Poetry with Professora Elizabeth: Mar Português

With the end of Portuguese school in sight and a class full of students with a decent grasp on how to work with regular verbs in the present tense, I decided to take a break from this spring’s conjugation gauntlet and instead expose them to Portuguese as it’s seen in the wild. No more textbooks; it’s time for real Portuguese words written by real Portuguese people for real Portuguese people.

Today’s the last day of Portuguese school for the year. Check out my class’s first foray in Portuguese poetry, A Cozinha da Avô. In honor of Fernando Pessoa’s birthday, today I’m sharing our class’s journey to understanding “Mar Português.”

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Poetry with Professora Elizabeth: A Cozinha da Avo

Portuguese school is coming to an end for the year. After driving my children through the gauntlet of conjugating -ar, -er, and -ir verbs (along with the lonely pôr, the only -or verb) in the present tense, I wanted to take it easy for the remaining weeks.

Then I got a text message from the preschool teacher.

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Fridays with Fernando: Mar Português

Fernando Pessoa statue in the Jardim das Poetas. Oeiras, Portugal. Fernando Pessoa stencil in the Bairro Alto. Lisbon, Portugal.

My blog’s tagline is “Things I know and love include: Portugal, quidditch, books & brews, and my life in San Jose.” But even though Portugal is first in that sentence, I write about quidditch way more.

As much as I’ve invested a lot of myself into the sport, that’s not all who I am or all I want to be known for. That’s is why I’ve been trying to diversify my writing lately. While I may not have written as much Portuguese content, my culture is a big part of who I am. If you’re reading this, I’m probably your token Portuguese friend. You know, the person who comes to mind when you come across anything Portuguese related.

If you’ve heard me talk about anything Portuguese for any length of time, I’ll eventually start gushing about my literary boyfriend: Fernando Pessoa. I’ve written about his work from time to time but I wanted to make a regular feature out of it. So, Fridays with Fernando was born.

I’ll save a tl;dr post about his life and work for another week. For today, I want to give you a taste of why this man’s words are always on my lips.

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Happy World Poetry Day, everyone! Here’s one of my favorites: As Ilhas Afortunadas by Fernando Pessoa.

And here’s a quick translation (with some creative liberties on my part) for my non-Lusophone readers out there:

What voice comes in the sound of the waves,
That is not the voice of the sea?
It is the voice of someone speaking to us,
But if we listen to it, it goes quiet
Because it was overheard.

And only if, half asleep
We listen without knowing how to hear,
She whispers hope to us
At which, like a child,
We smiling at in our sleep.

They are the fortunate islands,
The lands without a place,
Where the Lost King lives, waiting.
But if we wake up,
The voice goes silent, and there is only the sea.

Nevoeiro

As I started Week 2 of the Darkest Timeline, I left the house and walked out into a veil of fog that silenced the usual morning noises and shrouded the usual morning sights. It felt like a fitting way to start a week in a newly unfamiliar world.

Unrepentant fangirl that I am, I had a Fernando Pessoa quote immediately leap to mind to describe how I felt. No, not my usual “Tudo vale a pena se a alma e pequena/Everything is worth (the effort) if the soul is not small.” A very different poem came to mind:

Nevoeiro
Nem rei nem lei, nem paz nem guerra,
Define com perfil e ser
Este fulgor baço da terra
Que é Portugal a entristecer —
Brilho sem luz e sem arder
Como o que o fogo-fátuo encerra.

Ninguém sabe que coisa quer.
Ninguém conhece que alma tem,
Nem o que é mal nem o que é bem.
(Que ânsia distante perto chora?)
Tudo é incerto e derradeiro.
Tudo é disperso, nada é inteiro.
Ó Portugal, hoje és nevoeiro…

Fog 
Neither king nor law, neither peace nor war
Defines the profile or self
Of this dull flame of the earth.
Portugal is saddening –
Shining without light, without burning
An extinguishing will-o’-the-wisp.

No one knows what they want.
No one knows what soul they have,
Neither what is evil nor what is good.
(What distant anxiety weeps nearby?)
Everything is uncertain and final.
Everything is dispersed, nothing is whole.
O Portugal, today you are fog.

 

This poem comes at the end of Mensagem, a collection of poems by Fernando Pessoa. Mensagem is an update of Os Lusiadas, which is Portugal’s version of The Aeneid. (The translation is mine. I did it in less than an hour, so forgive me if I sacrificed the poetry a bit to make it clearer for an English-speaking audience.)

Or, for everyone out there who isn’t a student of epic poetry as a nation building exercise, Mensagem was written as an examination of Portugal’s glorious past in the face of an uncertain future. Luis de Camoes wrote Os Lusiadas as Portugal was reaching his peak during the Age of Discovery. It was the tale of Vasco da Gama’s journey to India just as The Aeneid was about Aeneas’s journey from Troy to Rome. The Aeneid tells the story of how one man founded Rome, but Os Lusiadas tells Vasco da Gama’s story as the crowning glory of an entire people’s accomplishments. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but at the time it was the equivalent of the moon landing. Vasco da Gama took one long voyage for a man (and his crew), but a giant leap for mankind.

