Learning Portuguese, Part II

As I near completing Portuguese on Duolingo (I have about half a level left), I thought it would be good to give an update as to how fluent I really am. Nowadays, I can speak with Minha Namorada’s family somewhat, and make myself understood in fairly long conversations. I do sometimes use odd phrasing in Portuguese, but that’s because I don’t yet think in Portuguese. Even though I do it at a faster pace, I still decide what I want to say in English and then translate it in my head. Portuguese also no longer sounds as fast, even when I don’t understand it all. I am able to go to restaurants with my English-speaking friends and order without difficulty, asking questions about the food/service. I can do transactional-Portuguese very well, and I feel I could visit most large Brazilian Cities where there is minimal, but not zero, English, and not feel like a fish out of water. I always apologize for my accent at the outset (stereotypically Canadian, I know), and with how welcoming the Brazilian people are, I can get by just fine.

One unexpected great translation tool I’ve added to my repertoire is Wikipedia – when searching for the right word, Google Translate might give you ten different words with some of them being translations of entirely different meanings of the same word. But, you can look up much more complex concepts and ideas on Wikipedia to ensure you are using the right meaning, then simply switch to the Portuguese page.

The big drawback from Duolingo is listening – I still find it difficult when others are speaking Portuguese to me. Some people I meet I can understand without any difficulty, but the majority of people I still need a lot of assistance from Minha Namarada to understand. You would think this is the easiest skill to practice, since I could just listen to music or watch Netflix in Portuguese, but its not quite as easy as you would expect. Netflix, for some reason, will have different translations for the dubbed over voice than for the subtitles – they are always similar, but the small differences (e.g. using “bom/good” vs. “legal/cool”) make it very difficult to follow along. Music is also very difficult, because the pronunciation changes drastically when words are put to a melody.

The better option, I find, is to find a YouTube channel (pick any topic) in Portuguese, you want a higher-quality YouTuber so that they have proper subtitles, and set the video playback speed to seventy-five or even fifty percent. That speed allows you to still follow along in the subtitles while the spoken words still sound approximately the same. That’s my plan to improve my Portuguese now that the finish line with Duolingo is in sight. Not that I’m going to stop the Duolingo, mind you. It is a quite useful tool to practice Portuguese, and I plan to use it as long as I can.

Mother’s Day in Brazil

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Like in Canada, Brazilian Mother’s day falls on the second Sunday in May. Oddly for Brazil, this is not a holiday widely linked to a Catholic celebration, despite there being many countries around the world that do so.

Also similar to Canada, everyone celebrates it somewhat differently. Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law) sent Minha Sogra a ready-made breakfast, whereas the distance makes it hard for Minha Namorada and me to do anything more than call. However, a big distinction with Mother’s Day in Brazil rather than Canada, is that in Brazil you celebrate all mothers. If you have friends/family that are mothers, you wish them a happy Mother’s day too. I am of two minds when it comes to this.

I really like the sense of community that the collective celebration entails. It reminds everyone of the important role that mothers play in our society. Canadians, of course, realize this, but I still like the idea of having everyone together taking a day to recognize that importance. It also makes it into a bigger celebration, since everyone is taking part with everyone else in celebrating all mothers. There also tend to be lunch or dinner with the extended family, as all the mothers are feted together, and I always find the holidays with big family meals are better. They also keep the whole family close. Finally, it would be much harder to forget the day in Brazil than in Canada, which is always useful for us forgetful types.

However, on the other hand, I like that we celebrate our specific mother on Mother’s Day. It seems more special that way, and I would feel almost like I was betraying my mom by wishing someone else a Happy Mother’s Day (grandmothers excepted). Especially, since Mother’s always make birthdays all about the child, when really she’s the one that did more work that day. Other than the first couple of birthdays when babies don’t really understand what is going on, and so the husband does make it about the wife, there is very little done to celebrate one’s mom on the day she became a mom. So, I like that there is a specific day set aside when everyone is expected to celebrate their specific mom. Ideally, having a small intimate dinner with just the immediate family, where everyone is there to celebrate just that important woman in their life. It is the same as that I don’t want Valentines Day to be about celebrating all couples. for me, I want it to be celebrating just Minha Namorada. So, why would Mother’s Day be for celebrating all mothers, and not just mine?

