The Enescu festival: it’s bigger than Ben Hur the opera!


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In September the hotel porters of Bucharest will be very busy lugging double basses, cellos, harps and tubas up and down the staircases and along the plush carpeted corridors. (Or maybe less poetically they will shove them on trolleys and take the lift). Why? Because that is when the George Enescu International Festival takes place, and members of orchestras from all over the world will descend on the Romanian capital. Held every two years, the festival must surely rank as the biggest cultural event on Romania’s calendar.

I had never studied the program for this event before, as I have only recently got to know some of Enescu’s music, so I went online to check it out. The Romanian language website is here and the English language version is here. The festival is much more comprehensive than I imagined. Although most of it takes place in Bucharest, there will also be concerts in Timișoara, Cluj, Oradea, Bacâu, Sibiu, Arad and Brașov.

Among the “Great Orchestras of the World” (translated in Romanian as “Mari Orchestre Ale Lumii“) that will be taking part over the course of the month are:

The Staatskapelle Berlin, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the National Philharmonic of Russia, the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI (Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra), the London Philharmonic, the Munich Philharmonic, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lausanne Chamber OrchestraThe Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestraplus of course Romania’s top orchestras and its youth orchestra, and many other various ensembles, choirs, quartets and wotnot. Gosh, what a program! Some operas and ballets have been thrown in too, and even actor John Malkovich will be there, playing the part of a serial killer in some recital. One of the venues is also one of the loveliest buildings in Bucharest, the Romanian Athenaeum. You can explore it here.

So, for fun, and to introduce a language element to this posting, I thought I would paste some copy from the festival website in Romanian. Have a read of this, to see how good you are at deciphering the language, then look at the website’s English translation underneath.

Pe 15 aprilie începe vânzarea biletelor!

Published 08 Martie 2013 11:47

Biletele individuale pentru spectacolele din cadrul ediției 2013 a Festivalului Internațional George Enescu vor fi puse în vânzare pe 15 aprilie, de la ora 10.00. Acestea vor putea fi cumpărate fie pe Internet, de pe site-ul Eventim – –, fie din întreaga rețea de magazine Eventim (Germanos, Orange, Vodafone, Domo, Librăriile Humanitas și Cărturești), precum și la celelalte puncte Eventim din România. De asemenea, biletele pot fi procurate și prin intermediul rețelor Eventim din țările europene.

Înapoi la toate știrile

Ticket sales starts on April 15th!

Published March 08, 2013 11:47

Individual tickets for performances in the 2013 edition of George Enescu International Festival will be on sale starting April 15 at 10.00. They can be purchased either on the Internet, on Eventim site – – or on the Eventim partner stores (Germanos, Orange, Vodafone, Domo, Librăriile Humanitas and Cărtureşti) and from the other Eventim sales points in Romania. Also, tickets can be purchased from Eventim branches in other European countries.

 Back to all news

So how did you go?

Tickets to these events sell fast – some concerts have sold out already – so I guess if you miss out this year you should make a note in your diaries for 2015 to get in early. But if you live in Europe and fancy a weekend of culture somewhere exotic, budget airline Wizz Air flies to Timișoara, Cluj and Bucharest, while Romania’s national airline, Tarom, has English, Spanish and French language options on its website.

George Enescu

George Enescu

If I have interpreted the program correctly, it seems the festival will open on September 1 with, quite fittingly, George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody no. 2 in D Major op. 11. (played by the Staatskapelle Berlin under the baton of Daniel Barenboim). This is a lovely, soothing piece of music – I listen to this to relax after a period of work-related stress, and at the opening bars I imagine the early morning mists swirling gently around the peaks of the Carpathian mountains. There are a number of versions of it on YouTube, but some of them cut off the ending for some reason. I like this performance by The Romanian National Radio Orchestra, which I think dates back to the Communist era.

If you like Romanian Rhapsody no. 2, and you are in an energetic mood, you will definitely enjoy the Romanian Rhapsody no. 1, which is a lot livelier, and more playful. The rhapsodies and the Poème Roumain (30 minutes-plus) are probably Enescu’s most popular works. Enescu was also an acclaimed violinist and music teacher, and a conductor. He wrote three symphonies, orchestral suites, piano suites, violin and cello sonatas and string quartets. Anyway, if you have 12 calm minutes to spare, listen to this.

