Sunday, March 29, 2009
So I tried a glass of Pitu, a local brand of cachaça. To me, it tasted weaker than vodka, but, drink being rare to me, I can't say for sure. I didn't order a vodka to compare, which might have proved enlightening, because we were at a bar, not a laboratory, thank you very much. The catch phrase for Pitu is Mania do Brasileiro, the Brazilian's madness, I suppose.
One of the little hipsters that accompanied us told me to be careful with the Pitu. The strength of cachaça seems to be a point of pride in Brazil. Although I stopped at one, it wasn't because I was in over my head. Don't kill yourself in one night, that's my motto. Draw it out a bit, take your time, enjoy yourself.
Mostly just drank beers. A popular way to order beer for a table of friends is to order a chopp (draft beer) in a huge cylindrical tap plopped own in the middle of the table. It's self-service. You press your glass to the white plastic spigot, and there's your golden ambrosia. I am not sure, but I think they call the apparatus itself a chopp. I drank cerveja -- beer, yes, but distinguished from chopp because served in a bottle. I told you this is a precise language.
I have no idea why I have spent all this time talking about drinks when the real pleasure last night came from the people. I alluded to a hipster, there were a few. One of my worst moments in recent history involved being stuck in a car with a bunch of hipsters in the back seat prattling on about how to classify various indie and post-punk musical stylings. The low point of the evening was hearing a bespectacled, skinny guy in a Western shirt with pearl buttons declare, "Uhh, I prefer older Modest Mouse" as if they were talking wine vintages, and with a tone of voice that seemed to say, "I prefer older Modest Mouse, which is all the evidence you need that I am a wise and well cultivated gentleman with superior taste." As much as I hate pomposity in general (especially when I notice it in my own behavior, I hasten to add), I particularly loathe the transformation of pop culture into some graded course in connoisseurship. It's only rock n' roll.
The Brazilian hipsters, if they should be so-called, were the opposite. We spoke a combination of broken English and broken Portuguese. Guess whose Portuguese was broken. Anyway, the conversation mostly consisted of listing various bands and singers we enjoyed. I believe that, during the whole night, I only mentioned two artists they didn’t know: Elliott Smith and the aforementioned Modest Mouse. The conversation ranged over oldies but goodies like David Bowie, Pink Floyd, the Beatles (I was reminded of how much I used to enjoy the Fab 4) to Belle and Sebastian, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, etc.
Also, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet also earned high praise in the form of Ah! Yes! and Eu gosto, eu gosto!
It was a good night.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
My Portuguese is improving. Or, I should say, my willingness to speak. My shyness is receding. I realized that no matter what I will go through a period of sounding like the village idiot, and so I must accept this as the worm stage presaging diaphanous wings of fluency. Or some flowery shit like that.
Speaking of higher diction, I finally read Anthony Hecht in Conversation with Philip Hoy. Previously, I had only read snippets here and there. It is inspiring me to revisit his poems, which thankfully I brought back with me. In some ways I think it would serve as an apt introduction to anyone not already familiar with his work, if only to dispel the notion that it is entirely, or even mostly, autobiographical. I wonder just how many readers automatically assume that all poetry is about the poet. I try never to make that assumption. There is always "the speaker."
Well, enough of that. A fellow English teacher invited us over for lunch today before we left for Arcoverde. Cous-cous, rice, vinagrette, and rack of lamb in a fine gravy. Followed by the best chocolate mousse I have ever had (considering I only recall trying this once or twice before, that's not saying much--but it would be obscene to describe exactly how orgasmic this dessert was). We are scheming to get invited to more such dinners. We are thinking of an exchange of English lessons for delicious meals every Saturday.
On the ride to Arcoverde today, a man overheard us speaking English, turned around and said, "Beautiful, yes?" Meaning the hills through which we were winding. "Sim, Beautiful," I said. "Students?" he asked. "Professores," we answered.
