Sydney says bye to Baila Brazil, hello to Ludovico, Laura and Liana

Here in Sydney at this time of the year we like to think that we are very cultured, and we are probably right. Melburnians might not agree, but that’s another story. January is the month of the Sydney festival, and the harbour city hosts many free events in its parks and other outdoor venues. February (our hottest month) gets pretty festive too. Artists from the northern hemisphere, keen for respite from their horrible winters, flock south like migrating artistic birds.

Recently the city had a Brazilian flavour to it with the arrival of the Baila Brazil dancers:

On February 8 popular Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi will be performing at the Sydney Opera House with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. For details, and a chance to listen to some of his music, go here. On February 11 he will be performing at QPAC Concert Hall in Brisbane, and then on the 13th and 14th he will be at the Hamer Hall in Melbourne. Auckland gets a look-in too, on February 18. Details here.

Here he is performing one of my favourite compositions of his, Nuvole Bianche (White Clouds).

And more exciting news: my favourite Italian singer Laura Pausini is finally coming to Australia as part of her greatest hits world tour (she was originally due in mid-2014 but the shows had to be cancelled). She’s on at the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne on Friday 13 – tickets can be bought here – and at the Qantas Credit Union Arena (what a ghastly name for a venue) in Sydney on Saturday, February 14. If you want to spend Valentine’s Day night with Laura, tickets can be bought here.

I’ve covered some of her biggest hits in the post Great songs in one language and another (she sometimes sings in other Romance languages), but here is a taste of what to expect, Limpido, a No.1 hit in Italy in 2013 with Australia’s best known singer, Kylie Minogue.

Here is a Italian-French-Spanish version of Io Canto (I Sing)

Meanwhile, the music promoter who brought Leandro to Australia in November is bringing another Portuguese star, Liana, to Wollongong, Sydney, and Melbourne in that order. Once again the profits from these shows will be donated to Cerebral Palsy Australia, for whom the Leandro concerts raised $10,000. You can obtain tickets by contacting the promoter on  or calling 0433-775-538.

Liana is the latest in a long line of  fado sensations that include Mariza. She was the star of the most successful musical ever in Portugal, Amália (based on the life and career of Amália Rodrigues), and she is also a one-time lead vocalist with the Portugues-Swedish folk band Stockholm Lisboa Project.

Details of Liana’s concerts are:

  1. Friday, February 6 at the Association Costa Do Sul at 127 Flagstaff Road, Warrawong, Wollongong. Doors open 6.30pm, show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets from $23. Contact the secretary on 4274 3192, or  Joe Alves . 0412-105-302.  by email A two-course dinner is available for $20. Tickets for details.
  2. Saturday, February 7, at the Sydney Portugal Community Club, Fraser Park, at 100 Marrickville Road, Marrickville. Tickets including dinner range from $48 to $72. Doors open at 5.30pm, show starts at 6.30pm. Contact the club secretary on 9550-6344 or email After hours, call 0450-775-538. Bookings must be done by Monday, February 2.
  3. Sunday, February 8, at the Burwood RSL. Doors open at 1pm, show starts at 2pm. Tickets from $17. Contact  Burwood RSL on  8741 2888.
  4. Saturday, February 14, at the Group Cultura and Folclorico, 6-15 Brex Court, Reservoir, Melbourne. Doors open at  5.30pm, show starts at 6.30pm. Tickets from $55, dinner included. Contact 0402 933 997 or 0401 179 187 for details, or email

If you liked the Baila Brazil snippet above, here is a longer clip for you.




Latin lovers and speakers of Spanish: How would you have fancied studying Punic instead?

“The reason why you speak the (native) language you do today is not due so much to your education and upbringing; rather, it’s all down to ancient migration patterns and which army clobbered which other army in the days of yore.” – Bernardo the Handsome

Hannibal's elephants in action. Photo: Wikipedia

Hannibal’s elephants in action. Photo: Wikipedia

I have been making slow but satisfying progress through The Horizon Concise History of Spain, by Melveena McKendrick. Having shared with you the fact that my Celtic ancestors brought trousers to Spain, (only to drop them frequently whenever they were horny) I have since moved on to the the feats of Carthaginian heroes Hasdrubal The Handsome (as some websites call him), and his brother-in-law Hannibal’s audacious crossing of the Alps with 38 elephants (he had to go overland because the Romans had control of the Mediterranean sea) during the Punic wars, after which Carthage lost Hispania forever, and much of the Punic language and culture was eradicated (Punic being the English derivative of the Roman name for Carthaginians).

