The Portugal Adventure – The Rain in Spain

http://www.greece-map.net/europe.htm if you’d like to map the trip.

On the road - Harry conferring with Tó Figueira. Tó was  one of the young adults who worked with the Americans.
On the road – Harry conferring with Tó Figueira. Tó was one of the young adults who worked with the Americans.

 

On the Road

Ebullient teens crammed  the vans with suitcases and bodies.  The astonished sun blinked  as he peered  over the horizon. Vigorous activity at this early hour seemed indecent.  The babbling of Portuguese language assaulted my sleepy ears.   One year of Spanish in high school did not begin to cover the differences between the countries.


The hot desert held little charm. With the of sunrise it had turned into a sauna. But the heat did not deter the teens. Our boys thrust their heads out of the window and bellowed cat-calls to the girl of each town. Then we stopped at a café for lunch. There was no menu.

I should have ordered whatever every else had. What was meant to be a short stop ended nearly two hours. The rest rooms were the worst  I had ever walked into. I managed to enter and exit without touching anything. I was not sorry to say “adios” to the café.

Tó’s English was good, and he had declared that he would translate the conversations for me. I put too much faith in that promise. The translating began well, but it is exhausting to sustain a conversation in a sometime language.   More frequently, Tó  and Harry were involved in other conversations.Without translations. I found myself listening to a lot of Portuguese.

Madrid

We arrived in Madrid about 9:30 that evening tired and hungry. As I was wondering where we would  find a place that was open. We walked up to a restaurant, and the place was closed. My stomach kind of rumbled. It was a long time since lunch. with the management, they agreed to open early for us. Yes, in Spain, 10 p.m. is an early supper.

The waiter seated us and gave us menus. I now had three languages to field. I recognized “pollo.” Yes, chicken! I jumped on it. Orders made, the Portuguese asked me what I was eating, and that was how I learned that  Portuguese chickens  are “frangos.”  And we waited. A long time.

During the long interval between ordering and the eating,  the Portuguese tried valiantly to converse with the exhausted Americana. They were indefatigable. Finally, someone asked me, “How are you?” slowly, and in Portuguese. I dredged up  my high school Spanish and responded, “Estoy cansada.” (I am tired.”) My interrogator instantly came back with something that the folks around us found hysterically funny. She repeated it again slowly in Portuguese: “Estás cansada, ou casada?” I thought that I was getting a Portuguese language lesson.  But, from the tone of the laughter it occasioned, it had nothing to do with a vocabulary malfunction. It was more like they were laughing at a joke.  And and it was contagious.

I looked to Harry in my best damsel in distress expression. Would you believe that man was still laughing hysterically at this  joke that I did not understand? Finally, he caught his breath, and told me:  “She asked you if you were tired, or married.” A few explanations, and I got the word play: casada =  married and cansada = tired. I laughed again, this time with them. I recognized that  the humor was the right hand of fellowship. I knew then that I could fall with love these people. Who else did I know who could make me laugh even when the joke was on me?

 

The Portugal Adventure – I Love Coffee, I Love Tea

It may have been the seven-hour flight over the Atlantic. Perhaps the loss of seven hours of my life added to it. I was in a place where my ability to speak English fluently was of minimal benefit. Or it could have been the shock of a handshake instead of the expected kiss factored into it.

My senses went on overdrive. It went beyond the whiff of diesel fumes. It was just something for which I had no olfactory memories. To this day, if you were to blindfold me, and open a jar full of Portuguese air under my nose, I would immediately iria começar a falar Português. The language reverberated in my ears. Sounding like a merging of Spanish and French. I kept trying to hear the conversation. Unsuccessfully! The golden orb in the azure sky gently warmed the morning without the harsh summer blast to which I was accustomed in the states.

Harry interrupted my reverie to ask if those two suitcases were all there was of my luggage. When I admitted that they were, he grinned and said, “I’ve never known a woman to travel with so little luggage.” Score? I thought I had brought a lot. It had seemed more than enough as I had dragged it through the airport. Was it meant as a compliment?