Os Lusíadas was written by Camoes for King Sebastian. It was written to recount Portugal’s greatness, but also to warn the young king that it was his responsibility to maintain that legacy. Instead, Sebastian pursued madness, zealotry. He died somewhere in North Africa, his body never found, in a hopeless attempt to convert the heathen Moors. Heirless, his dynasty died with him. Portugal became part of the Spanish Habsburg empire for eighty years, beginning the long and slow decline that would define the Portuguese psyche ever since.

Fernando Pessoa wrote during a very different time. It was the Estado Novo dictatorship, and one of the regime’s favorite forms of propaganda was to hearken back the Age of Discovery. Pessoa wrote Mensagem for a contest being run by the Secretariat of National Propaganda. They loved it so much that he won in a category they had to create because Mensagem didn’t quite fit the parameters of the contest.

Here’s the thing: Mensagem isn’t a propaganda message. It’s a fucking wake up call. I left off the end of the poem: É a hora! (Portuguese. It’s the hour! or It’s time!) Valete, Frateres. (Latin: Farewell, brothers. or Live long and prosper.)

I feel like we’re living in that hour now. It’s the hour—but what hour is it? Our finest, or our last?

There’s a longing for a better past in the face of an uncertain future in Portuguese literature. Saudade. I’ve always thought it was beautiful, in part because I could never find anything like it in American literature. (Okay, mayyyybe Southern Gothic.)  America never suffered a setback that it couldn’t recover from.

Portugal’s fall was self-inflicted by a mad king. I worry that America’s will be the same.

Everything’s Coming Up Barcelos!

I’m coming home from an unexpectedly amazing night at Portuguese school and I am finally finishing this blog post so it can get posted tomorrow. A lot of changes have been in the works and I am so stoked to say that I can now go public with them!

New job!

As I mentioned before, This Is My Life in Silicon Valley went beyond my usual audience of friends, friends of friends, and random quidditch people. It found some of the eyeballs I was looking for. They pointed me in the direction of a few writing jobs. I made it through the interview phase of a couple of them and this week I accepted an offer for an editorial internship with a better pay rate than my contract at Google. I start October 3rd and I am psyched to finally be taking what feels like my first steps toward a career, not just a job.

New (volunteer) job!

Speaking of editorial, The Quidditch Post was looking for a new CEO as I was applying for other jobs. I knew I would have to leave my position with USQ if I got it, and as much as I love my region, I couldn’t pass up the chance to have my quidditch life reflect my real one. I may not be West RC for that much longer, but I don’t need a title to tell me what my heart knows: I’ll be #WestTeamMom/Fangirl-in-Chief no matter what. I’ll still be doing NCQC since that is my quidditch labor of love.

New students!

Last year, I peaked at seven or eight students enrolled in my Portuguese class. However, I only really averaged about six kids in my class each week. It was demoralizing sometimes.

It made me remember when I was a kid in Portuguese school. We had four classes of about fifteen to twenty kids each, depending on skill level. I started in the second highest class and worked hard to get int the top class as fast as I could. I went two nights a week for two hours at a time. We used real classrooms at Five Wounds School.

Last year, I started the school year in an exercise room for seniors and ended it in an office since the adult Portuguese class needed the space more. I had to figure out how to teach with fewer resources and less time than I was used to, but I do think I made it work. I loved doing it. I loved the kids. I hated that I had to give it up because I started working at a startup.

It’s a new school year and that startup job is old news. (As much as I’d love to write about that experience, I signed an NDA so that is just not a possibility.) I was so grateful that POSSO wanted me back after my departure. Last week I had five students, one of them absent because they were at their Back to School Night. I planned my lesson for this week thinking that this year would be the same as the last.

Instead, I ended the day with twelve. (My class actually more than doubled, Twitter-self!) Two of them, brothers, are the sons of my catechism teachers that got married some time after I left their Confirmation class. Seeing them and realizing that I was being charged with the cultural education of the children of people my parents entrusted with my spiritual education confirmed (ha, see what I did there?) that no matter what else I do with my life, I should be teaching others and I should be working with the Portuguese community in San Jose. Those are two things that define me and I can never turn my back on that.

(Shameless plug: We’re still accepting new students.)

New domain!

Check it out, I finally ditched my initialslastname.wordpress.com domain name! I spent a good part of last week thinking about what the hell my personal #brand is before putting my money where my online mouth is. It turned into a mini-identity crisis that you’ll get to read about in a blog post later. After working on some projects that’ll need an online home soon, I decided to invest in myself and take the plunge.

After a summer of uncertainty, it feels good to have direction in my life again. Thanks for reading, and I’ll hope you keep reading as I continue heading towards to wherever it is that I’m going.