By Howard R. Wolf
I first came to Cascais in Portugal many years ago as an American college student with literary aspirations.
I had read Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” set in Spain, and John Dos Passos’ “The Best Times: An Informal Memoir.” Dos Passos’ grandfather, Manoel dos Passos, emigrated to America from the town of Ponto do Sol on the island of Madeira.
I knew that Henry James and T.S. Eliot had gone to England and F. Scott Fitzgerald to France, so I formed a linkage in my mind between being an American creative writer and travel abroad. When a late uncle invited me to be his chauffeur for a year’s grand tour, I happily accepted.
I recall – sitting at a café in Cascais on a sunlit day with sailboats circling in the harbor – making a list of some of the stories that I wanted to write in the future, to say nothing of the “great American novel.”
Little did I know that I was setting out on a long voyage with many setbacks. Setbacks came early in the form of rejection slips.
And there were many of them between the ages of 21, when I first submitted short stories for possible publication, and my first acceptance in my late 20s, when I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan.
But when those rejection slips arrived, I looked back to the young man for whom Cascais and Portugal meant “adventure” and “discovery,” not unlike the country’s own history, and I refused to let him down.
When I sold my first story for $25, I made a collage out of a collection of my accumulated rejection slips with an image of a balloon ascent in the middle, as if to say, “Farewell to a sense of failure.”
But I wasn’t convinced really that there would be more acceptances, even as there were many of them in the years to follow.
Still, I didn’t have a book, and I felt incomplete. It wasn’t easy to be a professor of English in the University at Buffalo’s distinguished department if you weren’t “between covers.”
It took me many years to write a book that fulfilled some of that young man’s dreams, “Forgive The Father: A Memoir of Changing Generations.”
I say “some” because it took many years to realize that writers tend to feel incomplete, no matter how many books they may have written. It comes with the territory and may be a precondition for creativity, but I didn’t know this back then.
I never forgot my debt to Cascais, where nature and culture meet so harmoniously and give inspirational meaning to the phrase “aesthetic form.”
As it turns out, my brother moved to Portugal many years ago. He has lived in quite a few places, but none more lovely than Cascais, and when I have visited him in recent years, I have been able to do some writing in a hotel near the Bairro Arte, including contributions to its Journal, C.
“Forgive The Father” ends with an imagined photograph in which a family, separated by circumstance, comes together in a group photograph.
The other day, many members of that family actually took a family photograph together on a veranda in Cascais.
I thought of circles: the shape of the harbor, my literary ambitions, my family’s history and Portugal’s renewed sense as a country for people of all religions.
This sense of life as a circumnavigation might have emerged elsewhere, but it became a reality for me in Portugal.