Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Academy

Tonight we attended a meeting of the Academia de Letras de Garanhuns.  We were the first to arrive, and had a delightful conversation with the director--I was surprised at myself for understanding what they were saying, mostly word-for-word... I even added my own comments in Portuguese, with a little help from my wife when I forgot a word. I thought back to April, when I only knew a handful of words, and having drunken conversations with some local hipster types about favorite bands (I was helped by them knowing a bit of English). My progress learning Portuguese is not astounding, but it is progress. 

I get tired. I find that I can carry a conversation in my broken Portuguese for about half an hour, and then something snaps and I can't pay attention enough to follow what is being said. When the director was officially welcoming us to the club, after the minutes were read, I understood most of the words he spoke, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out why he was putting them together and directing them to me. When it was explained to me, I felt silly. 

It is encouraging, however, to be able to speak any Portuguese at all. It's a thrill to hear foreign words coming out of my mouth, or forming in my mind. Anyone who has studied foreign languages knows this feeling. No one was bilingual in my family, save an uncle who once spoke Spanish and German but lost them due to lack of practice. Learning a new language and, for that matter, living in another country, is something I can do while safely saying "I'm the first in my family to do this!" My immediate family, that is. I have cousins into world travel. My siblings and my parents all live within a mile of each other, and have for their entire lives. The family business is but a few hundred feet from my childhood home. Nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything too special about the youngest abandoning them for adventures abroad. It's just kinda neat. 

Back to the Academy meeting. A number of members shared their work. I hadn't brought anything, but the director asked if I had one of my poems memorized. I do not intentionally memorize my work, although tonight I learned the value of doing so. I did have one little sonnet memorized, and recited it for them. My wife then explained the poem in Portuguese, and translated it line by line for them. They seemed to enjoy it, and the director said that even though he couldn't understand my language, he could hear and feel the music of the lines. I was flattered, to say the least. This is the poem I recited. 

All in all, a wonderful evening.

Last night we attended a graduation party for a good friend of ours who just got a degree in Justice. Any time we spend with this particular friend is a good time, because he and his wife have a great sense of humor and share our love for food. The food was simple but good--crepes. The only downside was that the music was incredibly loud--not surprising, this being Brazil and all. The room, while not a closet, was not an amphitheater... it was so loud I couldn't think. On top of that, there were a number of strobes, lasers, and a smoke machine all going on overdrive. I don't like being thrown into an epileptic seizure while eating a cashew-chocolate crepe. The band, however, was very good. Not sure how to describe the music--big band jazz, I guess, although with a smaller band (trombone, sax, trumpet, keyboard, drummer, bassist, guitarist, percussionist, male and female vocalists), and with some Brazilian rhythmic infusions. Despite good food, good music, and good company, I was happy to leave. 

We stopped by a little used bookstore and magazine stand yesterday. I bought a copy of a cordel book. I mentioned literatura de cordel in at least one previous post. The typical cordel book is the length of what we call chapbooks in the U.S. They tell stories, usually based on some historic figure, all in verse. They became immensely popular around the middle of the last century. This store has stacks of them. The one I bought yesterday (for the low low price of only R$2) is about Lampiao, a famous bandit who led a group of bandits and ne'er-do-wells in the northeast during the 20's and 30's. A friend of mine, the one who had invited me to the Academy meeting, told me that Lampiao is the Brazilian Hitler--but my wife and I found a better comparison in the figure of Jesse James, to which our friend assented. Many people in the States revere James despite of (or because of) his brutal ways. But I can understand my friend thinking of Hitler--I have a problem with making heroes out of murderers, no matter how justified the killings may seem to some. I feel this way especially since we have heroes who have used non-violence (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., The Freedom Riders, etc.) to affect the kinds of changes in society that one might assume require bloodshed. 

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