Thursday, May 20, 2010

La lingua

Today, I went with Ronaldo to the Portuguese language museum in a beautiful train station near downtown.

The museum was amazing and modern and a wet dream for grammar nerds. It features interactive exhibits about accents, common phrases, cliches, grammar and the evolution of the language. There's also a phenomenal video presentation in a room where the video surrounds visitors on all sides.

I couldn't understand all of the poetry and only a fraction of the exhibits I saw, but it was impressive all the same. I found the exhibit about the evolution of the language especially interesting.

It's crazy to me that this is a completely separate language and that when I hear it without listening to it, it almost sounds Asian, yet I'm able to understand so much of it. It's not just a cousin, but more like a brother to Spanish.

Before the museum, Ronaldo and I went to the Sao Paulo governor's palace and had a tour. Our guide took us and a Colombian man through the marble halls. She spoke only Portuguese, yet the Colombian man never seemed to have trouble following what she told us and I only had to ask Ronaldo for clarification a few times.

So many of the words are the same, though many are different. The way they're said, however, is different enough to make me feel like I'm on the other side of a mirror trying to make sense of backward Spanish.

I usually turn into a seemingly stupid mute any time I think I might be asked to communicate here.

When I was in Santiago, I had a week of incredibly interesting Spanish classes with Hernan, who talked to me about the evolution of language. He explained that the emperor of the territory that would later be known as Spain gave Portugal to his younger son as a wedding gift in 1100. The older son maintained control of the rest of the territory. That physical division, Hernan told me, would solidify the division in the language. He added that Spain is actually home to several different languages and you can't call it Spanish there without getting in trouble. It's Castellano, he said.

The museum today didn't argue that Spanish and Portuguese are any more closely related than Spanish and French.

I've enjoyed my time in Sao Paulo and I've seen it from angles I don't think most people do. Ronaldo took me around by car, by subway and by foot. He's seen several places during my visit that he'd never been to before. It's a huge, huge, sprawling city.

The food is great. I've had coxinha, a batter and fried chicken in soft dough, and pao de quejo, cheese bread. They are two of my favorites, along with acai (ah-say-ee), a sorbet made from a sort of dusty-tasting red fruit that Ronaldo said he's never seen in fruit form.

We leave early tomorrow morning on a flight to Lima, Peru with plans to see Machu Picchu and Bolivia. Yet another two-week bite out of this adventure.

I've loved my time here and my Portuguese experiment, but I do so look forward to again feeling competent and intelligent in a place where I can speak the language with relative confidence.

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