Hope to see you in the Romanian Athenaeum one day! 🙂


Why You Should Learn… Portuguese

Above I am reblogging The Well-Travelled Postcard‘s item on why you should learn Portuguese. It perfectly captures the dilemma that any student of the language faces – whether to go with the European accent or the Brazilian one. It’s a pleasant dilemma really. And yes, as the post notes, Brazil is “hot stuff”, and Lisbon really is a great city. When I first read this post, it certainly made me feel proud, if not a little conceited, about the fact that I have made the effort with this language, and I am grateful for the fact that I have had the privilege of going to both Portugal and Brazil (twice in both cases, and hopefully again soon). The people are very warm and I have made good friends in both countries. I hope other readers feel similarly inspired. Be sure to check out The Well-Travelled Postcard’s items on azulejos, fado, the life of an intern in Lisbon and other Portuguese-related posts.

The Well-Travelled Postcard

Statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro           Following on from my post last week about learning Arabic, here’s the sixth post in my series on the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.

No. 7: Portuguese

178 million native speakers, 193 million total speakers. Official language of Brazil, Portugal, Macau and 7 other countries in Africa, including Mozambique and Cape Verde.

Why Portuguese?

          I studied Portuguese for two years at university in Exeter and have taken up weekly classes again with a lovely Brazilian woman at work, Adriana. Already speaking Spanish and Italian does majorly help me, so despite the fact that I only took it up in 2009, I can hold a decent conversation in Portuguese, although I’m rapidly discovering that the languages spoken in Portugal and Brazil are vastly different! For a start, several letters are pronounced differently, then there are the grammatical differences, & last of all the vocabulary differs…

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Why You Should Learn… Spanish

One of the blogs I follow is The Well-Travelled Postcard. Its author, Virginia, is a lot more talented than me – she speaks “English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, intermediate French and (extremely basic) Russian”. Wow. She has been doing an interesting series on the top 10 most spoken languages in the world. I would encourage you to check it out. Here I am reblogging her item encouraging people to learn Spanish and later I will reblog her post on Portuguese. I am secretly hoping that she will cover the rest of My Five Romances languages, but am not sure that Romanian will sneak into the top ten!

The Well-Travelled Postcard

Bullfighter          Following on from my post last week about learning Mandarin Chinese, here’s the second post in my series on the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.

No. 2: Spanish

420 million native speakers, 500 million total speakers. Official language of 22 countries, spread over Europe and North & South America, and 1 of the 6 official languages of the United Nations.

Why Spanish?

         If you’ve ever been to Spain or Latin America and have gone somewhere even only slightly off the beaten track, then you’ll understand me when I say that English hasn’t really taken off. If you’re planning on going travelling, then at least a smattering of Spanish is essential if you want to get a real insight into the country. What’s more, Latin America has faired far better than the US or Europe during the recession, and it’s another great area like China…

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Caipirinhas, French pantries and petit fours in Auckland

My post Where are all the Portuguese tutors and students? was inspired by a trip to Auckland, where I found very few, if any Portuguese language courses were available, in contrast to French, Spanish and Italian. (It goes without saying there was nothing on Romanian …. poor Romanian is very much the most unloved of My Five Romances.) [Notice how the expression “it goes without saying” is always followed with the saying!] But the world is very cosmopolitan nowadays and you will hear different languages practically everywhere you go, at least in urban areas. Auckland is no exception. On my first day of exploring there I saw a man with a Vitória de Setúbal bandanna on his head (his football team is currently coming 11th in Portugal’s Primeira Liga but is in danger of relegation) acting as a tour guide for two others. His Portuguese accent was, as you would expect, very European.

Ipanema restaurant on the Ponsonby road is the place to go if you want to eat Brazilian food and hear Brazilian music in Auckland

Ipanema restaurant on the Ponsonby road is the place to go if you want to eat Brazilian food and hear Brazilian music in Auckland. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

Later that week my work colleagues and I were delighted to find a Brazilian restaurant, Ipanema, where the food was great and the caipirinhas are just as good. There you can expect to hear a lot of Brazilian music and you can practise your Portuguese on the staff, and you know how Brazilians love to chat! Its address is 2 Ponsonby Road (near the intersection with the “K” road) and its website is here. Ponsonby Road is renowned for its classy boutiques and restaurants, and Ipanema seemed very popular. On one night we were there GABA – the Gay Auckland Business Association – had booked one of its rooms for a function, so it gets a tick of approval from both the gay and business sectors.

Know your club colours ... drink to your team at Ipanema. Photo: Bernard O'Shea

Know your club colours … drink to your team at Ipanema. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

The restaurant area has some really nice Brazilian-style artwork on the walls, while high up in the bar there were some shirts of Brazilian club football teams: among the ones I recognised were Fluminese from Rio de Janeiro (the green, purple and white), Gremio (blue, black and white) definitely and possibly Internacional (red) from Porto Alegre, and Palmeiras (green and white) from São Paulo. The black and white one second left in the picture and the white one second right I don’t recognise. Possibly the former is Botafogo.

