Great Portuguese artworks feature in exhibition at two Australian museums

Japan, Dutch trading ship in Japanese waters, c.1870 four-panel screen, opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper, 67.5 x 138.0 x 11.0 cm, Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth  2006.004

Japan, Dutch trading ship in Japanese waters, c.1870 four-panel screen, opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper, 67.5 x 138.0 x 11.0 cm, Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth 2006.004

Unusually for Australia, there is a great museum exhibition on at the moment that focuses largely on Portugal’s “golden age of discoveries”. It’s the Treasure Ships: Art In The Age of Spices exhibition currently on at the Art Gallery of South Australia until August 30, and then at the Art Gallery of Western Australia from October 10 to January 31, 2016. As well as the Portuguese component, the 300-odd pieces in the exhibition – which examines the interaction between Europe and Asia from the 16th to the 19th centuries – come from private and public collections in India, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and the US.

I have always been interested in the Portuguese maritime exploits. When I was a young boy growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, we would often go to Mombasa on the coast for our family holidays, and visited Fort Jesus regularly. My dad would relate the story of the famous siege of the fort, and how the Portuguese bravely held out for months in the hope of a relief party arriving, but finally surrendered – only for relief to arrive the very next day. To me it all sounded heroic and tragic. But if you read the brief account of the siege here you will see that my dad was exaggerating as usual, and relief actually arrived a week after the surrender. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I’ve also been to the maritime museum (Museu de Marinha) in Belem, Lisbon – a fabulous place (both the museum and Belem as a whole), for anyone who is interested in this period of history.

Portugal, Salver 1520–40, silver gilt, 46.5 cm (diameter).  National Museum Machado de Castro, Coimbra  MNMC 6092A

Portugal, Salver 1520–40, silver gilt, 46.5 cm (diameter). National Museum Machado de Castro, Coimbra MNMC 6092A

I asked one of the curators of Treasure Ships: Art In The Age of Spices, Russell Kelty, which Portuguese museums and institutions had contributed.

“The gallery worked closely with the Australian Embassy in Lisbon as well as the Secretary of Culture and three Portuguese institutions: The National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), in Lisbon; the National Museum/Museu Nacional Machado de Castro, in Coimbra; and the Museu do Oriente / Fundaҫão Oriente, in Lisbon,” Russell said. “It became apparent that to fully contextualise this age which was initiated by Portuguese mercantile and ecclesiastical expansion into Asia, the great collections of Portugal would be integral. As far as we know, this is the first exhibition in Australia to highlight those collections.”

Portugal, Reliquary cross of St Francis Xavier  first half 17th century, silver, 36.0 x 18.5 cm  National Museum Machado de Castro, Coimbra  MNMC 6210

Portugal, Reliquary cross of St Francis Xavier first half 17th century, silver, 36.0 x 18.5 cm. National Museum Machado de Castro, Coimbra
MNMC 6210

Asked to nominate the highlights of the exhibition from the point of view of anyone who is interested in Portuguese culture in particular, Russell said: “There is one designated national treasure from Portugal, the silver gilt Salver, which portrays the opulence of the early 16th century when spices provided great wealth for the Portuguese. Also there is a silver crab and cross (pictured right), which elucidates missionary activities in Asia, particularly the Jesuits and Francis Xavier, known as the ‘Apostle of the East’ who travelled throughout Asia and even to Japan to convert.”

A lot of work goes into curating an exhibition of this nature. Russell said his own involvement took two to three years of research and travel, and five years for co-curator James Bennett.

We’ll have a look at other aspects of the exhibition in another post soon.

The images here have been supplied courtesy of the Media section of the Art Gallery of South Australia and may not to be distributed to any other party. Please respect the copyright restrictions. 


Vale young Brazilian singer Cristiano Araújo

Popular Brazilian singer Cristiano Araújo, 29, and his girlfriend died after a car crash in the early hours of Wednesday morning this week in the state of Goiás. He had been touring and was due to appear at a festival in the north-eastern city of Fortaleza this weekend. His death shocked Brazil, as he was seen to be one of the stars of his generation and was also popular with the Brazilian and Latino community in the United States too. As the video clip (below) shows, his concerts certainly don’t lack visual spectacle.

