the worst, but there were some difficulties getting a hotel room last minute, complications with extending the car rental, and concern over how when we did get back we’d be able to get into our house without anyone around to clear the two feet of snow and thick slush that had definitely piled up.

The night we finally returned we were hoping to just pick up and recover from the two extra days we had lost, when my mother got a call from the Philippines. My grandmother, her mother, had just passed. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and over the past few months it had gotten progressively and exponentially worse. She could no longer recognize anyone, was no longer eating, and apparently that night my grandfather and my uncles still in the Philippines were going to meet to decide if they would go with the doctor’s recommendation of keeping her on an IV. Her health was deteriorating at an alarming rate. It seemed that the conversation was moot, as during the night, my grandmother, Aida M. de Vera, passed peacefully in her sleep.

Everything after was a blur of activity. The next morning I was calling up old friends from my travel agent days to help book last minute tickets for my mother and father. Not 24 hours after getting off one plane, they were packing again to board another. From one six hour domestic flight to a twenty one hour trans-Pacific flight, there I was hugging my parents goodbye as the Uber driver came to take them to JFK, leaving my brother and I at home for the past week to take care of other things. (The sudden extreme cold weather proved to be too much for one of our stores, and while we were in Vegas the old pipes burst, covering everything in water and then freezing, damaging everything inside. Electrical equipment, walls, ingredients, all lost to water and ice damage. I had to have meetings with our insurance agent, claims adjuster, and contractors in my parents’ stead.)

I’m sad to say I don’t have too many memories of my grandmother. When my mother had me she was young and scared and completely unprepared, away from home for the first time in her life and in a country thousands of miles away, across two oceans. My grandmother and grandfather came here and helped raise me the first year. My grandfather even took a job at a local 7-11 to help out, while my grandmother passed on all her knowledge and experience and expertise to my mother. How to feed me, bathe me, and my mother even told me stories of how my grandmother would massage my legs at night while I slept, to help straighten my legs and prevent me from becoming bow-legged and my feet from pointing out. Though she was an integral part of my upbringing, I was too young to remember anything personally. Just stories and pictures. And because, for various different reasons, I’ve always been reluctant to go back to the Philippines, I haven’t seen my grandmother for around ten years, since my last trip. I would never have thought that ten years ago would have been the last time I saw her, hugged her. I would never have thought that the still strong, vibrant, loving woman I saw then would in time shrink into herself, become wary and paranoid and fearful of everyone, eventually lose memories and expression, and then pass on forever. There were always opportunities, chances to go. My parents and my brother have been there and back at least five or six times in the past decade. But I always found more reasons not to. They would tell me stories of Lola’s condition, the fleeting moments of coherence, the joys of recognition, always mentioning, wondering, if I had been there, would she have recognized me, would it have made her happy to see me.

I’m ashamed to say now we’ll never know, and I’ll always have to cling to far distant recollections of my grandmother, never having the chance to replenish old memories for new. But let me tell you, I do know this. When my grandmother passed there were plenty of tears. I cried for old memories. I cried for missing the chance for new ones. I cried for missed opportunities. I cried for shame, and in longing. I cried for my mother, crying in the hall, shaking, trying to stay standing, asking to no one in particular, ‘what do I do, what do I do, what do I do?!’

I will forever know my grandmother through the lasting effect she had. I will know my grandmother through my mother, who possesses so much of the strength and tenacity and ability to overcome and adapt that she saw in her mother. I will know my grandmother’s love through the love she showed my mother, and the love my mother in turn gave to me. I will remember my grandmother in every proud, straight step I take into the world.