We stopped in front of a white car where Harry deposited my bags in the trunk.  As he put the key in the ignition, I noticed the flow of the traffic. The cars were small, and zipping around like they were practicing for Grand Prix of Monaco.  Suddenly, we were in the flow. Harry took me on a roundabout but short sightseeing excursion of which I remember little apart from my white knuckles. Then he announced that we needed to get moving. He was taking me to eat breakfast with some of the Portugal team.

We arrived in good time. As we stepped out of car, the door opened to a warm welcome. The field director’s wife had prepared an attractive continental breakfast which was reposing on the table.

I was the novelty of the month. Harry had a woman in tow, a wonder that no one had ever expected of Harry. And they expected me to talk. Now, nothing renders an introvert more incapable of conversation than a room full of new acquaintances whose curiosity is killing them. But Harry came to my rescue with a diversionary tactic. He asked for a teabag, then picked up the coffee pot and poured coffee it over his teabag.

 

The Portugal Years – Year One: The Summer and the Winter Were the First Year

sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And suddenly, or so it seemed, the year had rolled around to June 30th once again. It had been two eventful years from the time I visited Portugal until our first anniversary. I was comfortably settled with the culture, and could speak well enough to go on with, but my ears…well, the Portuguese words ran past my ears much more quickly than my ears were able to catch them.

Harry, in spite of the landlady’s consternation, had painted the living room. We went to the store to pick a color. I was looking for a very pale peach to lighten up the room. Someone should have warned me. What looked like pale peach on the paint chip became pumpkin pudding on the wall. We lived with it. It made a great conversation starter.

I had become a competent food shopper by listening to and watching the Portuguese women shop. There was fresh produce all year ’round, but winter time was the time for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage – and Harry didn’t care much for them. We got through it with a little cheese sauce poured over them and sometimes a hollandaise sauce.

Soccer barged into my life. I learned that Portuguese boys often learned to kick a soccer ball (futebol in Portuguese) before they could walk. And the aficionados of soccer are even more passionate about the sport than baseball fans in America are about going out to the ball game. I did find it much easier to watch than baseball.

My formal language lessons ended, but learning to speak Portuguese would be an ongoing project. Writing in Portuguese is fraught with its own pitfalls. Written Portuguese is much more formally expressed than in conversation, and requires great care in the writing. Another challenge was that two people in our organization were raised in Brazil. Brazilian Portuguese is less formal. Is it any wonder that people who didn’t know me thought I was Brazilian?

And, of course, Harry and I continued to hold a hope in our hearts that our dream would come to pass. We were ready, but the dream was not. We still had Sammi cat and I wasn’t lonely during the day.

Harry took me to a seafood restaurant in Lisbon to celebrate the first anniversary of our wedding. He had been saving up for quite some time so he could give me a lobster dinner. It was delicious, and we finished the meal with a performance of Cherries Jubilee.

cherries jubilee

The summer and the winter were the first year. And President Jimmy Carter was finishing his last year in office.

 

 

 

 

Have you ever eaten a flaming dessert?  What do you think you would like about Portugal?

 

The Portugal Years – Year One: Life is Very Daily

It may have been Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote in one of her stories that the the ordinary days give little about which to write, and so was the first half of 1980. The first baby in our organization was born during that first year, and was the darling of us all. (We were all young couples.)

In addition, I began to understand about 30% of the Portuguese language when people talked to me – and what to ask if I didn’t understand. I became accustomed to the church services where people were on time when they arrived 10 minutes past the appointed hour to begin and continued to be on time when they arrived up to 45 minutes late. (And it is a form of being “on time” that I continue to treasure.) Toddlers and young children were permitted to wander around during the service with impunity. Unless they went too far, in which case a parent would grab them by the ear.

I took the bus to my weekly tutoring session at Dona Isabel’s home and learned how to wrestle with Portuguese verbs and win. I insisted to Harry that if we traveled on a double-decker bus, we must ride on the top. That rule lasted until the time we nearly missed our exit due to crowding.