If you don't conjugate those Latin verbs correctly you'll be stabbed to death!

If you don’t conjugate those Latin verbs correctly you’ll be stabbed to death!

So, if it hadn’t been for the Romans’ triumph, maybe this blog would have been called My Five Punics.

As McKendrick notes: “One of the lasting bequests of Rome to the [Iberian] Peninsula, and one of the most powerful factors in its Romanization, was Latin itself. No subsequent occupation, however protracted, managed to usurp it in the way Anglo-Saxon usurped the Roman tongue in England. Its eventual adoption by the people as a whole is easy to understand. The pre-Roman population spoke a vast range of languages and dialects which could in no way withstand the convenience and effectiveness of a sophisticated language spoken by conquerors and settlers, by man-156549_1280educators, administrators, and magistrates alike. Naturally, the Latin spoken in Spain was not for long Latin in its pristine state. The Latin of officialdom remained comparatively unadulterated, but the Latin of everyday life was vulgar, not classical, Latin. It was a Latin conditioned by the peculiarities of speech of uneducated soldiers and of settlers and traders from different parts of the Roman world, and not least by the natural wayward development of a language deprived of direct contact with its life source. It was a Latin, moreover, colored by the vocabulary and habits of pronunciation of the languages it overlaid. It was a Latin which centuries of evolution were to turn into the romance tongues of the Peninsula in the way that the Latin of Italy became Italian and the Latin of Gaul French.”

Anyway, in McKendrick’s historical account, the Romans in Hispania make way for the Visigoths, and now I am up to the part where the Arabs are about to move in. If there are any interesting linguistic observations, I will pass them on. Likewise once I start reading a book that I bought today CONQUEST – How Societies Overwhelm Others, by David Day. It should make interesting reading, considering that in today’s world many people feel either rightly or wrongly that other societies are attempting to overwhelm them.

Suffer the children: Voltaj’s anthem for the orphans of the economy

I’ve just had a squizz at the Romanian Airplay Top 100 for songs to add to my playlists, favourites, memory bank, bloodstream, consciousness etc, but the chart is stuck in a post-Christmas slumber! (As I write it’s the top 100 for December 28, but maybe it will have updated by the time you click on the link.) Nevertheless, there is some great new stuff in there – I really do think the Romanian music industry is very on the ball.

Rising quickly up the chart to No. 14 is De La Capăt from Voltaj (Voltage in English), a band I’ve written about a number of times (click on Voltaj in the list of my tags to the right of the post). The song is really beautiful and what’s more it is linked to a good cause – a charitable project the band has set up is to raise awareness of the loneliness and plight of children who have had to stay behind in Romania while their parents seek employment in Western Europe. An English version of the song will be out soon, and I will look at the two versions in more depth when it does. In the meantime, just enjoy the music and the fabulous wintery scenery of the Danube gorges. De la capăt means from the beginning, although the capăt itself means an end or conclusion, but there are lots of expressions involving the word.

One spot behind at No.15 is another great band, 3 Sud Est. Like Voltaj they started out mainly as a dance/disco music act, but have branched out and blossomed with maturity. Here they are singing about freedom and liberty. The verses sound a bit “spaghetti western” to me, but the chorus has really grown on me in the past few weeks.

Now, onto a song which also has a childhood theme and which I find really interesting in parts. Îți Va Fi Dor (You Will Miss It – it’s a song about nostalgia for one’s childhood) has risen rapidly into the top 50 and I’m guessing it will go a lot higher. It’s by Doddy feat Adeline, who has a powerful voice. It reminds me a lot of Mellina and Vescan’s Poza de Album, which did very well last year as is still in the top 40.

Next, here is Dorian’s tribute to the Mare Albastre or Blue Sea. I find this has really intriguing sampling in it (I will explain where it comes from in another post), but much of the rapping part is so-so. The beard and waxed moustache are impressive though!

Finally, I am glad to see that Delia Matache is still hogging the No. 1 spot with Pe Aripi De Vant (Gone With The Wind). Since I have featured the official video and a ‘live in a radio station studio’ video clip on a previous post How good is singing judge Delia? You be the judge, I will go with a live version recorded at a concert in the main square in Sibiu, one of the most festive of Romanian cities. Delia is as theatrical as ever and her vocals are superb, but I wish the guitar riffs had been given more prominence in this mix. This makes me want to revisit Sibiu!