If you are in the mood for some French ambience, then the restaurant Le garde-manger at 466 Queen Street (one of the main roads in the central business district) is the place to go. Unfortunately I did not get the chance to eat there myself but I did have a chat with the manager, and my colleagues who had dinner there one night say the food was delicious. (It is Friday night, 10pm, I haven’t had dinner yet and this post is making me feel so hungry!) The restaurant’s website is very cute, check it out here.

Le garde-manger restaurant is a little French island in a sea of Asian restaurants on upper Queen Street in Auckland. Photo: Bernard O'Shea

Le garde-manger restaurant is a little French island in a sea of Asian restaurants on upper Queen Street in Auckland. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

Incidentally, garde manger is an expression that is used in the culinary industry in English. Its literal French meaning is “the keeper of the food” or “one who keeps food”, but as the chef, Florent, explains in both English and French here, it also has come to mean the pantry or place where food is stored. In the catering industry today it means “a cook who specialises in the preparation of cold foods (such as meats, fish, and salads)”. Apparently it is a very important and demanding post, find out why here. I like the restaurant’s little pantry in the signage. I imagine opening the cupboard doors to find delicious pies inside. 🙂

If you see it walking down the street, don't walk on by! Paneton bakery in Auckland. Photo: Bernard O'Shea

If you see it while walking down the street, don’t walk on by! Paneton bakery in Auckland is well worth a stop. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

I decided on my last day in Auckland that if I passed a nice patisserie I would buy some nice cakes for all the people I had been working with the week I was there. It so happened that it was also a French-flavoured establishment, Paneton bakery at 21 Halsey Street. There I bought a box of petit fours. Just in case you were wondering, like me, what exactly is a “petit four“,  it means “small oven” in French, and is a confectionery or savoury appetiser. It has nothing to do with the number four, and because they are small even four petit fours would not be enough for me. I had to buy them by the boxful. See below. How many do you think were left in the box by the time I got back to the office? 🙂

Petit fours (or should that be nines) from Paneton. Photo: Bernard O'Shea

Petit fours (or should that be nines?) from Paneton. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

The misogyny of languages

Cristina_Fernández_de_Kirchner_-_Foto_Oficial_2My previous post on the diplomatic furore caused by the most charming president of Uruguay, José Mujica, aged 77, when he called his Argentinian  counterpart, Christina Fernández de Kirchner (right), who is a very spritely 60, a vieja, or “old hag“, raises some interesting issues about attitudes to gender and sexism in language.

In reply, one of the followers of this blog and a blogger whom I follow, “Le Cul en Rows” (If you are not sure what a cul is let me tell you that her cul is precariously balanced between two chairs representing different languages, and you should check out her blog here) offered this pertinent observation:

The translation of “vieja” as “old hag” is correct. When used as an adjective, “vieja” is indeed “old feminine X” but as a noun, it has distinctly negative connotations and can also mean “washed up” as well as “no longer sexually viable.” This may have been a pot/kettle case as you suggest, but there aren’t really any male equivalents that I can think of. (Crotchety, grumpy, etc. not being nearly as extreme.)”

My gut feeling (I have not done any formal study of this) is that in English at least and possibly in many other languages there are many more pejorative terms or expressions applying to women, to gays and to effeminate men (regardless of their sexuality) then there are applying to men. If you used the masculine equivalent of vieja in Spanish, viejo, for example, would it imply that the man was “washed up and no longer sexually viable”? I doubt it.

Australia pinnacle

It’s a man’s world. (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

What, in English, is the male equivalent of “hag”, which in some dictionaries is defined as “an unpleasant or ugly old woman“? I can’t really think of one. As noted above, “grumpy old man“, “dirty old man” etc don’t really have the same venom. Another perjorative term that comes to mind is “fishwife“, which apart from meaning a woman who sells fish can also mean “a woman regarded as coarse and shrewishly abusive“. Do you think fisherman or fishmonger have the same connotations? Absolutely not. The word shrew is another example: it can mean “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman“. I guess the male equivalent must be shrewd (um, I am being sarcastic).

The French translation of “vieja” was “bonne femme” which has a perjorative sense (maybe “old duck” would be a kinder translation into English than “old hag“). I asked a French teacher if you could also say “bon hom” about an old man, and he said you could use that expression, but it was more affectionate than bonne femme. So, old men get affection, old women get despised. And of course there is the word bonhomie, which even English has adopted, meaning “a pleasant and affable disposition; geniality“. Aren’t men linguistically lovable!

