There is a connection between my study of portuguese language and Covid-19, as now this virus is termed.
In 2020 Italy had been the most plagued nation by this nasty virus which was brooding since the end of 2019 and, at the beginning, we were utterly scared because Covid-19’s DNA was unknown. What is nowadays startling is that – apart deep worries for the sharp increase of gas price and commodities, that should partially be addressed with a suggested European Price Cap – we are not scared with this ongoing illegal, “medieval”, russian war against Ukraine, as we knew – in advance of February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine – the DNA of this current autocratic Russian government. Notwithstanding this, and contradicting Mr. Dmitrij Medvedev’s recent odd declarations – we, as Europeans – had a positive stand towards Russia “before” its invasion of Crimea.
But let us go back to the first pandemy. At its beginning, there weren’t enough masks for the people, because the ones available had been routed to hospitals or medical centers, therefore, when a person was encountering another one, tended to stay distant, or opted to change course altogheter.
Once the scientific committee got the perception of the real danger and informed the Ministry of Health Roberto Speranza, the government immediately imposed a lockdown by decree, and we were allowed to exit from home just once a day for buying groceries or medicines. You needed also to carry with you a printed downloaded form on which you had to write down the pathway you would have trodden.
But, as memory, in the long run, dilutes the hard facts of life, I add hereunder a comment of mine wich has strict relations to 2022 european current affairs, posted on March 29, 2020 on an english newspaper:
“At this dreadful time of the year, from my window, I can hear even tiny early Spring birds singing in the clean sky, and I smell, at any hour of the day aromas of recipes, being prepared in households, hanging in the air and muffling our common uneasiness.
An utter silence everywhere spurs my remembrances, and one of these, is Potus Trump at a press conference lectern, while is sputtering – finally at statutory social distance – or ranting about the World, or berating journalists as “a plague-sore in his body”.
Sometimes his image blurs in another one: Ukraine’s President Zelensky. Both men have been successful entertainers, but while Mr. Volodymyr, still, addresses in his speeches to “Citizens” (link below), Potus Trump has always aimed at “Consumers”. Clear evidence of this is his approved Coronavirus poster, where under the big title “CORONAVIRUS TESTING” a faint line reports: “New Options for Consumers”.
Mr. Trump, in recklessly allowing USA Churches to remain opened on Easter – while Pope Francisco closes them all, hinting that science and religion can coexist – is to remind Evangelists of November 3, 2020 presidential election.
Well then…, portuguese language. As I have hinted above, that 2020 stint in lockdown, spurred me to use time intensely with pleasant chores in order to forget the “bug”. One of these ones was cooking very simple savoury meals (I’m almost a five stars Chef – in the hobbyist category, of course…) and, because good food generally lets you accrue unwanted weight, I did some simple gymnastics exercises.
Another chore was learning portuguese language, aided by a grammar. The one I used was Gramática Ativa by Isabel Coimbra and Olga Mata Coimbra, volume 1 and 2, which include the answers to the exercises. The portuguese they teach is the continental version, that is, the native language spoken in Portugal. As you may already know, portuguese – with some differences in terms and verbs, especially in Brazil – is spoken in various countries, having had Portugal in the past, a primary role in colonizing new lands.
In Africa there are six of these big and small portuguese speaking former colonies: Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissáu, Mozambique, Santo Tomé y Príncipe and Guinea Ecuadorial (in center West-Africa); in the South East Asia there is Timor-Leste, which is a section of the indonesian island Timor. And then Macau, while in the Americas, the only area which had been firmly colonized was current Brazil.
Learning portuguese nowadays can be helped by a plethora of online aids. Among them – free of charge – Reverso which is quite a good translator; it allows you, in the “Context” mode, to input a word, or a short sentence of which it will deliver a translation and, in the same page, also in which contexts that word has been most used. For longer sentences you will have to utilize the “Translation” mode.
Nevertheless, if you wish to memorize this language for a long span of time, you need to look for the origin of that single word which can be found in another link: Meu dicionario. Another useful site is Priberam, which accepts, as the previous mentioned one, only single words, although you won’t find there the origin of that word.
For the verb’s conjugation you can quickly rely on brazilian Bab.la, but be aware that a couple of verbal tenses lack there compared to continental portuguese. Most dictionaries on line – as you may guess – refer to Brazilian portuguese, reflecting the current population disparity between Portugal (10,2 millions) and Brasil (216), therefore, if you wish to peruse all portuguese continental tenses, you shoud get specific Apps: one of these is “Português – Verb forms” by Laura Müller.
Just some words on portuguese humour: it is very different from the European one, due to the peculiar history of Portugal which entrenched itself from the rest of the Continent, avoiding therefore any further genetic and cultural mixing after having defeated – helped by 600 Longbow english archers (acting the like of USA Himars missiles in Ukraine) – the attempted invasion by the neighbouring Castilian kingdom in the Battle of Aljubarrota (1385) fully validating the former Anglo-Portuguese treaty signed in 1373. In 2023, Portugal and England, will celebrate the 650th anniversary of their alliance.
A cartoon by Bartoon – a cartoonist who cooperates with the portuguese daily Público – epitomizes Portugal’s stainless steel cooperation and friendship with England. A patron hails the barman: Bom dia (good morning) and gets a Hello as answer; Hello?! Then you speak english? – So what? Aren’t we a Commonwealth country?