The Indonesian executions from various Portuguese and Brazilian perspectives

News reports over the weekend on an unpleasant subject provided an example of what I would call the linguistic efficiency or creativity of Portuguese compared to English. By that I mean Portuguese has a very neat word for something – be it an action or notion – whereas English doesn’t, and has to use a comparatively long-winded description for it.

Even if you are an English speaker with no knowledge of Portuguese, you should be able to understand this headline from BBC Brasil:

Brasileiro é executado na Indonésia por tráfico de drogas

Yes, a Brazilian was executed in Indonesia for drug trafficking (along with five other people of different nationalities).

Some Portuguese websites, though, such as, used a different wording:

Brasileiro é fuzilado na Indonésia

For a moment or two the word fuzilado puzzled me, but having read in English exactly how the Brazilian concerned, Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, was executed, the penny dropped:

fuzilado = executed by a firing squad

(fuzilamento = execution by a firing squad)

There you can see the linguistic efficiency – Portuguese has one word where English has to use five (although English does have the word “shot”, which of course implies some sort of rifle or pistol being fired, but not a whole firing squad).

There may be instances in which the situation is reversed – when English is efficient and Portuguese is verbose – but I am often quite struck by the inventiveness of the Portuguese vocabulary. But can I think of another example right now to illustrate this? Of course not. I am racking my brains. There is probably a Portuguese word for that. Rackamento?

Reading between the lines: Dilma Rousseff’s reaction

In response to news of the execution, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who had pleaded for clemência (clemency), said she was “consternada e indignada“. Consternada (the feminine form of consternado) is translated in my dictionaries as dejected, depressed, heart-stricken, disconsolate, aghast, consternated, while indignada is translated as indignant, angry, vexed, sickened, provoked.

Perhaps consternada and indignada have stronger nuances in Portuguese than they do in English (I might consider using the word consternation occasionally but I would never say to anyone I am consternated!, while to me indignant sounds old-fashioned and lacks passion or feeling. But international diplomacy being what it is, maybe this is just Dilma’s diplomatic, veiled way of saying “I am very pissed off!”.

For the record, the BBC’s English news service report on Dilma’s reaction translated her words as “outraged and dismayed”.

Who’s to blame for the trousers in Spain?

team-spirit-437507_640Here is something to test your intelligence. Tell me, who first introduced trousers to Spain?

  1. A Lisbon cloth merchant by the name of Carlos Trouseros;
  2. Bernardo’s most famous Celtic ancestor, Paddy O’Shea, a.k.a Paddy the Intelligent;
  3. Needle-brandishing lesbians from the isle of Lesbos;
  4. Santiago Pantalones, a mercenary who brought back a pair of trousers after fighting alongside the Romans in Dacia;
  5. José Fabricas, who served under Hernan Cortes in the conquest of the Aztec Empire, and from whom the word “fabric” is derived.

Think about it while you read on ….

The reason why I ask is, having just finished reading David Birmingham’s A Concise History of Portugal (Cambridge University Press), I have hopped over the border and am now reading The Horizon Concise History of Spain, by Melveena McKendrick. It’s a 1972 hardback published by American Heritage Publishing Co that I picked up recently in a second-hand book store.*

Although I studied history to the end of my high school days, the history that we covered, I realise now, was very limited: a bit about the Ancient Greeks, and then mostly continental Europe from the French Revolution to the start of the first world war, but very much from a British historian’s point of view. We were taught very little or nothing about Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, the Americas, the Ottoman empire, Asia, the Antipodes, the Middle East or even Africa – even though that was where I got my schooling. Our exam papers were sent to England to be marked.

If you are learning other languages, though, you have to take in other cultures and their histories, and when you travel and see historical sites, your curiosity is aroused. So, Bernardo is making a belated effort to acquaint himself with Spanish history.

Here are some interesting snippets from the opening bits of McKendrick’s book.

spain-23588_640From the foreword: “Geographically, Spain was by European standards seriously underendowed at birth. After Switzerland it is at once the most mountainous and highest country in Europe, while in the impoverished aridness of its terrain it is second to none …The divided nature of the land has encouraged and perpetuated a social and linguistic fragmentation. The country is in effect a collection of states or kingdoms – Galicia, the Basque Provinces, Aragon, Navarre, Catalonia, Valencia, León, Murcia, Extremadura, Asturias, Castile, and Andalusia … only the last three of which naturally speak Castilian.”