Prime Minister Julia Gillard (25)

Julia Gillard

There has been much debate here in Australia about misogyny (defined as “hatred of women”) because the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has had to endure some stinging attacks in Parliament and from male members of the media (including some radio “shock jocks” who are usually grumpy old men), and she herself has said they were misogynists. Among the attackers were Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and radio announcer Alan Jones, whom I nickname Alan Moans because basically, like other talkback radio jocks, he is a professional whinger. He caused an outcry when he said that her father had died of shame at her “lies and deceit” in parliament. You can read about the saga here. Gillard’s speech attacking Tony Abbott (“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.”) caused quite a stir worldwide. You can read The New Yorker‘s account here. Other members of the Australian parliament have also caused a stir with sexist language … read about Peter Slipper’s crass offering here.

former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatche...

Margaret Thatcher

Would Mujica have said the same kind of thing about an Argentinian male president? Look, too, at all the vitriol that has arisen this week about another tough woman in politics, Margaret Thatcher, whose funeral was held today. When news broke of her death, there were banners proclaiming “Hooray, the bitch is dead” and there has been the campaign to make the song Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead go to number one on the charts. It failed, as you can see here. Sure, Thatcher was a very divisive and controversial politician, but the point I am making here is do the male equivalents of bitch and witch dog and wizard – have the same nasty implications?

If there was a study to see which languages in the world had the most sexist terms, it would certainly make interesting reading. I wonder whether some cultural patterns would emerge. Would Western languages prove to be more sexist than Eastern/Oriental/Asian languages, for example? How would Arabic, Polynesian or African languages rate? Are there any languages that don’t have any perjorative terms at all?

Catherine Lara

Catherine Lara

Anyway, rather than focusing on the negatives, I thought I would try to pay homage and show some appreciation for women (who I think are generally the unsung heroes of the world) and tie it in with my Romance languages theme by drawing your attention to a “sung hero”, that is a woman singing a great song in one of my five featured languages. I opted for a tuneful pop song, Nuit Magique, by an acclaimed French violinist Catherine Lara (you can read about her in French here or English here). It’s a smash hit from about 1986, and I have done a rough translation of les paroles below. But that will not be the end of this post, please read through to the finish!

Here are les paroles

OK … il n’y avait rien à faire   – OK, there was nothing to do
OK … dans cette ville étrangère   – in this strange town
OK … tu étais solitaire  – you were alone
OK … j’avais le cœur à l’envers   – my heart was upside down (i.e. in turmoil or somesuch)
OK … tout ça n’était qu’un jeu  –   it was all only a game
OK … on jouait avec le feu   –  we were playing with fire
OK … on s’est pris au sérieux  –  we took ourselves seriously
OK … le rire au fond des yeux  –   laughter deep in our eyes

Nuit magique  –  Magical night
Une histoire d’humour qui tourne à l’amour – a story of humour which turned to love
Quand vient le jour  – when the day came
Nuit magique
On perd la mémoire au fond d’un regard – we forgot everything in the depth of a look
Histoire d’un soir – the story of an evening
Nuit magique
Si loin de tout sans garde-fou  – so far from everything without a safety-rail/handrail
Autour de nous  – around us
Nuit magique
Nuit de hasard on se sépare  –  a random night (or a night of randomness) we separate
Sans trop y croire –  without believing in it too much

OK … c’est une histoire de peau   – OK, it’s a story of skin
OK … on repart à zéro   – we go back to square one
OK … on oublie aussitôt   – we forget everything
OK … qu’on s’est tourné le dos  – when we turn our backs on each other.

Below I have pasted another of her clips, a relatively recent performance of another big hit,  La Rockeuse de Diamant. You will notice that in this one she is older and greyer, but she is as lively as ever and appears full of joie de vivre, so don’t anybody dare call her an old hag or bonne femme, OK!

Mujica v Kirchner: it takes an old bag to spot an old hag

Español: La presidenta Cristina Fernández junt...

So which one is in the prime of his or her youth? Cristina Fernández de Kirchener and José Mujica, a man who obviously says it with flowers and flowery language. He’s 77 and she is a mere 60.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a bit of fun this morning telling a Brazilian friend the news that Uruguayan President José Mujica was having to offer his “heartfelt apologies” because he had apparently called his Argentinian counterpart, Christina Fernández de Kirchner, an “old hag“, and the Argentinians were not greatly impressed. You can read the BBC’s report in English here.

What he had been overheard saying, the BBC said, was “This old hag is even worse than the cross-eyed man“. (The latter being a reference to her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who had what in English is known as “a lazy eye”.) The BBC said Mujica blamed the quip on his “rough language skills”. Perhaps he should start following some language blogs.

My Brazilian friend, who is a bit deaf, initially thought I had said she had been called an “old bag” or “old rag“. But when I explained no, she was not a bag or a rag, the word was hag, he didn’t know that word, so I had to look it up in Portuguese for him. A hag is defined in English dictionaries as an ugly old woman or a witch: Not having any dictionaries to hand, I quickly went online for an English-Portuguese dictionary, and had this offering:

hag    =   (ugly) bruxa,      (nasty) megera,   (witch)  bruxa


A witch or bruxa. (Photo credit: Edzed Photography)

I then went to BBC Brasil’s version of the story to see if it used the word bruxa. It said he was offering his “sinceras desculpas” and translated the offending remark thus : “Esta velha é pior do que o vesgo.

