Category Archives: Language

Saudade

Portugal.

I had ignorantly thought of the Iberian nation as the jealous little brother of Spain. I used to imagine it looked, sounded and tasted just like its neighbor but with a funny accent and a smaller bite to the wallet.

To say I was wrong would be the understatement of the year.

Portugal is home to heart wrenching Fado music, sweet Port wine and the most beautiful tiled buildings I’ve ever seen in my life. I can still see skyline draped behind a glass of vintage Niepoort and the elongated “s” in words like vamos(h). It was love at first sight and sound. Much like my hometown, Detroit, there are areas that are dilapidated and not quite picturesque. There are streets where the charming white cobblestone becomes cumbersome as they unhinge from the ground beneath you. There are buildings with hand painted tiles cracking and chipping to the point that they could be considered dangerous.

But it’s beautiful. Really Beautiful.

It might even be possible that more people speak English here than in Catalonia. And word to the wise, do not try to speak Spanish here unless you actually are a native speaker and do not know a word of English. It’s a little impolite.

We were lucky enough to see the two most visited cities in the country, that also happen to be rivals — Porto and Lisbon.

In Porto, we learned the Inquisition origins of my favorite Portuguese dish, alheira, and visited the bookstore lauded to be one of the most beautiful shops in the world. Missing the morning tour we had planned on turned out to be a blessing when we decided to climb the Clérigos tower. Not being a regular fan of climbing endless medieval stairs, I must admit this was one of the best parts of the trip. The structure boasts the most beautiful aerial view of the city and it does not dissappoint! And thankfully, great physical effort deserves great libations. We quickly learned why it only takes one glass of vinho do porto wine to send you into bliss…ethanol and methanol make a good team. And when the average meal costs only five euros, no wonder JK Rowling wanted to live here…

In Lisbon, our excitement grew exponentially. Big cities always make my eyes grow wide and this one was no different. Above all else, Lisbon has the best chestnuts I’ve ever tasted in my life. Ever. Hands down. And my family makes them every year. They are one of my favorite Mediterranean staples. Trust me, eat them in Portugal. They use something that looks like a North African tagine with two handles to roast them in and a pulverized salt that coats the shell and makes them appear white. Fantastic. I bought a second serving. (And a third.)

I’ve tried to find an adequate explanation of their technique online, but to no avail. Ahh, oh well…assim é a vida. Maybe the mystery is part of its allure.

Rest assured, we did more than just snack in this beautiful city…tram rides, castle explorations, and ginjinha tastings took up most of the day. That night, we walked quizzically down hilly streets and dark alleys until we finally found Tasco do Chico in famed Bairro Alto. The bar had come recommended to us as a great place to listen to local music by many Lisboetas. In the crowded, smoky bar, we didn’t notice anything at first. No stage, no central focal point, no music. Finally, I saw a guitarist just before a woman came to dim the lights. With my history of classical music and vocal performance, I was nothing short of amazed. This was some of the most beautiful music I had ever heard. This was the reason I began singing so long ago.

After three songs, the lights came back on and the crowd whistled. It was truly emotive and truly art.

Our last day was nothing short of somber. Vowing to return and learn portuguese, we sadly departed the country with the momentary satisfaction of knowing we had seen all the customary tourist sites and tasted almost every national delicacy, but still we wanted more.

Portugal is such an enchanting place, they even have a word to describe missing it. Saudade. It means a deep state of nostalgia and longing.

Exactly.

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A Day in the Life of a Spanish Import…

I begin my day usually with the sound of clinking dishes, pouring water and hearing-impaired television seeping in through my window. I wake up, get dressed and head to class. I take the train because, sadly, I have yet to master the art of telepathic bus riding, as the stops saunter by unannounced. Not a bad tradeoff, though, as I’ve never waited more than three minutes for a train, something every Chicagoan would deem a miracle. A coffee, however, might cost you as much as four whole minutes to perfect.

A half hour and a sixty cent café amb llet later, I am in Economics class. It took eighteen months to get here but I am here. In Barcelona. Finally.

Let me tell you about Spain…The women are golden and curly haired, the men are dark and handsome. Moped riders are almost evenly split between genders, suit-cladden and otherwise, and it seems an almost unwritten law that every home deserves a balcony.  Every morning, the streets are sprayed with water to clean the previous day’s debris at just about the same time the Spaniards return from a night out. These people love to socialize and I am finding it more and more alluring to take the afternoon nap in an effort to keep up with them.

It isn’t out of the ordinary to see some light love making on the beach, nor walk home from Mercadona with a two foot long fuet sausage gently poking out of your bag. It isn’t out of the ordinary to stop what you’re doing at any time for a coffee break, or to hear lions groaning during all hours of class in Ciutadella…another comical reminder that you are not in Kansas anymore. It is strange to be in a hurry here. The Spanish stride is one of observance and existentialism, to put it delicately. Pedestrians of all ages and size stroll the avignudas and carrers gingerly and without a sense of time – tolerable on a Sunday, infuriating on a Monday.

Like most other European cities, alcohol is cheaper than water and a bakery is always within 100 yards. My diet of pan y vino is treating me well so far, but I fear I will need a real salad soon. Does Protein Bar deliver? Dinner before ten simple isn’t Spanish, but my American stomach doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Snacking is vital.

After a whole day of classes and studying in the Dipòsit de les Aigüesa renovated labrynth of arches designed by Josep Fontserè and calculated by Antoni Gaudi, I head home. Students, couples and tourists accompany me on the commute and I begin to feel like I fit in. Even if its just a little.

