The Andes, Iguazu and La Ley: what more could you want?

Recently I had the chance to travel to South America – mostly to Brazil, so that was great for my Portuguese, and to a lesser extent in the Spanish-speaking part: Chile and Argentina, to take in the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls (Iguaçu in Portuguese), which, let me tell you, are spectacular. Below are a couple of pics I took with my iPhone, which got a soaking during the day.

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Iguazu Falls … multi-layered and magnificent . Photo: Bernard O’Shea

I was also very lucky to have a window seat while flying over the Andes mountains at sunset (heading east from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro). At the top of this post, and below, are two of the photos I took on that memorable journey.

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While I was in Chile I was excited to find out that my favourite Chilean band – in fact, my favourite Spanish-singer artists in the whole wide mundo – La Ley, had re-formed and brought out a new album this year, called Adaptación, their first since 2003.

Here’s my favourite track from it.

There are 12 songs on the album, two of which are in English. The opening track is also appealing. Here’s a studio clip of it.

I hope you enjoyed this visual and aural foray into South America.

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Did the Portuguese Spice Boys discover Australia?

Nagasaki School Scenes of traders at Nagasaki late 18th–early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll (a) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; (b) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; box 12.0 x 19.5 x 39.5 cm, M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 20144P11 (a-c)

Nagasaki School Scenes of traders at Nagasaki late 18th–early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll (a) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; (b) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; box 12.0 x 19.5 x 39.5 cm, M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 20144P11 (a-c)

If anyone is in Adelaide this weekend it’s your last chance to see the Treasure Ships: Art In The Age of Spices exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. More than 300 exhibits are on display, and much of the focus is on Portugal’s “golden age of discoveries”. After Sunday the exhibits will go to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where they will be on display from October 10 to January 31, 2016. Some of the highlights of the exhibition are covered in a previous post here.

Portugal’s history is fascinating – it’s said to have had the first global empire in history – but because it’s “golden age” was relatively short and its influence waned after the 16th Century, not much is known about it by the population at large today. I’ve got some great books on the topic …

Portugal books

I haven’t actually started reading A.R. Disney’s two-volume A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire, but when I have 60-plus free days to spare, I will. I am currently reading Nigel Cliff’s The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages Of Vasco Da Gama, but because of other time pressures it’s been a start-stop-go-back-and-start-again affair. Vasco’s ships never seem to leave the port! However, for an easy yet highly entertaining introduction to Portugal’s greatest historical hits, I would strongly recommend Martin Page’s The First Global Village. Page is a writer and journalist first and foremost rather than a historian, so he knows how to make his history sizzle. Some of the really dry historians should take note!

Why the fascination with spices?

Often when I sprinkle pepper on my food, I think of Vasco Da Gama. We take pepper and other spices for granted so much nowadays. So what was the big deal with spices in the spice age? Much of it, of course, was to do with trying to preserve meat, or to disguise the fact that it was rotting, on long sea journeys, but in the press release to the exhibition, co-curator James Bennett says the pre-refrigeration need for spices “takes little account of the complex reasons the condiments of luxury and status were so avidly sought”.

I asked his fellow curator, Russell Kelty, what were the other complex reasons.

“The most common assumption is that spices were used to preserve food but in fact Europe’s fascination and desire for spices was linked partially to the prestige associated with these luxury condiments which were transported vast distances over land and sea, prior to the establishment of maritime routes by the Portuguese, and as a result were extremely expensive,” Kelty says. “Spices were also connected to notions that illness was caused bodily imbalance in hot and cold humours which could be alleviated by certain spices. As with any commodity the more scarce and difficult to obtain the prestige it accumulates.”

India, Portrait of D. Francisco de Almeida, 16th century, Goa, oil and tempera on wood, 183.0 x 98.0 cm National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), Lisbon MNAA Inv 2145 Pint

India, Portrait of D. Francisco de Almeida, 16th century, Goa, oil and tempera on wood, 183.0 x 98.0 cm. National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), Lisbon
MNAA Inv 2145 Pint. 