Calling someone a velha is probably not as bad as calling them a bruxa. Velho and velha are the masculine and feminine adjectives for “old” and when used as a noun mean an old man or an old woman, respectively. Vesgo means cross-eyed.

I then went to the BBC’s Spanish site, BBC Mundo, to see what it had to say on the subject, because presumably his original remarks would have been in Spanish anyway. It said he was offering his “sentidas disculpas“, and the offending remark in Spanish was “Esta vieja es peor que el tuerto“.

I couldn’t find a report on the story on the BBC’s French news site but I did find one in Le Monde, which said the Uruguayan president was célèbre pour son franc-parler (well known for his frankness) and it translated the line as “Cette bonne femme est pire que le borgne“. (Bonne femme means a good woman but it must have those ageing connotations).

My next search was in the Italian media, a report on la Repubblica TV, where you can watch José make his gaffe. The Italian translation is “La vecchia è peggio del guercio“.


The flak is flying in South America. (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Now to Romanian. I have as yet not been able to find a report on the incident in the Romanian language media, but if I do come across one I will include it here in as update. (If anyone comes across one please send me the link). My English-Romanian dictionary gives the following words for hag: babă and hoască, and an online dictionary offers these: baborniţă and vrăjitoare. Among the words for old is vechi, which is obviously related to the Italian word above. When you use an online translator the offending sentence comes out as nonsense, so I won’t go there.

I do think that Mujica (born 1935) calling Kirchener (born 1953) an old hag is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. That man has enough bags under his eyelids to go shopping with!  

Where are all the Portuguese tutors and students?

English: Auckland (New Zealand) CBD view from ...

Auckland (New Zealand) CBD view from the Sky Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, bonjour, ola, hola, ciao, salut. This is a follow-up to the post Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight?, which queried whether the Lusaphone world was ready to seize the moment and promote the language and culture in the next three years, feeding off the publicity that Brazil will generate when it hosts the World Cup and the Olympics. Last week I was in Auckland, New Zealand. It was much more cosmopolitan than I was expecting. On the fringe of the central business district there is a large university with about 30,000 students, many of them from Asia, and the city has some great restaurants, including a Brazilian one and a French one which I will talk about in another post soon.

Out of curiosity I did some internet searches to see what languages were taught at the local universities. The results were predictable. French, Spanish and Italian were on offer practically everywhere, along with other sought after languages such as German and Mandarin. I couldn’t find anything on Portuguese, even among those universities that offered Latin American studies. I found the website of one large community college in the city and saw that it offered Portuguese Level I and Portuguese Level 2, but when I clicked on the links it said that both courses were currently not available. Either the tutor had vanished or there simply wasn’t enough student demand to make the course viable.

(On the positive side, I did notice that this month and next a Brazilian film festival called Reel Brazil is to be held in Auckland and Wellington. This will be its fourth year, and you can read more about it here if you so wish. For a smallish city – its population is about 1.5 million, Auckland seemed to have a very busy festival calendar, at least at this time of the year.)

Coincidentally, when I returned to Sydney earlier this week, one of the largest community colleges that offers short courses, WEA, published its autumn course schedule in the local newspapers. The college is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and its website is here. Let’s have a look and see what languages are on offer, ranked by the number of courses available:

French: eighteen courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation, as well as French culture and current affairs.

Italian: fourteen courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation, plus Italian for travellers

Spanish: twelve courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation, plus Spanish for travellers.

German: seven courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation.

Chinese: seven courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation.

Japanese: five courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation.

Latin : four courses ranging from beginners to advanced.

Portuguese: beginners 1 and 2 plus beginners consolidation.

Swedish: beginners 1 and 2.

Indonesian: beginners 1 and 2.

Malay: one course for travellers.

Greek: Modern Greek 2 (number 1 was not on offer!)

Arabic:  beginners 1.

English: Statue of Luís de Camões, Lisbon, Por...

Statue of Luís de Camões, Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s right: Portuguese, said to be the sixth most spoken language in the world, gets outranked at this college by Latin, a so-called dead language! And don’t forget, these courses are in addition to popular courses in French, Italian, Spanish and German taught in Sydney by the Alliance Française, The Italian Cultural Institute, the Instituto Cervantes and the Goethe Institut. The Portuguese government equivalent of these institutions is the Camões – Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua Portugal but it has relatively few offices around the world (Wikipedia lists them here). I don’t even know what, if any, its equivalent is in Brazil. It is named after the great poet Luís de Camões.

