Outside my world, there are many other worlds. Outside The Hague or Amsterdam, there are many other big cities. Outside Dutch society, there are many other societies. Now it so happens that I live outside the Netherlands and within Europe. Although, on the edge. Portugal. Actually quite separated from Northern Europe by that high threshold called Pyrenees. That Iberian peninsula seems to dangle by a bit. But nothing could be further from the truth. Here, too, people do what people do all over the world.
It is my Portuguese world I want to talk about. About my awareness of what happens here. I learn the language, talk Portuguese as much as I can and teach yoga in Portuguese. I also watch Portuguese television and buy the newspaper every Saturday, which I then flip through, tearing out interesting articles to dissect later.
Although I have known since I was young – forever moving – that all societies have the same thing to offer, in origin, I still marvel every time I recognise things.
Here, they also make lists at the end of a year. For instance, I came across a list about people who lost their lives in 2016 and are worth remembering here. I go through that list immediately. Would that include the same people as in the Dutch lists? And yes, indeed. Take a look:
- David Bowie
- Mohammed Ali
- Leonard Cohen
- Johann Cruijff
- Fidel Castro
- Umberto Eco
- Dario Fo
- Zaha Hadid
- Arnold Palmer
But, in that same list are names I don’t know that are apparently important enough to be in the Visão (an opinion weekly with stature). And the weird thing is that this then makes me so curious about who these people are. Why they are so important that they appear in that list.
João Lobo Antunes (not to be confused with the writer Antonio). “The brave doctor”. Neurologist, professor, philosophised and wrote about ethics and medicine. A famous neurosurgeon who led the way in New York for years.
António de Almeida Santos, politician. “Lord and artist”. He settled in 1953 as a lawyer in Mozambique (then a colony of Portugal) where he lived for 20 years and launched his political career. In 1974 (after the departure of Portugal’s dictator Salazar), he returned to Portugal at the invitation of the then president and steadily built his giga political career to start as justice minister. He wrote more than 10 books on the legal profession and a two-volume autobiography on the decolonisation process of Mozambique in 1974 and 1975. He was praised for his political intuition.
Nicolau Breyner, actor. “Content and generous. He left an indelible mark on Portuguese television. He owed his nickname O Senhor Contente to the first television programme he participated in. There, he formed a duo called “Senhor Feliz e Senhor Contente” (say: Mr Happy and Mr Content). High awards were bestowed on him.
Nuno Teotónio Pereira, “Architect of Equality”. With name and fame and many awards especially in the field of social housing. In 1952, he founded the “Movement for Renewal of Religious Art”.
Mário Moniz Pereira, “Example trainer”. Sports teacher, athlete, trainer and writer of songs. Athletics was his passion, but the truth is: he loved all sports.
And what do I do with all this information now? Nothing. That is the truth.
What it does to me would be a better question.
I become familiar with what moves people in the country where I now live. Always I am looking to know more about the soul of a nation.
By now I know this: understanding the history of a country gives an insight into the soul of a nation. Portugal’s history is vast and fierce. Its people have been shaped by it. But what moves them or the Dutch is the same as what moves all other people.