|Mon père returns to his Paris birthplace|
But contrary to expectations — family’s and friends’, that is — and contrary to my own ideas about my life, it’s not on the Left Bank that I wound up pitching my tent. No, somewhere along the way my eastward trajectory took a sharp turn south, and I ended up in Brazil. And if I was going to be able to discuss symptoms with a doctor or argue about the telephone company’s charges, if I were to communicate with anyone at all, I was going to have to fire up my neurons and start learning a "second" language all over again. I knew this was not going to be easy. I remembered from my college linguistics courses that it’s young people who enjoy the language-learning advantages, not older people. Mon Dieu!
I hardly spoke at all during my first two years in Brazil. I really can’t imagine what people thought. I must have given off quite an impression, a quiet, demure person with no ideas or opinions of her own. Mark, who had learned to speak Portuguese when he first started visiting Brazil long before we met, did all of the talking for us. But this was incredibly frustrating for me — probably for him as well — so I set about learning this new language. I watched closely as people talked, trying to pick up on body language, much as a child would. I also used my own tried-and-true method: I memorized and sang Brazilian songs, watched Brazilian films, read Jorge Amado, fell in love with — well, I stayed true to Yves Montand. I watched Brazilian news shows, trying to mimic the over-articulating news anchors. I also read lots of murder mysteries. It was a favorite genre of mine in the States, and I knew that the dialogue would be easy, along the lines of, "All right, punk, where were you on the night of the murder?"
|A few of my language tutors: Inspector Espinosa, Detective Bellini , Investigator Augustão|
Given all these complexities, and given my late start, I was convinced that I would speak only in the present tense for the rest of my life. And I did exactly that for years. Thankfully, most people still caught the gist of what I was saying. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, I began using simple past tenses, then a future tense or two, until one day I made a wild leap into the subjunctive abyss. I found myself discussing politics over dinner, laughing at jokes, chatting away with people in supermarket lines, and railing at the telemarketers. All in all, I’m feeling pretty confident. Confident enough to take on Mandarin if I had to move to China? No, not that confident.