Like Michel Teló, who had a massive hit worldwide with Ai, se eu te pego!, Araújo’s musical style is heavily influenced by sertanejo, the “country” music of the north-east. Here, in a different style though, is another of Araújo’s recent big hits, Caso Indefinido (Undefined Case).


Trying to get back into the groove

Hi, apologies for not having posted much recently. Work has kept me incredibly busy since January (extra projects on top of my normal job and another deadline is looming). I have hardly had time to think about Romance languages, and am really missing them. In the past couple of days I have been having cravings to listen to the music of Delia and her ilk again. The Romanian top 100 airplay chart website that I relied on for much of the past couple of years has gone offline, so instead I am using this blog site as a reference, but it has only the top 40 (often the songs that don’t make the top 40 are more interesting than those that do). The site also has a lot more English tracks on it, but never mind.

So here’s what quickly caught my ear…

This is not Delia, but it could easily be… It’s a Moldovan singer, Nicoleta Nuca. She’s at No.16.

I also like this by Dan Bittman, the lead singer of Holograf (and before that IRIS), who is wrestling with angels and demons. He’s at No.6 but I think was at No.1 not so long ago. I particularly like the guitar licks around the 2.50 minute mark.

And now for Delia, at No.14 with this…

Now here are some live performances of the above…

I hope to catch up with some French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish music soon. To all the people whose blogs I follow, I hope you are well :)


Eurovision 2015: you win some, you lose some

The Eurovision 2015 semifinals have been held and what’s the news for my Romance language favourites?

GOOD NEWS: In semi-final one, Romania’s Voltaj got the nod to appear in the final. Here is their semifinal appearance. This song gives me goosebumps.

Great too, to see Razvan Schinteie, the boy who stars in the short film screened behind Voltaj, waving from the audience at the end. Good to see he made it safe and sound to Vienna! (In the film, he sets off on a little boat by himself going up the Danube in search of his “lost” parents, despite not knowing their address – more about that story here).

BAD NEWS: In semi-final two poor old Portugal got dumped again; pity – Leonor Andrade sang more powerfully than I expected compared to the recorded version, and unlike some Portuguese entries in previous years, I like this song. And good on Portugal for having the guts to sing in the native language.

The final will be a marathon with 27 countries participating, including Australia! How will Romance language contenders France, Spain and Italy fare?

Songs for mothers (on Mother’s Day). Part 2: Romanian and English

The previous Mother’s Day post featured songs in Portuguese that paid homage mostly to absent (deceased or otherwise) mothers. Here is one in Romanian, Mama, that’s more cheerful and the mothers are definitely present. I love the accordion in this and the little bit that I can only describe as the “twirly whirly snake charmer woodwind sound” (!). You’ll also a snatch of a famous classical tune, though I can’t for the life of me think what it is, help!. The singers involved are F.Charm and Elena Gheorghe (the latter has featured regularly on this blog). This song was released earlier this year, in time for Mother’s Day in Romania which is in early March.

Here is a live studio performance of the song. It’s good too but unfortunately the accordionist and the snake charmer bits are missing! At the beginning the radio announcer basically says, “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, F. Charm and Elena Gheorghe are here …”

Here are the lyrics from the website. Paste them into a translator and you’ll get the drift…

Elena Gheorghe:
Mama inca nu ti-am spus,
Ca nimic nu-i mai presus,
Decat insemni tu pentru mine,
Ma cuprinde teama!
Teama c-ai sa pleci, pe meleaguri gri si reci
De langa mine

F. Charm:
Cei mai sinceri ochi si-o fata prea blanda
Palmele ridate, batute de-atata munca
Nu ti-am spus-o mama, dar in inima ta stii
Esti cel mai bun exemplu cand voi avea copii
Prea multi oameni au batut la usa sufletului meu
Dar numai mama a ramas atunci cand mi-a fost mai greu
Am vazut barbati, femei, ce se mananca-ntre ei
Vocea ta imi repeta: mama tu nu fi ca ei!

