Sodade – Cesaria Evora
…Quem mostra’ bo ess caminho longe?…
…who showed you this distant way?…
When we moved down to the South Coast of England in 1996 it was a whole new chapter for us: a local vibe, the seaside village of Brighton, bohemian, gay, slow, friendly. Los Angeles (where we’d been for three years) had been a frankly weird mix of sunshine & shade with little sense of community (and we’d run out of money), and London had become a squashed, dark satanic option which didn’t offer us any feelings of moving forward into our future. Brighton was a new adventure, new restaurants, new friends, same old football team (hurrah the mighty Brighton & Hove Albion, The Seagulls) but a brand new community for us to enjoy. Not that new for me – I’d gone to school in Lewes after all, seven miles down the A27 to the east, but it’s the longest seven miles I know. Lewes and Brighton are two different universes. But I was back in easy reach of my childhood sacred ground – the South Downs. We liked leaving London. It felt like an escape. It was still there at the end of 49-minute train journey. But Brighton was buzzing.
I think it must have been 1997 when we first met Amanda Ooms, through mutual friend Lulu Norman. It’s hard to find words to describe Amanda, but I’ll try. She is a Swedish film and stage actress, novelist, painter, cook, playwright, pianist, raconteur, witch, and living spirit of nature. And if I’ve already spilled over into hyperbole it’s because it is difficult to do justice on the page to feelings which spring from inner experience. Amanda lived in a mews flat off Wilbury Road where she could paint and cook and we would gather there, Jenny & I and often others – Jo & Andy, Paul, WiIl & Catherine, Daisy, Jimmy, Jo & Lee, maybe Tim and often a foreign friend of Amanda’s, or a sibling of one of us; it felt loose and relaxed but in reality it was a tight group, a temporary family of support and love, and while Amanda cooked up some alchemical magic in her kitchen, we would sit with her and all share the week’s triumphs and disasters (hopefully treating those two imposters both the same) drink wine, smoke weed and laugh, eat the feast of magic, then inspired, replenished and unburdened, we would dance. And because we were Brighton hipsters, pretentious, arty, groovers and shakers, we called it Bohemia.
Sometimes Bohemia gathered in a local pub, for roast and ale. Sometimes others hosted, Will & Catherine, or Jo and Andy, but the enchantment happened at Amanda’s as I’m sure everyone would concur. Her unflinching honesty, her ability to make every moment feel precious made us all feel more alive, at the edge of our own personal possibilities, and yet unflinchingly aware of time passing, of crystalline moments dissolving as soon as they formed, of never quite being able to have and to hold, in one way, forever.
There are hundreds of songs from this period which would happily make their own playlist – all types of music but leaning, as alternative Sweden somehow does, towards the gypsy and world music elements, the passionate singers, the cubans, the arabesque. This song “Sodade” is from the Cape Verde Islands – a few hundred miles off the coast of Senegal – the language is a type of Portugese called Cabo-Verdian, the singer is the wonderful Cesaria Evora who sadly died in 2011. The atmosphere of the music takes me straight back to Amanda’s kitchen, helping her to chop some garlic, sharing a moment of joy or sadness, just being present and alive. And yet the song also feels like a lament – or more accurately a longing – for what is lost and may come again.
When Amanda moved back to Sweden in 2005 we tried to carry on with Bohemia in her absence, hosting at ours, or often gathering for Sunday pub roasts along the coast, sharing our week’s triumphs and disasters once again, supporting and nurturing our dreams together, drinking and eating and smoking (outside) but we didn’t have Amanda’s kitchen and we didn’t have Amanda. The crystal had already dissolved.