November 20, 2014

Writing With All The Senses

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

High above the city of Lisbon rest the ancient site of St George Castle. St George is a beautiful and impressive fortress that stands watch over the Tagus River and the valley behind. To reach the fortress one must travel through the narrow streets of Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood that lies between the castle and the water. You must work your way to the top to experience the beautiful view of the city, the river and the Ponte 25th of April Bridge.

I had the pleasure of enjoying these views during lunch at the castle. It was indeed breath taking. The river, where all the great explorers launched to discover the trade routes to the east, looks more like a bay. The Ponte 25th of April Bridge has such a close resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge it is referred to as Lisbon’s Golden Gate. The designs are indeed similar. And most breathtaking of all is the city itself with its many houses with red roofs. It is a beautiful and historic sight indeed.

The sights are available on many websites and all photos are excellent representations of the sites. I took many photos while I was there but none were planned nor as well done as what I have enjoyed on these sights. But there is one thing I have that cannot be shared in a photo and that is the physical experience of traveling there. The true feel of the city must be experienced firsthand.

We arrived on June 11th which is the day after Portugal Day. This is the day in which all citizens and Portuguese Immigrants around the world celebrate their nationality. This is the day of the death of their nation’s great poet Luis de Camoes. Camoes wrote what is considered the greatest work of Portuguese History and the great feats of the Portuguese Empire. The celebration was the day before but the after party effects were in the streets.

Apparently the Portuguese have cookouts on their National Holiday like the Americans do on our National Holiday. But unlike the Americans, that cook burgers and hot dogs, the Portuguese cook sardines on the grill. Tasty I’m sure but the smell the following day engulfed the neighborhood. Smelly as it was it was not a deterrent to our travels.

The Alfama neighborhood was a beautiful area. Unlike the downtown area of Lisbon with its international flavor, it had the feel and appearance of the traditional old world Lisbon. The people were friendly and open and ready with a nod or wave. We happened upon a wedding and lingered to watch the excitement and joy of the family. A beautiful bride and a large gathering was a joy to see.
Once you reached the top you could feel the summer breeze and hear the sounds of the city rising up. I could feel it was a moment to remember and I have done so many times since. As beautiful as the sights are, I think it took all the senses to establish that moment in my mind.

Having been fortunate to travel and share my experiences I have noticed that showing pictures of your travels tends to have the same effect of seeing the old slide show of our neighbor’s summer vacation. Many of us have suffered through those. I now realize although we see the great photos and see their excitement we have not experienced being there. It takes the combination of all the senses to get the full effect.

The same is true for us as writers. We need to write with all the senses. We must not only paint the picture but we need to allow our readers to smell the roses, feel the breeze, hear the sounds and enjoy the celebration. I am not saying we must spend page after page describing in great detail each and every scene but make the reader aware of their surroundings in the story. If we do this we can establish a moment in their mind. Hopefully it will be a moment they will remember time and time again.        

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