This evening I walked past a packed little concert hall minutes before a Fado performance. Fado, is kind of a staple around these parts. It's a unique style of traditional Portuguese music originating from nighttime serenades from university students on the cobbled streets of Coimbra; the city I now find myself in.
Nobody knows exactly where it came from. Some believe it was the students from Brazil who came to Portugal to attend university around the 1860s. Others credit their fellow countrymen, the ones who moseyed up north from Lisbon. But like anything that defines a place it matters much less whose idea it was than its ability to unite a group of people.
Coimbra is a magical place full of young people with lofty dreams. There's a buoyancy in their step among the fallen leaves and heavy bags replete with books. The university rests atop a hill overlooking houses, cafes, storefronts, and 11th century basilicas.
I took a stroll through the Cathedral of Coimbra which dates back to the Visigothic period. The cloister one story above offered some peace, mostly quiet, and a moment to daydream about those who ambled the same path some 900 years earlier. Hard to do, but a great deal of fun to try.
Not long after I found myself in the Botanic Garden of the University of Coimbra, created in 1772. It's 13 hectares and collection of living plants that once assisted in teaching medical sciences were good enough to land it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
What about Central Park?
I wondered how many college kids from the school a stone's throw away discovered themselves in this place while weaving in and around the carefully groomed dirt paths after a rough test score, a breakup, or wrestling with an uncertain future. How many found a fleeting moment of solace as Emerson might have near a pond or against a tree with nothing more than their thoughts and a notebook.
Of course, I reflected on my own college days and how much I'd changed, and of course, how much I hadn't. Each analysis surprised me in unique ways.
Obviously I'm older now, more self-aware, and I like to think wiser. The only of those three that is guaranteed is the most former so I do take some pride in the work I've put into becoming a better human being.
What hasn't changed though is my passion for being alive, the romantic relationship I still have with the world (for better or worse), my propensity towards introspection, which may have deepened to a fault, and finally, the same melancholy that follows me from continent to continent like a shadow long after the sun as set.
It's a wistfulness I've been told can be seen in my eyes. It's not something I deem categorically bad by any stretch. In fact, I think melancholy is a wiser, more informed, and optimistic type of sadness that isn't even all together sad. It just is. It can even lead to greater consciousness and a heightened sense of compassion for others and the world if you allow it to.
I'll savor my last day here in Coimbra. I'll rise early, walk far, and discover much about this city, and hopefully, a little more about myself along the way.