Another big college in Sydney that offers short course in various languages is the University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education. Its language department currently offers 22 languages, including six courses in Brazilian Portuguese. But there are more courses available in Arabic, Latin, Vietnamese, Hindi, Japanese, Polish, Thai, Korean, Modern Greek, Chinese, Mandarin, Russian and Turkish (and much more in German, French, Spanish and Italian.)

It seems like Portuguese has got a long, long way to go. Sigh. 

IKEA’s horns of a dilemma – elk horns, naturally

A rutting male Elk

A rutting male elk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First we had the horse meat scandal, now we have the elk lasagne scandal. Swedish furniture company IKEA has withdrawn almost 18,000 of its elk meat lasagnas because some were found to contain a little bit of pork. Dear oh deer! You can read about it in English here. Bernardo, never having lived in elk territory, was rather surprised to learn that elk lasagne even existed. So that’s what IKEA does in its kitchens! He can’t help wondering if IKEA makes furniture from the poor elks too – the antlers, for example, might make a nice hat stand or something to hang your coat on. Curious to learn more, particularly when food is involved, Bernardo decided to bone up on elks. It seems they were originally thought to be related to deer, but now it is believed they are not, but they are related to moose. That is reflected in the five romances languages that are the subject of this blog. The French word for both elk and moose is élan, and in Romanian it is elan without the accent. The Portuguese, Spanish and Italian words for both elk and moose is alce. (Spanish also seems to have aupati for elk and ante for moose).

Their words for deer are quite different. French has cerf or cervidé – depending on the type of species, I suppose; Portuguese has cervo, veado or gamo; Spanish offers ciervo or venado; Italian also uses cervo or daino; and Romanian has three – cerbcăprioară and cerblopătar. These words are all masculine.

So, Bernardo concludes, elk meat must be a kind of venison, and perhaps it is not as bad as it sounds, for he remembers eating biltong from animals such as kudu in his rough and wild days in southern Africa, and it was certainly good biltong. That was when he had good teeth and could chew on tough dried meat.

Elk Shank with Beet & Polenta

Elk Shank with Beet & Polenta (Photo credit: Renée S. Suen)

The thought of all that IKEA elk lasagne going to waste must have made Bernardo’s tummy rumble and his mouth water, for in his dreams an exotic waiter in a foreign country pulled up a chair for him at a three hat restaurant, tucked a napkin under his chin and offered him the menu. Bernardo then sneakily used a well-known language translation app so that he could enunciate his order: “Waiter! For the entrée I will have the fragrant poached deer with pink turnips, organic curtain rods, sautéed Allen keys and house soured cream; for the main dish I will plumb for your famous elk lasagne in a creamy Billy Bookcase sauce, accompanied by a salad of albino baby beetroots and swedes perfumed with prune kernel oil; and for dessert I will have a double helping of the mountain moose mousse drizzled with lingonberry compote, salted caramel and ethereal sheets and pillowcases. Oh, and last but not least, bring us your best bottle of elderberry wine from your cellar, damn the expense! Cheers.”

Here are the translations:

To the exotic French waiter: Waiter, pour le plat je vais avoir le cerf poché parfumé aux navets roses, tringles à rideaux organiques, clés Allen sautés et maison crème aigre; pour le plat principal, je vais aplomb pour votre fameuse lasagne de wapitis dans une sauce à la Bibliothèque Billy crémeux, accompagné d’un salade de betteraves albinos de bébé et les Suédois parfumé à l’huile de noyau de pruneau; et pour le dessert, je vais avoir une double ration de l’orignal mousse de montagne arrosé avec airelle compote, caramel salé et des draps et des taies d’oreiller éthérées. Oh, et ​​last but not least, nous apporter votre meilleure bouteille de vin de sureau de votre cave, au diable les dépenses! Vive.

Lingonberry Mousse Cake

Lingonberry Mousse Cake (Photo credit: su-lin)

To the exotic Portuguese waiter: Garçom, para o prato principal, terei o veado cozido perfumado com nabos rosa, hastes de cortina orgânicos, chaves Allen salteados e casa de natas azedas; pois o prato principal, eu vou sondar para sua lasanha alce famoso em um cremoso molho estante Billy, acompanhado por um salada de beterrabas albino do bebê e os suecos perfumados com óleo de semente de ameixa; e para a sobremesa eu vou ter uma porção dobrada do alce mousse montanha regados com compota de mirtilo vermelho, caramelo salgado e folhas etéreas e fronhas. Ah, e por último, mas não menos importante, trazer-nos a sua melhor garrafa de vinho de sabugueiro de sua adega, maldita a despesa! Felicidades.