Some days we just wandered around the Baixa (“by-sha” the area of Lisbon that was destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1755). There were stores and other places to explore. We never left our money where it could be easily snatched, and our eyes were always open.

It was normal for a man to sidle up to Harry and offer us a Rolex watch for the unbelievably low price of $5. This is when you do not make eye contact and just kept on going. Another time, we came across some women (who may or may not have been Romanies) hawking hand embroidered tablecloths. Harry stepped up and treated me to a masterful lesson on haggling.

Spring turned into summer and my Portuguese lessons were over. I had hoped for another year studying the language, but the money was wanted for expanding the ministry of the organization. That being the case, Harry and I began to turn our thoughts to another shared dream, a dream of hearing the patter of little feet in our home.

tablecloth

The Portugal Years – Year 1: Our First Christmas

Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted Chestnuts

In November, the weather was rainy and cold. Black umbrellas, black clothes and long nights were the new normal. We moved from fall into winter. Few Portuguese homes had insulation, and none that I knew of had central heating.

I started baking more often to keep the house warm. There was a portable gas heater, but I was concerned about it using up all the oxygen. We layered our clothes according to the temperature. Our tea kettle whistled often and we made tea. Being newlyweds, we didn’t need a good excuse for extra cuddling for warmth. And that was when we learned not to combine making tea with, um, cuddling.

One liter of milk
One liter of milk

By mid-December long lines of people were waiting patiently for their bacalhau (dried codfish).  Boiled dried codfish is a Portuguese Christmas tradition.  That year it was scarce.

The cows went dry in December as was their custom. Until then, we had been buying fresh milk in disposable plastic bags. Our only milk resource after that was boxes of milk with a shelf life. That was a shock to my culinary expectations.

chestnuts roasting
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

There were comforts for the season. One was roasted chestnuts. The smell of them roasting was a come hither fragrance. I’d never had them before, I but took to them like an ant does to sugar. Along the streets the vendors had their little brazier of chestnuts. They were an inexpensive treat that came wrapped in a paper cone, satisfied your hunger and warmed your hands.

About a week before Christmas, Harry borrowed a car and we went looking for a Christmas tree. We found a long-needled pine tree that we thought would look nice in our apartment. The ceiling was high, so we picked a tall tree. Too tall as it turned out. We cut it down, but it still brushed the ceiling. The next job was to decorate. All we had was a handful of ornaments that my former students had given me. What we did have were hidden in the pine needles. But, as long as Harry had his favorite cookies, he was good.

I was looking forward to the holiday break from language school. I had plans to read  books, play with my Samantha cat and just kick back. Didn’t happen. Right before Christmas day, Harry announced that he was coming home with a family of Americans who had just arrived. They would be working with a missions organization in Portugal and needed somewhere to stay until they found a place to live.

They were some of the most delightful folks I have ever met, but I was selfish. I really didn’t want to share our first Christmas together with anyone. Eventually, I got over it. Mostly. It wasn’t long until we become friends with them. But Harry and I did talk about how important it is to make sure that we communicate with each other before making major decisions. (We still haven’t agreed the definition of “major decision”.)

One other memorable thing happened that winter. In December, color television came to Portugal. And color TV created a revolution. When the favorite Brazilian dramas turned up in living color, the women’s clothing industry began to sell lighter, brighter clothing. And there I sat with all of my new dark wardrobe. 😀

Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera
Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera

What is your most memorable holiday that you’ve experienced? Why? (It can be any holiday, not just Christmas.)

pine

The Portugal Years – Year One, Language Pitfalls

language puzzles
The Language Puzzle

Learning a new language is fraught with hazards. Not only is it a case of learning what to say, but also what not to say and how to say it (or not.) Your ears are learning to tune in to an unknown audio channel. Your brain is learning how to receive and send.