As a matter of fact, Portugal Kingdom was saved by England a second time in 1762, when the lusitanian land was invaded by Spain. And a third time occurred in 1807, during Napoleonic wars. Before the French troops reached the capital, a huge english fleet had moored in front of Lisbon to embark the King and his court to bring them in Brazil where was proclaimed the Reign of Brazil and Algarve – the only portuguese region not occupied by France. No wonder if nowadays Algarve is the preferred tourist resort by English travellers.
Going back to humour, in my opinion, portuguese mood has been affected mainly by the peculiar meteorological nature of this country which gets a constant wind from the Atlantic ocean. As a matter of fact, if you pay attention, you will notice that in every video, at any time of the day, in any season, the wind manifests in the messy hair of the interviewed, in the movements of the leaves in the background’s trees, or in constantly fluttering flags or in sea waves. Well, thousands of years living in such an enviroment, of course, mold your personality and character towards a volatile behaviour.
And this reminds me of my native Messina situated at the confluence of two water basins – Ionian and Tyrrhenian Sea – where, as in Portugal, in the same day you can get bright sunshine, then rain, again sun, then strong winds and, nowadays, in winter, because of Global Warming, even thick fog. An example of how this has molded the inhabitants of the Strait too, is found in the wellknown comedian Nino Frassica, who boasts such a erratic humour so to leave you in awe. Incidentally it is no coincidence that “Restos do Vento” (The remains of the wind) – a work by portuguese Director Tiago Guede, presented at Cannes 2022 – brings such an evocative title.
A friend of mine brought me from Portugal a generous quantity of salted cod (bacalhau). Portuguese use it a lot in their food recipes equating in this, Messineses’ penchant for this healthy fish; the only difference lies in the cod preservation, for which Sicilians prefer the dried cod version (stockfish) soaked in running cold water for a couple of days before cooking it in different ways.
So, for a quick learning of portuguese, you need also to subscribe to a newspaper on line for which I would suggest the above mentioned Público. His current director – Manuel Carvalho – is a dynamic manager who frequently writes editorials covering many aspects of national and international affairs. The newspaper benefits also from a partnership with the Washington Post, therefore you get – translated in portuguese, of course – the most important break-news and essays. Público boasts also many top native columnists of whom I would mention:
Teresa de Sousa, a jounalist “com espírito combativo”, who mostly writes on international affairs, expresses in a very clear portuguese, although sometimes is too prolific on the subject;
Jorge Almeida Fernandes – whose articles should be a must to read – with his column “O Estado das Coisas. Notas sobre o mundo que não compreendemos.” (The states of things. Notes about the world that we do not understand).
António Guerreiro, an intellectual who often writes on topics not deeply scrutinized by the international press; one of his editorial – in September 2022 – was “A sobriedade que aí vem”, The coming sobriety;
João Miguel Tavares, an interesting columnist, to whom though I would recomend to change his front picture where he looks like someone who is disgusted with the world. It would suffice to change the picture with the one he has choosen for Plúblico podcast on Soundcloud “O respeistinho não é bonito”, where you can hear his written articles;
Miguel Esteves Cardoso, a humorist – mother of english stock and father portuguese – therefore you may always get unexpected topics because of his double DNA, which, by the way, stirs a lot of subscribers’s comments; mostly in favor of his thesis on food, portuguese behavior or – when he dares going too far – political issues.
Duarte Costa, a young commentator who recently, in “Eurocepticismo servido à grande e à portuguesa na Assembleia da República”, underlined Portugal’s ambiguous approach to European Union non-compulsory advices. Not surprisingly, Duarte Costa is indirectly supported by a quote in Antonio Tabucchi novel “Afirma Pereira” (Pereira mantains), where a Pereira’s friend tells him not to worry about WWII affecting them too: “Oh, não te preocupes, replicou Silva, aqui não estamos na Europa, estamos em Portugal.”
I could go on for a while listing other Público columnists, but better you discover them subscribing to Público, on which the most important section – as I’ve hinted above – is the “comentário” where subscribers mostly express them in continental portuguese slang, although you can also read o structured comments. And, sometimes no comments at all (as is the case on this Duarte’s article) fully confirms the columnist’ thesis.
Portuguese language is based mostly on terms coming from Latin (60%), Castilian and Catalan (30%); with the rest coming from Arabic (all words beginning with “al”, but not only); old and current French; Old Norse; Germanic; Celtic; English; Italian; Indios’ dialects of Brazil; dialects of Angola, Goa (India) and Macau (China). Then there is a small share of onomatopoeic and obscure origin. These rough data come from a personal dictionary that I have collected while studying and reading portuguese.
Hearing and watching RTP (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal) is very useful: Portugueses tend to cut the beginning of most words, therefore, if you don’t have a cospicuous vocabolary in your memory, often you get puzzled on the meaning of that truncated word sound.
Last but not least, reading books in Portuguese: I would first advice you to buy (or better download) the above mentioned “Afirma Pereira” by Antonio Tabucchi. Married with a portuguese woman, this late Italian writer and professor in portuguese language had written a bestseller which gives you a glimpse of the country during Salazar’s period. His style is poetic and realistic, depicting the very nature of portuguese people and society.
This approach of mine in studying portuguese seems to have been succesful, and the proof of it, has been my hand over of a tale of mine – as a sort of essay – to a mother-language teacher in order to be accepted right away to the third grade of her course in continental portuguese. The next day she mailed me a short message: “You are well over our third grade course”. Therefore I attach here that text which deals with an imaginary journey in Galilee.