What do you think?

Brazilian Shrimp Ensopado (Soup)

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Brazilian Shrimp Ensopado (Soup)

What you’ll need:

Shrimp – 400 grams
Garlic – 5 cloves
Onion – one large
Green Pepper – Half of one
Cilantro – 1/2 cup
Tomato – one large
Tomato sauce – two spoons
Coconut milk – 1 can
Olive Oil
Water
In a pan, add the shrimp, two cloves of garlic (grated or pressed), half of the onion (grated), a splash of olive oil, and a small amount of water. Cook until the shrimp becomes pink – the actual cooking time can vary, but it should be fairly quick.

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Strain the water into another bowl and set aside the water and the shrimp for later.

In another pan, add 3 cloves of garlic (grated or pressed), the other half of the onion (grated), another splash of olive oil, and cook until slightly browned.

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Not yet browned

Chop up the Cilantro, Green Pepper, and Tomato, then add to a pot.

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Combine with the browned garlic and onion, and heat until warm. Then add the water from the shrimp, two spoons of tomato sauce, 1 can of cocounut milk, and 1/4 cup of additional water.

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Pre-blend

Once all ingredients are warm (not hot), pour into blender and blend briefly until there are no large chunks.

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Post-blend, with shrimp added

Return to a pot, add the shrimp, and heat until hot. Your Ensopado is ready.

Picuí, and other small towns of Brazil

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When I was visiting Minha Namorada over Christmas, Meu Sogro (my Father-in-law) invited us to visit his hometown, Picuí, as he was excited to show me where he grew up.

Getting there was an adventure on its own. Driving in Brazil is already a scary concept for a Canadian, but the drive between Joao Pessoa and Picuí has its own special set of fears. As we had to drive uphill, there were fifty-six button hook turns on the highway. The roads in this area were well-maintained, but the numerous monuments to loved ones on the roadside attested to the danger that drove the need for well-maintained roads – we would hardly pass 50 feet between the roadside crosses. However, this does not slow down the Brazilian drivers. Every car I saw was travelling well above the speed limit, and cutting the corners, lightly honking the horn to tell any driver on the other side of the turn that they were coming. I have rarely feared for my life while driving, but this was definitely an exception. Later I was told there is another, slightly slower, route that has no such turns, and we took that way home.

When Minha Namorada and I went to step outside, she asked me if I was “ready for hell”, because of the heat. And, while I do admit it was hot (definitely above 30 Celsius), I told Minha Namorada that it wasn’t nearly as bad as Joao Pessoa. It was hot, but much of the Brazilian Interior is extremely dry, and Picuí is one of the driest of those. As people will often attest, its the heat, not the humidity, and a little bit of shade went a long way in Picuí. Picuí is located in a place called the Polígono das secas (Drought Polygon). It has droughts unrelated to Climate Change (although that doesn’t help), and, when I visited, they had gone five years without rain – the former river beds had become football fields, and most farms in the area raised goats, which can eat cacti. It actually rained above two weeks after we left Picuí, and Meu Sogro sent me a video of the people outside cheering and watching the giant storm. It warmed my heart to see their prayers for water had finally been answered.

Now, Picuí is a small town, and small town Brazil is a lot different than the big cities. They are very reminiscent of small town North America, and while there are still a few more walls and gates than you might normally see here, there isn’t the need. Crime levels are generally less, because everybody knows everybody, and watches out for one another. There is also not the same level of distinction between rich areas and favelas. Very nice houses can be close to poor ones, and so you never know until you get somewhere what the place will look like. The Priest for the small town is one of the most important people in the city, and things tend to move at a slow pace.

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The Churches in small towns are some of the most beautiful buildings.  I didn’t actually make it inside this one, as Meu Sogro knows the Father of the church in a nearby city, Cruzeta.

