Week 43: Wood and words

Gum rock rose unfurled: if all the many buds on these superabundant plants opened at once it would be a scene fit for a wedding

Gum rock rose unfurled: if all the many buds on these superabundant plants opened at once, it would be a scene fit for a wedding

Rainbow cloud

Rainbow cloud

Stork in Olhão

Stork in Olhão

A closer view of the stork

A closer view

Two storks; I love these birds

I love these birds

The longed-for red-rumped swallows have not made an appearance, but our other keenly awaited event has taken place: the new kitchen is complete except for the tiling and the final electrical connections. It’s both beautiful and practical, and even more of each of these qualities than we imagined.

Kitchen installed. The pear wood, a friend said, is like Turner paintings

The pear wood, a friend said, is like Turner paintings

Tactile wood

Tactile wood

The granite worktop arrived and slotted perfectly into place; the granite comes from Alentejo

The granite worktop arrived and slotted perfectly into place; the granite comes from Alentejo and was polished and cut by a local team of stonemasons. Just the tiling to be done now


When you try to learn a new language as an adult, you spend a great deal of time in the in-between stage of neither speaking the language nor not speaking it, if you follow me. This stage can last years, and of course you might never come out the other end where native speakers will talk to you quite normally. And in the vast in-between stage you need to rely on the patience and kindness of strangers. You need the people to whom speaking the language is as easy as breathing to understand the effort that it costs you, and to play along. Now, I have to say, on the whole the Portuguese are good at this, willing to understand you and to be understood by you. They don’t automatically switch to English, but they almost all will do so if asked.

English is quite widely spoken. I remember the conversation (in English) with the pony-tailed young man who came to install the satellite we didn’t want (Week 27). ‘We Portuguese are good communicators,’ he said. He put their linguistic abilities down to a number of factors, including the viewing of imported television shows that are subtitled rather than dubbed, and an outward-looking temperament. He declared the Portuguese to be very different in this to the Spanish.

I don’t know enough about Spain to have a view on that, but I certainly do observe the Portuguese to be outgoing, and helpful too. And one day, in a very nice little pizza restaurant, we had a particularly helpful young waitress, who was very encouraging with our language efforts. We liked her a lot. To make a short story even shorter, she’s now my Portuguese teacher. She drives here and gives me an at-home, one-to-one, two-hour lesson once a week, the second of which was this morning. She’s great. It’s going to help me a lot.

It is, of course, frustrating not to speak the language, but it is also interesting to listen and not understand: to hear the sounds and the cadence instead of the meaning. (For anyone who doesn’t know, written Portuguese looks like any other Romance language and you can make a reasonable guess at the meaning. The pronunciation, however, is a very different story, and the spoken language is far from guess-able.) So, in listening and not understanding, I’ve noticed the nasal quality of the language, the many ‘sh’ and ‘zh’ sounds, the cut-off endings of words, and a plosive, popping quality: bunches of repeated ‘p’ and possibly ‘d’ sounds. Best of all is the cadence, which is equally evident when Portuguese people speak English. The tone in many sentences is slightly raised, especially when something is being carefully explained, and then rises and falls at the very end. It’s charming, and I want to mimic it. Cadence is surely the first step in a language. You know you can tell the nationality of babies by the cadence of their early vocalisations? So I believe.

A few vocabulary tasters for you: puxe, pronounced ‘push’, appears on many doors, and means ‘pull’. Queque, I learned from Husband yesterday – who had the leisure to go to a cafe! – is the Portuguese rendering of the English word ‘cake’. Of course, Portuguese also have their own cakes, many of them, and delicious too, which come under the general name of bolo. And the picapau is the woodpecker – which features large in our lives and will have to be the subject of a future blog, since I’ve run out of space in this one.



  1. fatma

    Forgive my language, but I’m going to give to you my honest to goodness spontaneous response on seeing the pear wood kitchen in situ – and this is just a reaction to a picture – ‘Wow, that is bloody gorgeous! Beautiful!’. There you have it. You have made a wonderful selection. Interesting observations on the language learning front. I sympathise with you! I understand that period very well. When I returned from a 4 month stint in Spain, where I was more or less immersed in the language, my pronouncement of my Spanish speaking skills was ‘ I can actually speak Spanish quite badly!’

    Reply ↓

  2. Vic

    Oh my god, that wood!!!!! Did I say: oh my god, that wood!!!

    What a stunning kitchen.

  3. wendy

    Hi Mari. I love your blog. Please thank Edith for such splendid reads. As you can imagine, your horse visitor warms my heart and leaves me longing for your pasture. Ditto what Vic said–that wood is omg breathtaking. Can’t wait to see the kitchen in all it’s glory. Give my love to Christian and come visit us in wine country anytime. (although why you’d want to leave would be a mystery to me)

  4. Janet M

    Love the storks too!

  5. Fiona

    Beautiful kitchen. Fiona

  6. Patricia Roberts

    The story of the pear wood is a lovely one of a long friendship,and now it adorns the kitchen in your new home,happy cooking.

  7. Clare

    For an easier linguistic ride, you should have moved to Brazil. Brazilian Portuguese is much easier to understand and dare I say more pleasant to the ear. Have you decided on your Portuguese newspaper yet?


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