celtic-161957_640From Chapter 1, Early Spain: “By the time the Greeks reached Spain [around the sixth century B.C.] the people living there on the east coast had come to be known as Iberians – a term now taken as not indicating a specific race of people, but as a generic label for the complex group of inhabitants of the Peninsula’s Mediterranean coast … Little is known about these Iberians. What is clear is that they were quite distinct from the people of the interior. For while the Phoenicians and the Greeks were busy developing trade in the east, the interior was witnessing equally important events of a different order. Between 900 and 600 B.C. successive waves of Celts on their migrations through Europe from Asia penetrated the Pyrenees and … occupied much of Spain. Naturally, Celts and Iberians did not remain entirely separate. On the great central plateau they mingled and interbred … Traditionally the Celts were regarded as a race of violent, rustic shepherds and the Iberians as pacific farmers and urban dwellers, but the reality, it is now felt, must have been more complex. The Celts have a clearer identity than the Iberians and we know that they brought to Spain the broad sword, the technique of iron metallurgy, and trousers.”

and the answer is…

kilt bumSo, my friends, who introduced trousers to Spain? I will claim the credit on behalf of my Celtic ancestor, Paddy O’Shea, whose knees were beginning to freeze as he crossed the Pyrenees, so he cleverly stitched some blankets together. But once he reached the plain in Spain he ditched the trousers, and later moved on to Ireland, where he could comfortably hang loose in a kilt. That’s Paddy there on the left in his post-trousers phase.

The answer thus is No.2 – did you get it correct?

* important footnote

galleon-146994_1280Bernardo doesn’t just read concise histories, you know. He can do fat books too. Also on his bedside table is The Last Crusade – The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama (18 pages down, just another 493 to go) by Nigel Cliff, A.R. Disney’s two-volume A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire (all together more than 800 pages) and T.H. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (almost 700 pages). Stirring stuff! The bedside table is wilting under the weight.


The imperfect in Portuguese

chat-27591_640We’re making good progress in our Portuguese verbs: you’ll be fluent by the time you go to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 carnival or Olympics (I’m not sure if you’ll be fluent by this year’s carnival – it starts on February 13 – but by all means give it a go!).

Today we will look at the imperfect tense, which is used to express something that was happening or used to happen in the past. It is fairly easy to form.

As noted previously, there are three sets of regular verbs in Portuguese

  1. those ending in ar, for example, andar, to walk
  2. those ending in er, for example, beber, to drink
  3. those ending in ir, for example, abrir, to open

The imperfect is similar to the present tense in that you have to drop the ar, er and ir to get the verb stems (whereas with the future and conditional the infinitive is used in full). With the imperfect, the suffixes for –er and –ir verbs are the same.

ar verbs take the following endings: -ava, -avas, -ava, -ávamos, -avam

er and –ir verbs take the following endings: -ia, -ias, -ia, -íamos, -iam

Andar conjugates thus:

  • eu andava – I was walking, I used to walk
  • tu andavas – you (singular, familiar) were walking
  • você/ele/ela andava – you (singular), he, she was walking
  • nós andávamos – we were walking 
  • vocês/eles/elas andavam – you (plural), they were walking

(In Portuguese the stressed syllable is usually the penultimate one, and accents are used to indicate otherwise – for example as above in the first person plural andávamos)

Beber conjugates thus: bebia, bebias, bebia, bebíamos, bebiam (I was drinking, etc)

Abrir conjugates thus: abria, abrias, abria, abríamos, abriam (I was opening, etc)


There are four irregular imperfects in Portuguese:

  • ser (to be) – era, eras, era, éramos, eram
  • ter (to have) – tinha, tinhas, tinha, tínhamos, tinham
  • vir (to come) – vinha, vinhas, vinha, vínhamos, vinham
  • pôr (to put) – punha, punhas, punha, púnhamos, punham

(The other verb meaning to be, estar, conjugates normally: that is, estava, estavas, etc.)

In a forthcoming post we’ll look at the different uses of the conditional and imperfect in Portuguese. And we have still got the past tense and subjunctives to look forward to.



Vocab: know your desafios, buracos and buracadas

Here are some news items and related vocabulary that caught my eye while reading Portuguese media this morning.

1) From BBC Brasil:

Screen shot of BBC Brasil

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

Enfrentar means to face, to meet, confront, stand up to (there are many en- verbs in the language) and desafio (the word I wasn’t too sure of) means a challenge or contest, derived from the verb desafiar, to challenge, defy, provoke, dare, incite, spur on.

