I hopped off my bicycle and walked it into the train station in Porto, Portugal, to look at the walls. This would be an odd thing to do in most cities but my daughter and son-in-law and I were on a cycling tour of Porto and our guide had insisted this was one sight we must not miss. He was right. I’d been in train stations before—lots of them—but never had I seen one decorated with such elaborate tilework. Porto is known for its beautiful tilework in general and my week there earlier this year almost had my head swiveling as I tried to take in the beauty of the tiles that had been carefully applied to the churches, stores and private buildings around the city centre.
But it was the tiling around the train station walls that affected me most. Build in 1916, the walls of the Sao Bento Station show the stories of battles, royal glory, and the history of transportation.
I imagined how many stories had begun through the centuries as someone walked past these glorious tile paintings to their platform—as they left a lover, started a job, joined a family member or fought a war. How many tears had been shed as someone said good-bye to a loved one or said hello to a strange new town? I thought of the joyful reunions that had taken place within these walls and the hopeful prayers that had been silently uttered. Hundreds of thousands of people have walked past these tiled walls; some of them have marveled at their artistry and probably some of them have barely given them a passing glance.
I thought of the artist, Jorge Colac, who had designed the scenes depicted on these tiles and the precision required to create each single one of the 20,000 tiles that adorned the walls. This was a massive project, and one that must have taken years to complete. Was the mastermind behind this work of art lauded for his or her efforts? Had the mayor of Porto cut a ribbon or ordered a feast to mark this accomplishment?
There are probably endless stories that could be told about this landmark site in Porto, Portugal, stories that would stir our hearts and inspire us to greater achievements. Most, if not all of them, are lost to the mists of time, lived —but not captured in words; experienced—but not recorded for posterity. That’s why the world needs writers. Writers capture a culture’s stories and keep them alive. The good ones give these stories a context and a meaning, and they touch an emotional chord inside their readers that resonates long after the book is closed or the e-reader has been turned off.
I thought of all of these things and more as I stood and marveled at the walls of the Porto train station. And after a while I hopped back on my bicycle and rode away. There would be more unwritten stories floating in the streets of Porto that week. If I looked, I would find the ones that I most wanted to capture in words, myself. I hopped on my bike and headed off into the city again.