Santa Two Point Zero

Ever since that first bite of the apple, nowadays immortalized on every IPod, IPhone, and IPad that Taiwan ever made, mankind has been searching for the Promised Land. We look for it in different places. In something we’ve created, in a just cause, in a lover’s eyes.

It is the eve of Christmas, and throughout Portugal the eve is the important day, not Christmas Day itself. Because of the India road, the same applies to Brazil. I’m guessing that Angola and Mozambique follow suit. As do a number of small African islands. With Portuguese globalization such traditions voyaged. As did music. Portugal played a major role in world music (a term I loathe for its planetary banality), and a vast proportion of the best music is sung in this language.

In Portugal itself, Fado is king. Recently voted UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (a substantial mouthful), along with Chinese Shadow Puppetry, Fado is dirge music, mournful and sad. It sings of unrequited love, faith lost or stolen, the longing and the leaving.  And some of that sadness has found its way to the music of Cabo Verde, a group of ten islands off the West African coast. The people of Cape Verde are musical giants. Like the Jamaicans, they punch above their weight: Cape Verde has a population of half a million, a classic Portuguese melting pot of European and African, both in color and in dialect.

Caribbean reggae is better known, for two reasons: Bob Marley, and the fact that it is sung in English. But the Mornas and Coladeiras of Cabo Verde are an amazing blend of Fado and Negro spirituality. The matriarch of Cape Verde music, who had the quintessentially Portuguese name of Cesária Évora, died exactly one week ago at the age of seventy. This song is called Sodade, a Creole version of the word Saudade. There is no translation in any other language for this word. In The India Road, King John’s spy Pêro da Covilhã attempts to define it when he stops at Rhodes, on his journey east:

On the pier, two friar-knights warmly greeted the emissaries of King John. “Benvindos,” the elder knight spoke, welcoming his fellow Portuguese adventurers. As always when far from home, they anxiously asked for news. As they entered the cool rooms of St. Angel’s Tower next to the wharf, still chatting busily, the younger friar, Frey Fernando, exclaimed, “Ai que saudades!” tears brimming in his eyes. The spy smiled wistfully, knowing that in his many languages there was not one with an equivalent word. A mixture of pain, longing, and love, that one word made you want to laugh and cry at the same time.

I don’t know why, but just writing that brought a tear to my eye. And I’m perfectly happy.

This year places Christmas as a truly digital experience. A flirt with Google this morning lures me into following Santa on Christmas Eve on Google Maps. Clicking that link takes me to NORAD, where I’m presented with NASA imagery, and an invitation to “Track Santa on Google Earth.” And from that page you can follow NORAD as they track Social Santa on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. OMG, Santa 2.0!

I guess NORAD (for it is she, the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has a little less to do now that Iraq is done and dusted. 2012 will reveal just how done, and how totally dusted, old Babylon really is. Much like Belgium in the First World War and the Pacific Rim in World War II, Iraq will be the stage of the showdown between Saudi Arabian finance and Iranian fundamentalism. Coming soon to a theater (hopefully not) near you.

That part of the world is getting hotter than the sideways samba sex position (thanks for that, Cosmo), and even uncle Bashar (good name!) Assad’s mates are deserting (sorry) him.

Old friends become foes.

Because it’s Xmas, I’ll end today with an extra gift. The Mama of Mornas in a duet with the Brazilian singer Marisa Monte. An Afro-Fado tune performed in Portuguese by a Cape Verdian and a Brazilian. Three continents, one culture. If that isn’t global nothing is. The song is called Morrer no Mar, To Die at Sea. The first lines are:

É doce morrer no mar (it is sweet to die at sea)
Nas ondas verdes do mar (under the green waves of the sea)

If this song doesn’t move you, I have a suggestion for 2012. Get your neurons rewired.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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