Tomorrow is another day. And in Spain that means more tapas, more wine, and more animals roaring to the drone of economic theory.

Nero the Gyro

It was the early morning hours of a Friday seeping into Saturday when I decided to head home after a somewhat tame evening out with friends. Dinner with the roomie, networking at my alma mater, and finishing the night off with a few drinks at the bar. The meal was local at a British gastropub famed on the intranet to the likes of Yelp, Zagat and Metromix. It was my idea to try it. The alumni event was fun but rather subdued and the only late night cocktails I ended up entertaining were H, 2, and O.

At campus and later walking around Old Town, I kept feeling a slightly painful, stuffed knot at the bottom of my rib cage, possibly from nostalgia, but most likely from my overly modern, avant-garde Greek gyro and fries. It was basically a fourteen dollar kebab sandwich. I should’ve been suspicious all along. But, I thought I was fine and continued the evening as planned.

After the night had ended, I came home and carefully descended the world’s loudest staircase to the basement unit I had been living in for about a month now. Careful not to wake my roommates, I slowly crept into my quarters and folded the doors shut. I laid down and tried to get comfortable and sleep off the fullness.

At about 4am, a burning feeling in my gut woke me. Salacious tongues of flames were licking at my every organ, traveling as far north as my esophagus and are far south as my nether regions. Fuck. Without delay I scurried from the walk-in closet to the other side of the apartment where the bathroom was.

But it was too late. A Roman candle had been lit and I was to be seared.

In my illness infused delirium, I imagined Nero, ancient emperor, laughing and singing, while my body writhed in agony. (Food poisoning clearly does not dull an Italophile’s imagination). As I glanced up at the mirror, I saw the palest marble skin I’d ever seen stare back at me with a devastated set of lavender lips dropped open. I instantly crumpled to the floor, waiting for the wave of nausea to pass.

I’ll burn it down, I’ll burn it down, And build my palace on the same ground…

It’s just a legend but anything can have power if at least one person believes it to be true. And right then, I believed I was being attacked.

I eventually made it back to my chambers and laid as still as a corpse for the next few hours. By daybreak, I was desperate to fight back. Not one to be defeated, I quickly filled up as much as I could tolerate on Gatorade, saltine crackers and Ibuprofen.

Take that.

The hours coalesced into one big feverish haze with a smattering of FIFA penalty kicks and House Hunters International. I sunk right into bed like a gladiator worn out from battle.

The next morning, it seemed my tactical response had worked. No fever or quite so many belly aches, but still a few sparks every so often. I settled on the couch and decided to focus my mind again on the TV, but kept my senses alert for any surprise attacks.

Drifting in and out of sleep, I imagined I saw him again, slithering between the fridge and kitchen and softly sneaking up behind the antique green leather chair to see if he could stoke the remaining embers…

I sat up and decided one final blow was necessary to squash this tyrant and take back control of my own body. Four pills and half a ginger ale later, all was quiet. I sat in vigil for the next couple hours and thankfully did not hear any voices nor footsteps. I peeled myself off the couch and melted into bed.

The following day, I was completely healed. Veni, vidi, vici. Cured. Liberated. Cleansed.

Just in time to go back to work.

 

Glossophile

A close AmeriCorps friend from college once said to me, “I chose it [Alaska] because I knew it would be difficult and I knew I would be uncomfortable at first, but if I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not growing.”

Last night, I attended a conversation meetup at my old language school in Logan Square. It felt maravilloso to speak Spanish again! I felt myself grow more confident with each sentence and really enjoyed the other students. It was also a great reminder that you have to push yourself and more importantly, put yourself in seemingly uncomfortable situations in order to grow and improve as a person.

I love Spanish. I love all Latin cultures, actually – European and American. But more than that, I love languages in general. If I could give myself any super power, it would be to be a polyglot.

Thus begins the third part of my slogan:

“Glossophilia is a love of language, either foreign or native. The term refers to people with a love for language and the structure of language. Glossophiles also dedicate themselves to the learning of foreign languages and intensely study as many languages as possible.”

I was lucky enough to start foreign language training when I was in 5th grade, something rare in the U.S., but have yet to reach a level of fluency I would be proud of. In America, it can definitely be an English desert if you want it to be. We’re not forced to speak anything else and we’re such a large country, that you have to be on a border to even be fully aware that there is another country, with another language just over yonder, so yes, the traffic signs and currency will be different. Where a Frenchman can drive 3-4 hours and be eating pasta in Italy and parla italiano, or being skiing in Switzerland and spricht Deutsch, I can drive 4 hours from Chicago and go to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, all states that predominantly speak English. Again, there are a lot of immigrants in the major metropolitan areas, but you will never get the full “immersion” experience if you live in and are surrounded my English speaking regions (And yes, I’m counting Canada there).

So what to do then?

I have always been jealous of my peers who grew up in a bilingual household. Their conversation skills just seemed to flow so instinctively, like there was a whole other secret society I was not privy to, but wanted so desperately to be a part of. I had to study more and try harder to find people to practice with, but I loved it. Self-discipline really is the key to learning any new skill.

I’ve studied Spanish for over 10 years, Italian for over 2 years and briefly attempted Polish one summer. I love all of them. I would love to try Turkish, Farsi, Portuguese, Russian…and the list would go on and on. Sadly, though I pick up on foreign languages more easily than the average person, I have neither the time nor resources to fully commit to all of my aspirations. It’s always better to pick one rather than spread yourself too thin, right?

So for now, sólo español.

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*Some food for thought for those other glossophiles out there when choosing a new language to try:

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