Saudade: that sweet sense of sadness


For journalist Olivia Gagan, returning to the neighborhood in London, UK, where she’d once lived and worked left her with feelings of nostalgia and longing. The Portuguese have a word for it: ‘saudade’.

When I returned this year, nearly a decade had passed. It had changed a great deal: the people and the buses still rolled endlessly down the street, but the area had become sleeker, more gentrified, more upmarket. Funky little coffee spots now occupy the spaces where the hole-in-the-wall newsagents and Indian candy shops used to be. New and wildly expensive apartment blocks have replaced dusty, dirty Victorian warehouses.

Glass Tower

I noticed these things while wobbling on a chair outside a coffee stand, trying to discreetly wrestle a pair of heels onto my feet. I didn’t have much time to think about all these transformations: I was in a rush to get to a meeting. I had to impress a new potential client who worked on the top floor of a gleaming glass tower that didn’t even exist when I had lived in the neighborhood, and I forgot my sense of nostalgia as soon as I walked into this fancy office.

But when the client later took me on a tour to admire the views from the top of the building, I was overcome with a wave of a very specific emotion. Looking down at the street, separated from it by a thick sheet of glass, tears suddenly started to well up in my eyes.

It felt like getting hit with an intoxicating memory—with a deep aftertaste of sadness. It was a strange feeling. A longing for something, a place, a time, along with the strong sense that what I was missing had gone, that I couldn’t go back. Everything had changed.

  • You can find the whole story ‘That sweet sense of sadness’ in Issue 30.

Text Olivia Gagan Photography Vivek Kumar/

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