Then, there is grammatical gender. Nouns, in some languages, are male or female. (German adds a neutral gender.) When you’ve gotten past the obviously gendered nouns, they throw in the word, “photo.” It looks like what you would have every reason to believe is masculine. Nope. It’s from the Greek language so it’s feminine. Once you have all of that figured out you may think, “By George! I think I’ve got it.” That’s a dangerous thought.

Enter:  the idioms. About the time you can translate 60% of what people say, that is the day that something new will come up. You translate it correctly, and you still do not understand what was said.  Word for word you let the phrase roll around in your head while you are trying to make sense of what you heard. Oops. You’ve just tripped over an idiom. Don’t break your head worrying over the words. Just ask the nearest native speaker to explain it.

One member of our team, who shall forever remain nameless, had a real aptitude for language bloopers. I should hand that gutsy person an award. While I was waiting to open my mouth until I could speak Portuguese perfectly, this person just plowed right in. In so doing, this colleague offered an unending source of amusement to both Portuguese and English-speaking people. Following are some of the verbal glitches I remember.

The team had been invited to supper at the home of one of the board members of our group after church one Sunday night. Our hostess gave us a tour of their home. When we got to the kitchen, the unnamed team member wanted to compliment her on her kitchen. What came out of the person’s mouth was not “kitchen” but the slang term for the part of her body on which she sits.

Another time our heroic team member meant to remark on a young woman’s sunburned neck. The remark ended up being about a similar sounding word but meant peach. Not neck.

Then there was the time this person was in a classy restaurant trying to order a bowl of a particular kind of ice cream. Unfortunately, what came out translated to ice cream which had been urinated on.

The classic one, though, happened in a teen Bible study. Our friend’s tongue got  twisted as said friend tried unsuccessfully many times to say the word, “penalized.” I’ll leave you think about that.

The Portugal Chronicles – Year One: Of the Learning of the Language

faculdade de letras
Faculdade de Letras (The College of Languages or Letters)
My diploma
My diploma

My husband still likes to tell his story about his first day in Portuguese language

English-Portuguese Dictionary
English-Portuguese Dictionary

school in Lisbon. The University of Lisbon offered  a course of Portuguese for Foreigners (Português para Estrangeiros) taught by a native speaker of the language. There were people from many countries in the class. Harry fortified himself with two words and a phrase that he was certain would keep him out of trouble: Sim (yes) Não (No) and Eu não sei. (I don’t know.)

The first day in class he learned that the teacher spoke only Portuguese and French. Imagine learning a second language from a teacher that did not speak your first language! She began by asking each student a question. Harry was flummoxed. When his turn came, he went with “Eu não sei.” The teacher’s angry response needed little translation. Afterward, the Dutch woman sitting next to him leaned over and said, “She asked you what your name is.”

Harry’s error helped me be prepared.  However, trying to learn a language from someone who knew no English, and whose language you don’t speak, is challenging at best. Learning the words is easy. Picking up on all of the nuances, idioms and slang may take years. You haven’t really arrived until you stop translating in your head before you talk, you dream in the second language and you are able to understand the puns.

Textbook
Textbook

Fortunately, I also had a private tutor during that first year, Dona Isabel. Her mother was English, and she spoke both languages fluently. I spent an hour each week with her. My only fear was of her terrifying Chihuahua, “Sniff” whose stentorian barking began when I buzzed my teacher’s apartment, and subsided into disgruntled growls for the duration of the hour. Agatha Christy’s books that were translated into Portuguese were my other “tutors.”

 I was speaking basic, simple Portuguese well at the end of six months, but I still had a hard time hearing when someone spoke to me. Harry had no trouble hearing the language at first, but struggled with correct pronunciation.  The first year was the most difficult, especially because I knew how to ask the right questions but had to ask over and over to understand the answers. It was four years before I felt comfortable praying in Portuguese. And, oddly enough,  sometimes I still use Portuguese when it expresses my thoughts better than English. 

Learning a new language, and immersing yourself in a new culture is a humbling experience. It will change who you are – and how you see the world – probably forever.

Portuguese verbs
Portuguese verbs