F. Charm:
Nu-i deloc usor,
Mi-e frica de gandul c-odata tu nu vei mai fi!
Anii trec in zbor,
O viata n-ajunge-i prea scurta sa-ti pot multumi!

F. Charm & Elena Gheorghe:
Si se-ntreaba ce-o mai fi cu mine,
N-am sunat-o de cateva zile,
Nu-ti fa griji inca sunt bine,
Am sa ma intorc acasa si-o sa fii mandra de mine mama!

Elena Gheorghe:
Mama inca nu ti-am spus,
Ca nimic nu-i mai presus,
Decat insemni tu pentru mine,
Ma cuprinde teama!
Teama c-ai sa pleci, pe meleaguri gri si reci
De langa mine

Elena Gheorghe:
Esti un magic tablou,
Un cuvant cu ecou,
Cel mai mare cadou,
Te port in sufletul meu!

F. Charm:
Trec si saptamani cand uit sa sun,
Grijile pe primul loc le pun
Dar ai o inima atat de mare
Si ma-ntelegi fara suparare
Dar cand bat la usa casei tale,
Imi deschizi, pe fata ta e soare,
Imi pui tot ce ai mai bun pe masa,
Copilul tau e din nou acasa

F. Charm:
Nu-i deloc usor,
Mi-e frica de gandul c-odata tu nu vei mai fi!
Anii trec in zbor,
O viata n-ajunge-i prea scurta sa-ti pot multumi!

Elena Gheorghe:
Mama inca nu ti-am spus,
Ca nimic nu-i mai presus,
Decat insemni tu pentru mine,
Ma cuprinde teama!
Teama c-ai sa pleci, pe meleaguri gri si reci
De langa mïne.

The earliest memory I have of a tribute song to mothers was 12-year old Neil Reid‘s Mother of Mine, released in 1972, which was round about the time I first started paying attention to the music charts. There is an interesting background story to it, here. The top clip is of a TV performance, but for better sound quality go to the clip underneath.

Songs for mothers (on Mother’s Day) Part 1: Portuguese

april-723028_1280The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day in Australia and also, according to this website, in the following countries: Anguilla, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Curaçao, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

In Portugal, Spain and Mozambique, however, it is celebrated a week earlier on the first Sunday in May. In a number of Eastern European and the “-stan” countries it is celebrated on March 8; in Britain and Ireland on the fourth Sunday in Lent; and in France on the last Sunday of May or the first Sunday of June depending if it’s Pentecost, according to Wikipedia.

In the advertising for it on television we live in a perfect world of happy families and living mothers. The reality, of course, is quite different, and the loss of a parent requires a certain courage that often goes unacknowledged.

It might not be “cool”, I suppose for a male singer to pay homage in song to his mother, but the Portuguese don’t seem to have any qualms about it. Here is one by Luis Filipe Reis that I like (I saw him live in Sydney a few years ago). It’s called Minha Santa Mãemãe being the word for mother, minha being the possessive pronoun, and santa being the feminine form of saint/saintly. An important word of endearment you will hear in the chorus is querida (dear), as in minha mãe querida. The video looks very old but the sound quality is good.

Now it’s Jorge Ferreira‘s turn: I like the wrinkled faces of the elderly mum’s in this video. That generation in Portugal had a hard life: you can see strength in them but also a certain brittleness.

A number of male fado singers have also recorded a song based on the poem Mãe by Miguel Torga. One of the most impressive versions is by Frei Hermano da Câmara (a Benedictine monk now in his 80s)

Some of Torga’s poetry, including Mãecan be found here.

Now a younger generation seems to be getting in on the act. I don’t know anything about Puto Pika and the singers involved and hope the rap lyrics are decent. The piano bits are! (Puto can be a vulgar word in Portuguese and Spanish).