 

Prices in restaurants are very cheap – Minha Namorada and I had a large stuffed crust pizza, with four beers and a pop for less than 30 Reals (about $10 Canadian at the time) – including a cover charge for the band. I don’t necessarily recommend travelling to these towns for the average traveler, as there is a lower chance people will speak English. Accents also differ significantly, as they do anywhere, but I can never really guess who I will understand when speaking Portuguese. Trained politicians are sometimes harder for me to understand than an average joe off the street. But, I will say that everyone there is extremely welcoming, even compared to the warm greetings I have always found in the rest of Brazil.

The big event of the year in Picuí, as it is for all the small towns in the region, is their Carne De Sol festival. The centre of many small towns we drove through were clearly built with this in mind, as I couldn’t imagine many gatherings that would require so much space in any small town otherwise. During these events, all the surrounding towns visit, and the places are packed to the brim. These events appear to happen regularly, but varying from town to town, and create a wonderful sense of comraderie and good natured rivalry between the cities.

I can’t say for certain if Picuí is a good representative of small towns in general in Brazil, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

aCanadianInBrazil does Venice

Venice, or Venezia in Italian, is probably the most beautiful cities Minha Namorada and I have ever seen. Wherever we walked, we couldn’t help but stare at all the beautiful buildings nearby.

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The canals in Venice were wonderful, we just took the bus (read: public transport boat) and looked at all the beautiful architecture

One important thing to know about Venice before visiting is that there are no cars, or motorized vehicles of any type. In fact, it was only on one island where we even saw bicycles, and those were owned by little kids. So, if you aren’t into walking, including many stairs, then Venice isn’t for you. Minha Namorada and I didn’t know this when we first arrived, and so we had some confusing times searching for a taxi stand; there are taxis, but only water taxis, which are expensive, and they can’t even take you everywhere. Generally speaking, you’ll do better to buy a water bus pass for however long you are there – Venice isn’t big, so you can easily walk lots of places, but if you need to get to the other side of the canal, a short distance can still be a long walk if you need to find a bridge. Minha Namorada also found it was wonderful to ride the water bus and see the sites.

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In the center you can see the Water Bus, with outdoor seating in the front and back, and indoor seating in the middle.

Minha Namorada and I probably chose one of the best times to visit Venice, as we arrived when there was the Covid-19 scare, but nothing was shut down yet. That started about 36 hours after we left. So, we had a city that was nearly empty, but all the stores were still open. We got discounts at every store we went to, and never had to wait in line once. The only place we weren’t able to visit was St. Mark’s Basilica, which was only open for prayer – we still went and prayed, but there was obviously much more inside that we couldn’t explore. If you could be guaranteed to not get sick, I’d highly recommend you visit a place right before a plague hits.

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Venice was empty enough, but we managed to get other inhabitants to pose for our pictures.

When in Venice, you’ll see all these things that look like tables stacked near buildings. Minha Namorada and I couldn’t figure out why until out last day, when we saw first-hand an obvious fact about Venice; it floods a lot. The tables are actually mobile elevated walkways that they move so that you can get around the City even when the water level is high. Some stores get flooded, but they just discount that merchandise, and continue about their day. Flooding is just a part of life in Venice. As much as you might save money on the discounted merchandise, you don’t want it. The water in the Venice canals is not very clean at all.

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This is inside Piazza San Marco on a normal day.  It was so devoid of tourists that the birds were actually land on people en masse trying to get food.
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And here it is just a couple days later, as Minha Namorada and I passed through on our way to the airport.

Venice is a very expensive city. Even meeting other tourists, they complained about the prices. The cheapest places we found to drink were actually Irish Pubs. And, it is always interesting to see one culture’s take on another culture. McDonald’s was the same, as always, though. Even so, Minha Namorada and I spoke extensively about how nice it would be to move there.

The airport in Venice takes quite a long time to get to. It is over an hour from the grand canal to the airport (again, by boat – not included in your normal water-bus pass), and then probably a fifteen minute walk to get from one side of the airport to the ticket counter.

Happy Easter/Feliz Pascoa!!!