He spoke mostly with my girl, in Portuguese, asking her how to phrase certain questions, then had a simple conversation with me in English, and I was all too happy to oblige. Students of English here are not at all shy. Most of them, that is. I have encountered some actual English teachers who will not say a word of English to me, so frightened are they of embarrassing themselves. Life is an embarrassment. So, get over it.
The highway landscape ... it floors me with its majesty. "Majestic" -- sounds so hackneyed, but at the moment a better adjective or description is impossible. I'm travel weary and about to get bleary eyed (God willing!) ... will hopefully finally sample some Pitu, a local brand of some distilled spirit which is supposed to put more hair on my chest. I'll report my findings at the next available opportunity.
Friday, March 27, 2009
According to the NEA, poetry readership continues to decline.
I have begun teaching English. I have one class right now, but will start a conversation course next week. The director of the language school, my girl, and I were at the local radio station to promote the school. Plus, there is a sign over the school announcing a new professor with a degree in English, a native speaker. Within a month, not only have I secured a job but my employer was so happy to hire me she had a sign made announcing my employment to the world. And I have been on the radio. Talk about undue attention! But I am grateful. I am giving this job all of the energy and attention I have, and am loving it. The students are wonderful--I am very impressed with the immersion method used. Judging most students' knowledge of the language, it is very effective. The secret is to present as much information in English as possible, and only referring to the students' native language as a last ditch effort. In the advanced levels, which I teach, you are not to use the students' native language at all (no problem for me... even the one or two month students here have a better command of English than I have of Portuguese).
Which fact shames me. I keep telling myself that I am not the typical American unwilling to learn another language, but sometimes I definitely play that part. The problem is we dont speak Portuguese in the house. If we spend all day at home, that is a day in which I have probably not heard a single phrase in Portuguese.
But I am able to function a little. Just a few minutes ago, I asked for, received, and paid for a bottle of water at the Internet cafe where I am composing this post. No small feat. And don't you ever take such small things for granted.
In other news... well, I don't think there is any other news to report. The heat is sometimes overwhelming. We spent much of this morning scouring Garanhuns for adhesive envelopes. All of the envelopes we have found do not include a strip of adhesive. Common sense tells me this is because of the chronic humidity coupled with a dearth of air conditioning. I am preparing snail mail submissions to editors in the States, and I hope that a non-adhesive SASE won't terribly inconvenience them. Using that common sense mentioned above, it occurred to me that there is no way any student worker or other saintly worker stuffing envelopes for a literary rag would actually lick each SASE. Every office I have ever worked in has kept a supply of glue sticks for that purpose. It is safer and faster.
Unfortunately, these are the things that keep me up at night.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
There is a nice bookstore/cafe in the same neighborhood as the language school. They stock many classic Brazilian titles, as well as world literature in translation (of all books to have in stock, they had The Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, most likely of local interest due to its South American setting... I am not sure, but I think that they procure the yage concoction in the Amazon. I picked up a copy of Pessoa's selected poems, and have translated (or transliterated) some stanzas with basic vocabulary. I think it's helping.
I made the mistake of leaving my iPod back in Arcoverde. I only brought one book (Ted Hughes's Essential Shakespeare) other than my Portuguese textbook. Brazilian TV isn't worth the time, at least not the original programming. So far, I've only noticed two different novelas: one set in India/Rio, and the other set in California/Rio. Other than that, it's BBB (Big Brother: Brazil). There are news broadcasts, of course, and kid's shows (some with racy material by the standards of American children's programming... but I guess a woman in a bikini does help one learn simple phrases like Bate as maos (clap hands)... I know I'll never forget it).
So I'm a little short on entertainment (not that I have had much time for lounging around the house reading ... we've been crawling through the streets of Garanhuns like rats in a maze, mostly buying stuff for the apartment, and meeting with our boss at the school). I've been writing a lot in my notebook, sketches for new works, observations, etc.
Interesting note about Portuguese. Aparently the noun saudade has no English equivalent. The closest is "longing," but that is really a gerund phrase. It reminds me of the French ennui which is often translated as "boredom" but has no true English equivalent.