To the exotic Spanish waiter: Camarero, para el plato principal que tendrá el ciervo poché fragante con nabos de color rosa, barras de cortina orgánicos, llaves Allen salteadas y casa de crema agria; porque el plato principal yo plomada para su famosa lasaña alce en una cremosa salsa de Billy Biblioteca, acompañado de un ensalada de remolachas y nabos albino bebé perfumados con aceite de semilla de ciruela pasa; y de postre voy a tener una doble ración de los alces mousse montaña rociados con compota de arándano rojo, salados caramelo y hojas etéreas y fundas de almohada. Ah, y por último pero no menos importante, nos traen su mejor botella de vino de saúco de su bodega, maldita costa! Saludos.

Wine Goblets Berry Wine Contemporary Daisies

Wine Goblets Berry Wine Contemporary Daisies (Photo credit: creativespiritoriginals)

To the exotic Italian waiter: Cameriere, per l’entrée avrò il cervo in camicia profumata con le rape rosa, aste per tende organici, chiavi a brugola e saltate casa panna acida; per il piatto principale io a piombo per la famosa lasagne alce in una salsa cremosa Libreria Billy, accompagnato da un insalata di barbabietole albino bambino e gli svedesi profumate con olio di nocciolo di prugna; e per dessert avrò una doppia porzione del alci mousse montagna insaporita con fumante composta, caramello salato e lenzuola eteree e federe. Oh, e, ultimo ma non meno importante, ci portano la tua migliore bottiglia di vino di sambuco dalla vostra cantina, dannazione la spesa! Saluti.

To the exotic Romanian waiter: Chelner, pentru entrée voi avea cerb fiert aromat cu napi roz, tije cortina organice, chei sote Allen și casa crema acrit; pentru felul principal voi plumb pentru dvs. lasagna elan celebru într-o cremă Billy sos Bibliotecă, însoțită de o salată de sfeclă albinoși copii și suedezii parfumat cu ulei de sambure de prune; și pentru desert, voi avea o dubla portie de elan spuma munte stropit cu merișoare de munte compot, sărate caramel și foi eterice și fețe de pernă. Oh, și nu în ultimul rând, să ne aducă cele mai bune sticla de vin de soc de la pivniță dumneavoastră, la naiba cheltuieli! Noroc.

I hope you will join me for the meal. If it’s from IKEA we will have to assemble it ourselves. Cheers 🙂

And the world’s friendliest Romance country is …

Portuguese Dancers

Ola amigos! They’re a friendly bunch. Portuguese dancers (Photo credit: jasewong)

The World Economic Forum’s latest list of the most friendly and unfriendly countries to visit has generated lots of publicity over the past few days. Most newspapers or websites focused on the top 10 and bottom 10 out of the 140 countries featured in the survey, plus of course whatever position their own particular country happened to be in. But it was hard to track down what countries occupied positions 11 to 130. In fact, the “what are the friendliest countries?” list was a minor item in a major report – it was a table on page 445 (yes, 445) of the WEF’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013. The table was headed “Attitude of population toward foreign visitors” and sub-headed: “How welcome are foreign visitors in your country?”


Glum’s the word. People of Bolivia (Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis)

Surveys such as this, no matter how scientific the data, are always subjective and superficial, and don’t forget this was a World Economic Forum survey (if it had been a World Backpacker Forum survey the results would have been very different) but, of course, people still want to read them all the same. So, for the record, Iceland and New Zealand took out the top two places and Venezuela and Bolivia came in at 139 and 140 respectively. (There are all up 196 countries in the world, but some are not politically recognised here and there, so the official count is in dispute). I don’t know why the WEF limited itself to 140.

So how did My Five Romance countries fare? The friendliest one by quite a wide margin was Portugal at No. 7. Parabens, Portugal! (parabens means congratulations).

Spain was ranked 57, Italy and France were quite far down the list at 79 and 80, respectively, while Romania came in at 122.

Happy Canada Day

A cheerful Canadian (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

The official and unofficial Francophone countries did much better than their Spanish counterparts. Morocco (3), Senegal (6), Burkino Faso (10), Canada (12), Mali (14), Belgium (19), Rwanda (21), Switzerland (23), Mauritius (28), and Seychelles (29), all came in the top 30, whereas the best the Spanish-speaking world could do was Puerto Rico at 38, Costa Rica at 41, Mexico at 45, and Dominican Republic on 62. Uruguay was ranked 77, beating Chile (84), Colombia (88), El Salvador (90), Peru (96), Guatemala (97), Paraguay (101), Panama (111), Argentina (113), Ecuador  (119) and Honduras (125).

In the Portuguese-speaking world, Brazil made number 43 on the list (it had better improve when it hosts the next World Cup and Olympics) and Cape Verde 71. Mozambique was further back on 91, while Angola was one of the countries that was not featured in the survey.