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

The story is about a chegada de barcos cheios de imigrantes pobres e desesperados (the arrival of boats full of poor and desperate immigrants). This has been a big issue in Australia for a good decade now and too often politics overshadows basic human principles. ‘Treat others the way you would like people to treat you or treat your mother’ is a good philosophy to have in life. I hope one day we will live in a world where people have nothing to fear or flee, but humanity seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

On a more cheerful and entertaining note, though, desafio is often used to mean a musical challenge. Here, for example, is a stirring routine from some contestants in um desafio de bateriasa drumming and percussion contest – in the state of Paraná in southern Brazil. They’re pretty good!

2) From Portal R7:

Screen shot from Portal R7

Screen shot from Portal R7

OMG! The sun is starting the new year with an enormous buraco a hole, gap, hollow, cavity, gully aperture, pit, loophole, etc. What’s going on? Fortunately, the sun is not caving in on itself. The story says o fenômeno ocorre quando a parte externa do astro fica com uma densidade de plasma menor que as outras regiões e, por isso, brilha menos, criando a impressão de ter um buraco (the phenomenon occurs when the density of the plasma on the external part of the star is less than in the other regions and, as a result, shines less, creating the impression of having a cavity).

Um buraco de fechadura is a keyhole (fechar means to shut), and buraco can be used figuratively to mean a disappointment, embarrassment or trouble.

In Brasil, it is also the name of a game of cards, a type of Canasta. According to Wikipedia, “the game is popular in the Arab world, specifically in the Persian Gulf; where it is known as ‘Baraziliya’ (Brazilian)“.

IMG_1209The reason this word caught my eye is that I have been playing Mahjong on my computer recently, and buracos is the name of one of the games (I have chosen Portuguese as the default language on my computer). It is in the Avançado section,  – it seems I am a pretty good player. This is what it looks like* – can you see the cavities?

There is a feminine form of the word, uma buraca, which signifies a big hole/gap, and in Brasil also means a leather sack used by mule and cattle drovers, while uma buracada means a rough, uneven track of land or a road with lots of potholes.

* Footnote

Apologies, the pic is very blurred. But after wasting a good half hour experimenting and looking at YouTube tutorials of how to take a screenshot of an app in Windows 8 (the most user-unfriendly and least intuitive version of Windows I have encountered) I gave up and just took a photo of my screen with my phone, but it had trouble focusing clearly on the image. That’s buracos for you!

May all 12 months of your new year be filled with felicity


Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

Happy new year! People whose first language is a Romance one might be tempted to say “felicitous new year”, judging by the following: feliz ano novo (Portuguese), feliz año nuevo (Spanish)felice anno nuovo (Italian)an nou fericit (Romanian). The one Romance language that doesn’t make much use of felicité this time of the year, funnily enough, is French. It’s more common to wish one another une bonne année or une heureuse année instead. But “New Year” in French is masculine: Nouvel An.

calendar-31953_640January 1 seems as good a day as any to add some important vocabulary to this blog, the names of the months of the year in my five Romances. We’ve already noted how Portuguese is the odd one out when it comes to the names of the days of the week. So, has it developed a peculiarity with the names of the month as well? Slightly. It’s the only one of the five that uses capital letters for its months.

So, here is a screenshot of a table showing the months in these five Romance languages. Luckily Bernardo cleaned his screen before he took the shot, otherwise you would seen the splotches of spaghetti sauce, ice-cream and caramel topping and all the other foodstuffs that he munched on in 2014 while he was working at the computer. You already know the Portuguese word for January as that was the month that Rio de Janeiro (River of January) in Brazil was discovered. The explorers thought Guanabara Bay was the mouth of a river. And if you have been to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires or heard of the Mothers of the Plaza Mayo you will know that mayo is May – the big square there gets its name from the revolution in May 1810 that eventually led to Argentina’s independence.

Romance months

Ways to help you remember some of this:

  • Apart from Abril, all Portuguese months end in o.
  • Apart from April, the first eight months of the year in Italian and Spanish end in o.
  • No Romanian or French month ends in o.
  • The last four months of the year end in e in all languages except Portuguese.
  • Brazilians get Fever-ish in February as carnival approaches.
  • Romanians eat brie cheese at the end of the last four months of the year.
  • Julio Iglesias was not born in julio, he was born two months later.
  • Neither Italian nor Romanian uses j for their equivalents of January, June or July.

Which language do you think is most similar to English when it comes to the months? Which one is the most different?

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.