German subtitles on Romanian Eurovision song and life in Germanic-Romanian ghost towns. What more could you want!

Hello. It’s been more than three weeks since I posted anything. Been a very busy boy. I’ll boast about that more during the week. To get back into the swing, I’m going to dabble a bit in German, a language that should get some attention next month when Vienna hosts this year’s Eurovision song contest (May 19-23)

Romanian band Voltaj have released a YouTube version with German subtitles of their Eurovision 2015 entry, De la Capăt, which is a good excuse for me to play one of my favourite songs of the moment. Here it is, German speakers sing along now:

German and Romanian are, of course, quite different, but German is a language you will hear in Romania quite often, particularly during the summer holidays in Transylvania, which was once part of the Habsburg empire. According to Wikipedia’s list of ethic minorities in Romania, though, Germans now make up only 0.2 per cent of the total population. The number was originally much higher, but due to various political circumstances since the second world war, none of them pleasant, it has fallen considerably. You can read about the overall German population here, and about the largest group, the Transylvanian Saxons, here. When I did my language course in Sibiu in 2013, I visited some of the Saxon villages not far from the city, such as Cașolț and Roșia. As you will see from my picture gallery, these villages are quaint but have a forlorn air of decay, like sad little ghost towns. Many people have left these villages to seek fortunes elsewhere, their houses stand empty; some have been taken over by gypsies or vagabonds. Yet there is still a certain beauty and serenity to the place, and the people who remain are very hospitable.

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One prominent German-Romanian is the country’s recently elected president, Klaus Iohannis. Another is the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Hertha Müller, who left Romania in 1987 after being hounded by the Communist regime’s secret police. One of her most recent books is The Hunger Angel, which graces my bookshelves, but let me tell you it is a harrowing read.

The Hunger Angel cover, Portobello Books, 2012. Shot by Bernardo on his iPhone using the Snapseed app.

The Hunger Angel, Portobello Books, 2012. Shot by Bernardo on his iPhone using the Snapseed app.

It tells the story of how Leo, a young lad from Sibiu, was sent into a Soviet forced labour camp for five years from 1944. In that year the Red Army occupied Romania and Stalin demanded that all German Romanians aged 17-45 be sent into labour camps to “rebuild” the Soviet Union. Many never came back. The war might have ended in 1945, but the atrocities continued long after that. When Leo returns home in 1949 he is still only 22 but in spirit he is a broken old man.

Later Ceausescu’s communist regime really made life hard for the ethnic minorities as policies were introduced to, let’s say, stamp out the Hungarian and German cultural identities, including clamping down on language (this is why some towns in Romania have a Romanian name, a Hungarian name and a German name). Some of the German-Romanians people I spoke to in Cașolț told me of the grievances that they or their parents had to put up with. And that, sadly, is mostly what human history is all about, really. One tribe or grouping taking advantage of, bullying, coercing or persecuting another. On that fun note, good night!

Stunning Danube scenery in short film linked to Romania’s Eurovision song

When you watch the original videoclip to Voltaj’s song De la Capăt (subsequently chosen as Romania’s Eurovision 2015 entry) you can’t help being impressed by the cinematography and the spectacular riverside setting. The imagery is taken from a short film (scurt metraj in Romanian) entitled Calea Dunarii (Way of the Danube, in English). It was filmed near Orșova, very close to the magnificent “Iron Gates” – the narrow gorge between Serbia and Romania which is probably the most striking part of a river cruise along the length of the Danube.

The film – shown here with English subtitles – is well worth a look if you have 12 minutes to spare. It features a well-known Romanian actor Constantin Dinulescu as “Bunicul” (the grandfather), while the little kid playing Ion – the local equivalent of John – Razvan Schinteie, is superb too. Great actors are those who can convey meaning and emotion when the script asks for silence.

The aim of both the film and the song is to raise awareness of the loneliness of the “orphans of the economy“. Here is the music clip.