If you happen to be in Romania and are unhappy with the level of friendliness, you could pop over the border into Moldova, which came almost 30 places ahead at 93 on the list.

The countries where this blog has the most readers are Australia (where I live), the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, so I should mention them. Australia came 27th (New Zealanders will have been guffawing and crowing about that), the UK 55th, Germany 83rd and the US 102nd.

Smiley Face

But basically, no matter where you are in the world, the fact of the matter is that if you are polite, pleasant, patient and generally cheerful with the locals, they will respond by being warm and friendly to you too. Giving a grin gets you so much more than a frown. 🙂

Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight?

Roman Catholic Portuguese school

Portuguese schools are back in vogue! A Roman Catholic Portuguese school (Photo credit: John Collier Jr.)

I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room the other day (“waiting” being a very apt word) when the cover of the October 2012 edition of Monocle magazine caught my eye. The main blurb under the masthead read: Generation Lusophonia: why Portuguese is the new language of power and trade. Then for some reason it added in small print: Even if you live in Jo’burg (a reference to Johannesburg in South Africa). The cover featured three models, all young but not too young, and trendy. One was supposedly a man in high places in Brasilia, because it had an arrow pointing to him and the pop-up dialogue: Why you need friends in high places in Brasilia, and a translation in smaller print in Portuguese: Por que você precisa de amigos no alto escalão em Brasilia. There was a very Portuguese-looking woman in the middle representing the Azores: Why the Azores are the islands to watch, Por que os Açores são as ilhas para ficar de olho. And there was another trendy bloke who must be important in Luanda: His box said: Who you need to know in Luanda, Quem você precisa conhecer em Luanda. But if the magazine really believed Portuguese was the new language of power, it should have put the Portuguese in bigger type than the English, surely, to demonstrate the point. Or at least give both languages equal weighting.


Far out but worth going to have a look. One of the nine volcanic islands in the Azores archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean. (Photo credit: amoosefloats)

Monocle is an impressive magazine in this day and age when print is supposed to be on its way out. This edition (issue 57) had 260 pages. As well as the cover stories, it had articles examining whether it was possible for Portuguese-speaking nations ever to form a coherent community; an interview with Brazil’s foreign minister; a look at the Brazilian coffee and retail industries; a look at 15 Lusaphone companies “making waves” in the business world; an article on why Portuguese and Brazilian middle-class tourists choose France as their top European destination; a round-up of Lusophone‘s best cultural figures; a look at Portugal’s cork industry (which I have also done myself as a journalist); and articles on Portuguese architects and a pictorial on “an African architectural gem”, Maputo.

English: Portuguese colonial residence, Maputo...

House proud. A Portuguese colonial residence, Maputo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sure, it is great to read that Luanda is buzzing, Maputo too, and of course Brazil is going to be in the international limelight when 12 of its cities host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympic Games in 2016. I have read one report that there has been increased interest in Portuguese at one college in London as people look forward to attending those sporting events in Brazil, but I am not greatly convinced that Portuguese is all the rage. Have a look at the language departments at any UK or US university and you’ll find Portuguese courses are pretty rare in comparison with Italian, French and Spanish, and other languages such as Mandarin. Which is sad when you consider that Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world and French is just 18th and Italian 24th. (That said, there are some very interesting-looking courses at those universities that do cover Portuguese in depth.) You certainly won’t be able to specialise in Portuguese at any Australian university.

English: Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World ...

And the winner is … Portuguese! Joseph Blatter announcing the 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I think will happen is that Portuguese will start to take off after the World Cup in Brazil next year. Visiting soccer fans there will have a great time, their curiosity in the language and culture will be aroused, they will want to come back to explore it more, and by word of mouth they will get their friends interested too. Brazil is expecting a tourist boom not just in 2014 and 2016 but also in the period 2016-2020, because of the coverage that those sporting events will generate (people watching the games at home on television will be exposed to Brazil too). I just hope that the Lusophone countries take advantage of this and promote their languages and culture. How well prepared are they?

The Monocle magazine mentioned above offered ‘Ten tips for the Lusophone world’. The first one was: Speak up: The Portuguese language needs more promotion; Lusophone countries should club together to get their mother tongue on curriculums around the world. The Instituto Camões should adopt the gusto (and canny strategy) of the Alliance Française.”  I certainly agree with that. But the Instituto Camões is a Portuguese government initiative, and Portugual is a small country of about 11 million people and like much of Europe it is going through a period of economic austerity. It is time now surely for Brazil, which has a population of almost 200 million and now has one of the world’s leading economies, to step up to the plate and lead the promotional charge of the great Lusophone language and culture, don’t you think?