Saudades of Things Past

(Photo: Desculpe, pode me dizer onde fica o Bean?)

It had to happen sometime. Last weekend, after five years of my Chicago life–and for the first time ever in his–Jose visited me in Chicago. That’s “joe-ZAY”, so pronounce it right in your head when you read it. My best friend from my adult years in New York. My Portuguese connection.

It was a little bit of a dream come true.

Any Midwest-living former New Yorker knows how hard it can be to get Gotham friends to visit you in alleged flyover territory. And if there is anything I regret from my own flight from New York, it’s having turned my back on the Portuguese language and culture that had been so dear to me and is so prevalent on the east coast. (Apologies to the Second City’s non-Lusitanian Lusophones, but an abundance of Brazilian steakhouses just doesn’t cut it).

When we were both in Gotahm, Jose and I used to trip together. We’ve bummed around Portugal, Paris, and London and with the greatest of ease. That’s likely because we tend to “trip” to the same things: art; museums; churches; and eating like local pigs (we qualify all vacation meals that involve only one course as snacks–and you know you want to adopt this policy, too).

Zay and I have seen each other every now and then since I left New York. But he, too, has long since departed the Big Apple for New Jersey’s greener and suburban pastures. He’s managed to get me to explore his new stomping grounds. Last weekend, finally, was my chance to show him where I’ve been for the past half-decade, and why.

Jose was here for a conference, so we only had Sunday, one day, and a rainy one at that, to see it all–and on top of that, my boyfriend, Chris, was under the weather and couldn’t come out to meet Zay. (The gods of fado surely got a kick out of those annoying twists of fate).

It was a whirlwind tour of the Loop with umbrellas and wet shoes. It was a familiar setup, our rainy first day in Paris was like that in April 2000. At least this time the locals were nicer. We started with the 61st-floor roofdeck at my Marina City abode. To Zay’s credit, the words, “It’s so small,” never emerged from his mouth in reference to the skyline. He was amazed by the quality and variety of Chitown’s architecture. Being Portuguese, a man with seafaring in his DNA, he was in love with the lake. Or at least the sliver of it he could see through the mist.

Back on terra firma, I dragged him through the Loop to see that architecture up close, then plopped him on the ‘L’ for a slow train to Randolph to see the Art Institute. Ah, the good old days. Our three hours there recalled every hour we ever spent together at Janelas Verdes, the Gulbenkian, the Louvre. It was nice to know that Chicago art had European credibility for Jose. Those Lusitanians can be tough critics.

OK, art down. But what to do for churches in the Loop? First United Methodist‘s skyscraper-tall church is impressive from the outside, but the sanctuary is under renovation at the moment. The former Marshall Field’s Tiffany dome and atrium and the dripping opulence of the Chicago Cultural Center served as wonderful stand-ins. (And the former provided a wonderful opportunity to introduce Zay to the Frango!)

Of all the things we did, though, most of all Jose wanted his picture taken in front of Millennium Park’s most popular reflective giant glob of metal. I obliged, thankful he didn’t say Navy Pier. We walked through the park talking about the funny contradictions that make up Chicago: an overly friendly big city; an international city where every local citizen feels ownership of downtown and inclusion in the city’s cultural life. A city unlike our common former home.

As the day went on, I could tell Zay was getting it, starting to touch what Chicago is all about and why I found it so seductive that I gave up New York in almost record time to relocate here when I did.

But no one understands this town without deep dish, and no town makes deep dish like Chicago does. As any local who’s ever been anywhere knows, supposed “Chicago pizza” outside of the Second City is nothing more than a dry, stale mess. So we ended our day at Due, after an uneventful walk up the inaptly named half-mile long Magnificent Mile (“That’s it? I expected it to be longer”).

Zay tore into the soupy, tomato-sauce drowned topping of our everything pizza. It brought back memories of every vacation meal we had ever shared. But times have changed.

“It’s not the same as mussels and clams.”

No argument there. I would have preferred to be supping with Zay on Mocambicano giant spicy shrimp at Baleal in the heart of Lisboa’s Baixa, myself. But wise men take what life gives them and find the fulfilling in it if they can. I smiled and agreed. We both continued to attack the pizza.

Chicago dogs will have to be saved for the next visit. Knowing how long it took for Jose to visit this time, I may have to import them–and Chris–to New Jersey if Zay is ever to become familiar with either one. I hope he does. It would mean a lot to me if someday my New York and Chicago lives didn’t feel so firewalled away from each other.

I said the same to Chris as I cried in his arms that night. Trying to find a way to help my heart reconcile what used to be with what is, saudade had come to find me. Another old Lusitanian friend, she’s one I don’t have to show around town. Like Jose and me, we go way back. She’s the longing of Portuguese blues, and the only way out of her wily grasp is to resolve yourself to look forward.

So Chris and I resolved ourselves to take Jose up on his offer and visit him and his boyfriend, Anthony, in New Jersey. Eventually. I do have a boyfriend’s mother to meet in California first (not to mention a trip to my non-Portuguese center of the universe, Disneyland). But we’ll make it there.

And so will the Chicago dogs.

(Get notified about new posts: Facebook Updates | Email Updates | RSS Updates)

7 Comments

What do you think?