Of course, it is easy for professional musicians to sound good on disc after hours in a recording studio, but some are caught short badly in live performances. So how do Voltaj rate? Check them out live in Radio Zu’s cramped studios.

I can’t get enough of this song, so here for good measure is another performance, this time in the studios of another popular Romanian music station, Kiss FM.

Can Lenor Andrade do a Lúcia Moniz and surprise for Portugal at Eurovision 2015?

Portugal’s entrant in the 2015 Eurovision song contest is a Lisbon law student and TV actress, Lenor Andrade. She rose to fame as a contestant last year in season 2 of The Voice Portugal (won by Rui Drummond), usually performing soulful, bluesy numbers that enabled her to show off her powerful, gutsy voice.

Here she is, for example, doing a cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good – see how quickly she convinces judge Mickael Carreira!

Lenor subsequently took part in, and won, the annual Festival da Canção (from which Portugual’s Eurovision representative is chosen) with a more upbeat pop/rock song Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa (There Is A Sea That Separates Us). It is a song suited to a nation perched on the western coast of Europe, and which has a fascinating maritime history.

I like the song, it grows on me, but I find it a little subdued, vocally – at least as recorded here. Perhaps it comes across better live. English and Spanish versions of the song will be on their way soon, apparently.

Funnily enough, you won’t hear the exact title in the song. Instead the chorus starts with Se é o mar que nos separa… (If it’s the sea that separates us...)

The Portuguese lyrics and English translation are here on the Lyrics Translate website., where Dutch, Catalan, German, Spanish and French translations can be found too.

Mickael Correira, incidentally, sang on the Portuguese market version of Enrique Iglesias’s big hit Bailando – you can see it and the Brazilian and Spanish versions here.

Portugal’s best performance at Eurovision was in Oslo in 1996 when Lúcia Moniz came sixth with O Meu Coração Não Tem Cor (My Heart Has No Colour).

Lúcia was very young at the time, but went on to have a successful singing and acting career, both in Portugal and overseas: British heartthrob Colin Firth proposed to her in the film Love Actually! Perhaps similar opportunities are in store for young Lenor.

Here’s a more recent performance from her… the song is smooth, she is sultry.

Romanian verbs (present tense, Bernardo funky non-extended remix)

brain-494152_1280Recently in two different publications I came across articles on how learning languages is good for the brain and keeps you youthful etc. No wonder I am looking so good in the mirror!

Well, I feel obliged to add some more elixir of youth, so I am about to pour myself a strong coffee, and get stuck into revision on Romanian verbs. I might make it an Irish coffee, because drinking in many languages keeps you youthful too.

Now, exactly how many conjugation groups there are with Romanian verbs is a matter of … well, let’s call it learned speculation. It all depends how you most efficiently categorise the many slightly irregular verbs, and different teachers do it in different ways. For example,

  1. Romanian, An Essential Grammar by Ramona Gönczöl (published in 2008 by Routledge) says there were traditionally four, but now there are eleven sets of conjugations.
  2. Conjugarea Verbelor Româneşti by Ana-Maria Barbu (2013, eDidactica) divides the verbs into the following:
  • question-mark-460868_1280Conjugation I (split into 12 groups)
  • Conjugation II-a (split into four groups)
  • Conjugation III-a (split into eight groups)
  • Conjugation IV-a (split into 13 groups)


When I did my summer language course in Romania in 2013 our excellent teacher tried to keep it simple for us, so rather than go into 11 conjugations, or four conjugations and 37 groups (!!!), I will use my revision notes from the course.


In Romanian, verbs in their infinitive form end in one of three letters – a, e or i – and each one has two possible conjugations so all up you have to learn by heart six sequences of endings for the present tense. (Then I added, somewhat optimistically: Plus, of course, there will be irregular ones). Some examples of infinitives are:

  • a lucra, to work; a spune, to say; a vorbi, to speak

letters-565096_640 1) Verbs ending in -A

These verbs take either the -EZ set of endings or what we might call the  or zero suffix. There are no particular clues as to which verb takes which ending. The –a of the infinitive is dropped to form a stem and the following suffixes are added to it.


