Sunday, July 19, 2009

As musicas

My students often say they enjoy listening to "musics" when they mean they enjoy listening to songs. Because in Brazilian Portuguese, you can use the word "musicas" to mean "songs." My wife (just married!) has made the same mistake since moving here--her English is deteriorating while my Portuguese slowly improves. 

I have spent this afternoon listening to a Brazilian Portuguese podcast, actually practicing. My wife is out running errands. When she gets back, my first words will be "fala so portugues." Portuguese only, please. I have been shamefully lazy learning the language, a typical American. At least I haven't been yelling at the locals, "Speak English, God damn it!" 

I realize that dropping the GD-bomb will offend some readers (assuming there are any for this blog). Truth is I am trying to curse less in English. In Portuguese I favor the mild curses I have learned, "Drogas!" which literally means "Drugs!" but is used, in movie subtitles, to mean "Shit!" It's less offensive than "Merda." I find it charming. Another common interjection of exasperation is "Ave Maria!" This is one of the first I learned; its meaning was immediately apparent when I heard it aloud (it's not in any of my textbooks, of course). I will never get over how French and Portuguese speakers have no problem with verbal sacrilege. 

One of my favorite expressions is "Onde Judas perdeu as botas," translated: "Where Judas lost his boots." It is used to describe deserted places, dead small towns, what we call in English "the middle of nowhere." 

On the one real note they have a picture of a hummingbird. In Brazilian Portuguese, the hummingbird is known as the beija flor: "flower kisser" (my translation). Unfortunately the single note is a rare note, as the real coin has taken over. Brazilian currency is a veritiable jungle, depicting sea turtles, monkeys (particularly the mico-leao dourado, or golden lion monkey), and lynxs. Most of the animals depicted are endangered species. I find the wildlife portraits charming, coming from the dull world of American currency and its official portraits. My wife misses the days when Brazilian money depicted famous writers, although sometimes they would depict a real hack. I miss the days when a writer or thinker could make it onto a postage stamp in the United States. I also miss the days when postage stamps cost pennies (well, a quarter and some pennies--I am a youngun). 

The Brazilian coins follow no rhyme nor reason when it comes to size and design. Most fifty cent pieces are thick and silver colored, but are also the thickness of the common silver twenty-five cent pieces, and at first glance look identical. Also, twenty-five cent pieces come in copper and nickel. There are no pennies in Brazil, and yet the stores do not adjust their prices accordingly. Which means that if you are due change of 2.97, they will round it up to the next real (or round it down to 2.95). 

One last thought on coins here: one of the five cent designs features a man who, at first glance, looks like Jesus. But if you read the inscribed name, you will find he is Tiradentes, which translates to "teeth puller." Dentist by profession, he was a revolutionary leader now commemorated by a national holiday, although a lot of Brazilians seem to think of his attempted coup as a joke. He was betrayed by one of his own followers, in exchange for tax exemption. Because of this circumstance, the betrayer is thought of as a Judas figure, and Tiradentes as Christ-like. Many paintings show him in white robes, with a long beard... anyone ignorant of the story would call him Jesus. 

Well, that's all I have time for at the moment. I want to continue this post by discussing two musical acts I have grown fond of: Marisa Monte and Cordel do Fogo Encantado. The latter will be playing Garanhuns this weekend. I can't wait to see them. 




  1. I studied Portuguese & Brazilian history & literature at UC Berkeley some years ago - got my BA in Latin American Studies. I even managed a 10 day visit (Sao Paulo & Rio) back in 2000. I make the occasional desultory attempt to keep up on what's Brazilian, then feel guilty about how much I'm missing. But then, how can one not miss so much in the world?

    My Portuguese & Spanish are hopelessly intermingled these days. Drogas! ... or as the Spanish subtitles under many an American curseword has it: Maldito!

  2. My foreign language in college was French. I have had trouble maintaining what little of the language I knew, and now that Portuguese is priority number one, I really am losing the shred of facility I had with French.

    Though I took Spanish in high school, it never stuck. I was happy to discover, the other day, that a little knowledge of Portuguese gives one a rudimentary reading ability in basic Spanish. Although I need to be careful--many Brazilians assume they understand Spanish when in fact they don't.