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Easter, or Pascoa in Brazil, is a time for celebration. Of course, coming before it is Good Friday, a quiet day for reflection in Brazil. Religion is part of everyday life in Brazil (nearly 90% are christian), and so Good Friday has many norms. Drinking and partying are both inappropriate to do on the Friday, and you’ll probably get weird looks for doing so. Many families actually eat fish the entire weekend. But Holy Saturday can be treated much more like a normal Saturday, and there aren’t the prohibitions that exist for Good Friday. Many families do keep at least Easter Sunday to be like the sabbath commonly was followed in Canada. No television, no internet, and the time should be spent visiting with relatives. But, no matter the family, Easter is a big day for celebration.

Churches, that have the Crucifixes covered for Lent, reveal the imagery of Jesus. The chocolate eggs are often elaborate, and filled with brigadeiro and other chocolate – they cost a pretty penny to boot. The Easter Bunny, however, is not a common character associated with the holiday in Brazil – probably, because by keeping closer to the religious aspects, there isn’t as much room for secular aspects that exist in Canada.

I can’t say that Easter is much different in Brazil than Canada, I think its because Easter in Brazil just seems bigger than in Canada. But, given that the holiday is a defining part of Christianity, you would find very similar celebrations in any christian church or family in Canada. And, most of the differences are just in the degree of commitment to the holiday. The cultural aspects tend to drift away, because so many religious traditions are the same across the continents.

If you are in Brazil and feeling homesick, the holidays can sometimes still feel just like home.

Happy Easter and Feliz Pacoa to all my readers!

aCanadianInBrazil does Florence

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Florence (Firenze in Italian) was a very beautiful city, but I found it very small. Minha Namorada and I were there for three nights, and with the exception of a couple museums, we saw basically everything. Now, our timing has to be taken with a grain of salt, as we did travel shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak, and the tourist crowds were significantly reduced, but there just wasn’t that much to do in the City. I think a week there would be far too long.

One significant drawback of the small crowds was the lack of taxis when we arrived. We ended up waiting at the train station for over half an hour, even after calling one. Note: do not expect anyone to help you find a taxi – I found the people at the train station were too busy to be willing to help. Finally, one older gentleman agreed to help us, despite his poor English. After that, we learned to call ahead to arrange for a taxi.

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Michaelangelo’s David, at 5.17 meters tall, it was much bigger than I ever imagined.
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It was weird to view Michaelangelo’s David from angles not normally photographed

The best part of our trip was probably seeing Michelangelo’s David. Now, I had known for a long time of the name, but it was only when there that I realized it was a sculpture of King David from the Bible. As well, David is much larger than I ever would have guessed. Sadly, it has been damaged over the years, including by some saboteurs, but it still is a wondrous site to see. Looking upon it, one gets the impression that this marble man could move at any moment.

As well of interest, is the fact that many famous artists from history are buried in Florence. Viewed as a high honour to be buried in the churches, the Basilica di Santa Croce is the burial place of Michelangelo, Bartolini, Galileo, Machiavelli, and many others. The reason for the burials in Florence, is that it has a long and storied history as a center of wealth and intellect. It is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and even served at the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1865-1871.

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Some of the artwork of the Basilica di Santa Croce, the burial place of Michaelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and others

Florence is also extremely walkable, and is viewed as one of the most walkable cities in the world. Other than when you have to carry your luggage to and from the train station, I don’t see any need for taxis/transit. We booked our tour of the Florence Duomo online ahead of time, which included skip-the-line passes, but you should be aware that there are also free tours offered in the Duomo. So, check those times, and if you don’t mind a wait in line, you may be able to save your money.

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The inside of the Florence Duomo, built by Filippo Brunelleschi. He refused to tell anyone how he built it, to protect his work and prevent others from copying it. Entire theses have been written by architecture PhDs trying to replicate this fifteenth century work
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The Florence Duomo is also known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and remains a fully functioning church

One thing to be aware of, depending on where you stay, when hotels offer an “Italian Breakfast” in the room, it will be basically a croissant and a coffee. Even ordering additional food for breakfast, Minha Namorada and I were often left hungry in the morning. I felt like a Hobbit always wondering what I wanted for “Second Breakfast.”