Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt



Monday, January 4, 2010

Truly foreign things that resonate, long after exposure.



Every once in a while, I find myself becoming attached to a place. I'm not necessarily in that place, and 99% of the time I wouldn't have even set foot in that place, but whatever triggers that attachment is powerful enough to get me to find out everything about where that triggering device came from.

This has happened several times, and if you must know, right now I'm attached to Paris, but that was an easy sell, considering that I was just there a little over two months ago. But before visiting Paris, before I even dreamed of going anywhere beyond Mexico, I became attached to odd places-- a little off the beaten path, if you will. I will explain to you what I mean by becoming attached to a place I've never been.

It started in 2005, with China. The trigger was a movie that was not Chinese, nor was it set there. It was an English movie with a Chinese character in it. That one character got me all riled up about everything Chinese: movies, people, history, culture, food-- everything. It was an obssession that even made me go so far as to try to learn a little bit of Mandarin so that when I would make my dream of going there come true I would be able to at least say thank you. I did a lot of reading in that time and learned a lot of things that I still to this day use to educate people about China and get them to see beyond the smog that envelopes the image of that country in the western psyche.

You're probably wondering what the heck the title of this post has to do with what I'm talking about at this point, and here is where it will come together for you. In the summer of 2006, the FIFA World Cup took place, and Portugal's team was one of the many highlights of that event. They were in the spotlight for being the rookies who took the show away, so to speak. I became very intrigued, especially after watching a game they played against a former African colony of theirs, Angola, and what started as a mere curiosity turned into a full-fledged attachment, or obssession, that lead me down the same path as that Chinese character led me to China.

I watched movies, documentaries, read the history of the place, listened to Fado, filled my music collection with Portuguese music and made great headway on learning Portuguese. In the midst of all this immersion in everything Portuguese, I came across a list of idioms, expressions that the people of the country use to make life a little easier to understand. Given that the entire western and southern part of the country are neighbors to nothing but the ocean, naturally, it is a culture that relies heavily on the sea and what it brings, native or otherwise. Due to this a lot of the idioms are related to the sea. Here are a few that paint the picture:

Fish don't pull wagons.
[Peixe não puxa carroça]

You're letting water in...
[Estás a meter água...]

This is too much sand for my truck.
[É muita areia para a minha camioneta]

Women and sardines, you want them to be small.
[A mulher e a sardinha querem-se da mais pequenina]

He's like a racing mackerel.
[Armar-se em carapau de corrida]

They use other topics to simplify life in Portugal, but they're clearly sea people. My favorite idiom, which acted as a trigger for me to write this in the first place is one I haven't written out yet, but like the ones I did list, it is linked to the sea and what it brings. This idiom is used during the sweetest of times, despite the subject matter, which if taken at face value is anything but sweet. The idiom is as follows:


There's a Moor on the coast...
[Há Mouro na costa...]


This idiom is used when one feels they are falling in love, that someone is about to invade their heart. A Moor is not good news, if taken at face value. The Moors were the archenemies of the Portuguese, because they were Muslims from North Africa-- a threat to the Catholic Portuguese. Despite such a war-related context if taken at face value, the expression is beautiful in that it illustrates perfectly what the prospect of falling in love feels like, right at the beginning, when it is the unknown. I think it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.

So, you see, it's foreign, and although I came across it over two years ago, it is still fresh in my mind, especially at this time. I can't think of a better way to tour and really see the world than to know the little nuances that are as simple as an idiom, and I certainly can't think of a better way to describe the jitters that come when love looms, too close for comfort....

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