PRONOUN               EZ ENDINGS            ∅  ENDINGS

eu (I)                            –ez                         -∅ (no suffix)

tu (you)                         –ezi                         –i

el/ea (he/she)               –ează                      –ă

noi (we)                        –ăm                         –ăm 

voi (you)                       –aţi                           –aţi

ei/ele (they)                  –ează                       –ă

  • Note how with -a verbs the endings for the third persons singular (el/ea) and plural (ei/ele) are the same.
  • Where you see the t with a curl under it as in –aţi it is hissed and the i after it is silent (so it sounds a bit like the last bit of “psssst!” in English).


Let’s conjugate a lucra, (to work, which is lucrative for some) and a cânta, to sing. Our stems are lucr– and cânt

eu (I)                            lucrez                         cânt

tu (you)                         lucrezi                        cânti

el/ea (he/she)               lucrează                     cântă

noi (we)                        lucrăm                        cântăm 

voi (you)                       lucraţi                         cântaţi

ei/ele (they)                  lucrează                      cântă

letters-565117_640 2) Verbs ending in -E

This group of verbs appears to be much simpler. They all take the ∅ endings except for a scrie (to write) which has a -u component – the u is inserted where normally there is no suffix.


PRONOUN               -U ENDINGS            ∅ ENDINGS

eu (I)                            –u                         -∅ (no suffix)

tu (you)                         -i                         –i

el/ea (he/she)               –e                        –e

noi (we)                        –em                     -em 

voi (you)                       -eţi                       -eţi

ei/ele (they)                  -u                       -∅ (no suffix)

  • Note, with -e verbs,the first person singular and third person plural endings are the same.


Let’s put this into practice now comparing a scrie with the verbs a face, (to do or make), so our stems are scri– and fac

eu (I)                            scriu                         fac

tu (you)                        scrii                          faci

el/ea (he/she)              scrie                         face

noi (we)                       scriem                      facem 

voi (you)                      scrieţi                       faceţi

ei/ele (they)                 scriu                        fac

letters-565103_6403) Verbs ending in -i

These verbs either take the ∅ endings or -esc endings, and again there are no discernible patterns as to which of the two options it might be, you just have to learn by heart which takes what.


PRONOUN               –ESC ENDINGS            ∅ ENDINGS

eu (I)                             -esc                               ∅

tu (you)                         -eşti                                -i

el/ea (he/she)               -eşte                               -e

noi (we)                         -im                                 -im

voi (you)                        -iţi                                  -iţi

ei/ele (they)                   -esc                                ∅

  • Note, as with -e verbs, with -i verbs, the first person singular and third person plural endings are the same.


Let’s have a go using a vorbi (to speak) and a fugi, (to run), so our stems are vorb– and fug

eu (I)                             vorbesc                               fug

tu (you)                         vorbeşti                               fugi

el/ea (he/she)               vorbeşte                              fuge

noi (we)                         vorbim                                 fugim

voi (you)                        vorbiţi                                  fugiţi

ei/ele (they)                   vorbesc                                fug

question-mark-460868_1280 IT’S NOT AS COMPLICATED AS IT LOOKS!

While this may seem a lot to learn, the first and second persons plural (noi şi voi) are very easy to remember.

  • With -a verbs, the respective noi and voi endings are –ăm and –aţi
  • With -e verbs, the respective noi and voi endings are –em and –eţi 
  • With -i verbs, the respective noi and voi endings are –im and –iţi

You will notice, too, that the ∅ endings are pretty similar across the –a, –e or –i verbs, apart from the change of vowel.


So, how was that, eh? I bet you feel rejuvenated and mentally alert after digesting all that brain fodder. You may even be craving more Romanian verbs, in which case you’ll find a fi (to be) and a avea (to have) up there in my Verbs drop-down menu.

Noapte bună – good night!