Azulejo is a lovely Portuguese word that rolls off the tongue in a way that its English translation “tile” just doesn’t. But in Portugal the azulejo is much more than a tile, it is iconic of Portuguese culture. For centuries, azulejos have embellished Portuguese castles, churches, monasteries, palaces, fountains, parks and train stations. They are even honored in museum in Lisbon Museu Nacional do Azulejo.
Until I met my husband Terry, an American of Portuguese descent, I knew nothing at all about azulejos. As a child, Terry told me, he would spend holidays with his grandparents in their very old house house in Lisbon. He loved everything about it – including a wall panel of blue and white azulejos — a scene of cherubs, pillars, vases and vines. Cherubs weren’t really Terry’s thing but, given their provenance, he loved these.
When his grandmother died in 1980, her estate was divided among Terry’s mother and her siblings. Part of the inheritance was the panel of azulejos from the house in Lisbon–88 tiles in all–each individually wrapped and packed into five cardboard boxes.
Knowing how much Terry loved Portugal, his mother offered the azulejos to him–a gift he accepted gladly. Whether or not he had the appropriate wall for them was another matter. His rustic house in Vermont was hardly the place for 18th century tiles. So, he stored them in a closet until 1984, when he moved to California. He shipped the boxes to his new home, where he was sure he’d find a place for the panel. But the next several years were busy ones and the five boxes remained in the basement.
By 1996, Terry was ready to move back east. True to form, he shipped the azulejos along with everything else to his new house in Massachusetts. Surely he’d find a place for the cherubs on a wall in a house there. But in 2001, before he had a chance to mortar a single tile in place, Terry met me and life changed dramatically for both of us. Once again, he loaded a moving van with books, dishes, carpets, artwork, furniture and azulejos and joined me in a funny little ranch house in Silver Spring, Maryland, much too small to accommodate a wall panel from Portugal. So the tiles lived in the garage.
In 2005, Terry and I moved — taking Terry’s five boxes with us, of course–to Cumberland, Maryland, where we lived in what had been a dilapidated commercial building in the historic downtown. Before Terry had a chance to install the tiles, however, we moved again, this time to an old Amish farm in Pennsylvania. A beautiful, but small, farm house next to a red barn. Nothing about it called out for azulejos. Terry carted the tiles into storage, where he figured they’d probably remain forever. And then . .
In September 2019, while on a short vacation with friends in Portugal, we fell in love with a little Portuguese village in the Alentejo near the Spanish border– Porto da Espada. By December, we were shipping all our worldly goods, including, yes, five boxes of Portuguese tiles, to await our arrival the following April.
Then COVID-19 happened. While we waited for the world to return to normal, Terry’s azulejos were piled in a corner of the oficina – his basement workshop.
It was another year – mostly in lock-down — before we could get help with renovating the house. For weeks men were climbing scaffolding, troweling stucco, and painting.
As I stood looking up at the back of the house where work was taking place, Terry asked, smiling, “Where should we put the azulejos?” YES!! This was the house, the perfect site for a panel of blue and white tiles.
Stone masons (pedreiros) are in short supply, even in Portugal, and when you find them they are all busy. So it took a while to get any work started. But finally last week . . . Senhor Felipe and his crew appeared at our door early Sunday with mortar, buckets, drop cloths and trowels in hand. “Onde estão os azulejos?” Senhor Felipe asked. “So, where are the tiles?”
By dinner time, the panel of azulejos–cherubs, pillars, vases and vines–from Terry’s ancestral home were mortared onto the terrace wall of our little house in Portugal .
It took forty years, but the azulejos are at last where they belong, and . . . so is Terry.
What a lovely outcome!
It truly is.
I so love this story! Keep it going!
Thanks for your encouragementy, Jill! I will!!
Amazing story and thanks for teaching us all that beautiful word, azulejos. Those tiles have been all over the U.S. Maybe the cherubs should be wearing baseball hats? 😉 Hugs, Alison
Yes, Alison, you’re probably right. Every cherub would do well to sport a snazzy baseball cap!! Thanks so much for reading . . . and Commenting! As you know, I LOVE comments!! Hugs,
Thank you for this lovely story with such a sweet and meaningful ending. So much symbolism in the journey.
Thank you, Robin. Delighted that you liked it!
How wonderful! I’m looking forward to seeing them soon.
Another great story, Jerri.
Thanks, Kate! Can’t wait to see you and share them in person!
What a beautiful story!! And with a perfect ending. 💕
Thank you, Jean! Won’t be too long before you’ll see these t
Much traveled tiles in person!
This azulejo panel is magnificent! So glad that Terry has found the perfect home for it; and what a wonderful story you have told of its journey.
It is, isn’t it? And I’m so happy you enjoyed the journey! Thank you, Pat!
I love this story, and am so pleased for you that you’ve managed to incorporate this piece of Terry’s history and all the memories that likely come with it into your beautiful home in Portugal. Para uma vida feliz!
Obrigada, Mark! The Azulejos in their proper place maje us feel even more at home here. So glad you enjoyed the story!
This is wonderful!! Those tiles have done more traveling than most people. Love this!!
Thank you so much, Beverly! They have indeed. Can’t wait to have you see them for yourself!
The poor lost tiles wandering the world looking for a home only to come full circle. A fabulous story.
Thank you, Vivienne! These tiles have made us very happy here in Portugal. They’ve made it feel much more like home.
Thank you, Jerri for sharing such a personal story. Sometimes in life… if we remain patient… life has a perfect conclusion!
I’m an optimist by nature, Patricia, and I love happy endings! Not all endings are happy, but yes . . . this one makes me (and you, I hope!) very happy. All the best,
I am very moved by this story; it is the perfect response to people who say,” why are you still holding on to…..?” whatever meaningful objects we take with us whenever we move (or hold on to even when we don’t ever move). And the azulejos are sublime.
They are, aren’t they? (I love the word”sublime” but rarely use it–that you for reminding me. Thank you too for sharing your reaction to the story, Krystyna.
A beautiful story, even if I already knew much of it. Fascinating the way that certain objects carry histories, as well as people, in their wake. So for all the clearing out and tossing away we have to do, some things are well worth lugging from place to place until they find, or re-find, their home.
Thanks so much for this, Tim.
I think memories are like that, as well. Some we just have to lug around with us for decades until we can find a new home for them. And eventually pass them on to others . . . who might be able to make their own sense of them!
Haha! Finally the Azulejos have found their rightful place in the world. Lucky tiles! I feel like I have traveled a little bit with those tiles through our many years of “sisterhood”… So happy that they look so perfect on the wall of your gorgeous house. They have come home and some day, we also will run our hands across the cool, smooth blueness!
I love your description “cool, smooth blueness.” Yes . . . the tiles are definitely home. And we are so glad!!
I knew the story…the abridged version, anyway, but now you’ve provided the local color to make us all fall in love with the Azulejos (and with Terry…as if we needed any more reason to do so!) Can’t wait to see them properly installed in your beautiful house!
And we can’t wait to have you here to see them properly installed. Thank you for your of the tiles, the words, and . . . Terry (!) of course!! We miss you!!
Ahhhh yes, as all have said, such a wonderful and meaningful and satisfying story. A resonant tale of a life journey. Enjoy your adventures – big and small – in your lovely locale!
Thank you, Paige. It truly is an adventure!