 

(The image above is from the exhibition; it’s a portrait of an explorer I haven’t really heard much about, Francisco de Almeida. Wikipedia has this to say about him: Dom Francisco de Almeida, also known as “the Great Dom Francisco” (ca. 1450 – March 1, 1510), was a Portuguese nobleman, soldier and explorer. He distinguished himself as a counsellor to King John II of Portugal and later in the wars against the Moors and in the conquest of Granada in 1492. In 1503 he was appointed as the first governor and viceroy of the Portuguese State of India (Estado da Índia). Almeida is credited with establishing Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean, with his victory at the naval Battle of Diu in 1509. Before Almeida could return to Portugal, he lost his life in 1510.)

The Australian Connection

beyond cap“Treasure Ships also examines the impact of the Age of Spices on the ‘discovery’ of the Australian continent”, says the exhibition’s media release. So what can we glean from the exhibition about Portuguese relations with Australia? There are some historians who believe that the Portuguese secretly knew a lot more about Australia than was officially revealed. (For example, Peter Trickett and his book Beyond Capricorn).

I was curious to know if the Treasure Ships exhibition added anything to that debate. Here’s  Russell Kelty view.

“Treasure ships does not touch on the Portuguese ‘discovery’ of Australia  – which I agree was highly likely –  as the exhibition is about art and cultural exchange. There is no evidence of any kind of aesthetic impact by the Portuguese on Indigenous Australian art, as was the case with Makassan trepang fishermen whose visits had a profound impact on northern Australian coastal Aboriginal cultures. The catalogue does briefly discuss [Malaysian-Portuguese cartographer Emanuel Godinho de Eredia (1563-1623)] Eredia’s belief in the existence of ‘New South India; (p.186).”

To see a summary of all the arguments about whether or not the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover Australia, go here.

The Treasure Ships exhibition 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. 

The language of money, from a woman’s point of view. Have a cake and eat it too

Australian Womens Weekly magazine page layout

My pride and joy!

Earlier this year I edited an 180-page financial guide for (Australian) women, the second edition of How Busy Women Get Rich (it’s aimed at inspiring people who are generally too busy with their everyday lives to think about their finances). It felt a little odd being a man editing a financial guide for women, but our company had just started using a new computer system, none of the otherwise very capable freelance editors had been trained on it yet, so someone in-house had to do it, and the finger was pointed at me. I had been in the finance press for 14 years previously, and had been chief sub-editor of the inaugural edition of the magazine last year, so I guess it was a logical choice. Still, the last thing I wanted to be perceived as was a man telling women what to do; so I took on the role as the mere host of a party, and invited as many inspirational women as I could to be the party guests and made sure there were great female journalists on hand to take note of the conversations. It isn’t a dubious get-rich-quick magazine, but more about how to enrich your life on many levels – having the courage to follow your passions, doing what you love, and so on. It was the first time I had edited a magazine and I really enjoyed it. Thankfully it is selling well.

I have always been aware of issues of prejudice, equality/inequality and justice/injustice in the world, but I must say that the months I spent focusing on the major news issues that affect women today were an eye-opener and pretty galling too. Take, for example, the gender pay gap – the difference between what men and women get paid. In Australia, for example, official figures out earlier this year showed that a man’s average weekly wage is approximately $1587 and a woman’s is $1289. In Australia in 2014, government figures showed, a woman would have to work an extra 66 days a year to get what men get paid. Sixty-six days! That’s thirty-three weekends the woman has to work while the man lazes at home! Needless to say, if I were a woman I’d be pretty pissed off.

Throughout my career in journalism, I have had some great male mentors, but most of my role models have been women, and the vast majority of my current colleagues are women – writers, sub-editors, and magazine designers.They were a great source of advice and help to me during the editing process. After the magazine came out I had to thank them in the best way I could – a caramel mud cake decked out in the colours and imagery of the magazine cover. It looks pretty garish but it was yummy. Hail to all women out there! Cheers (normal Romance language service will be resumed shortly).

"How Busy Women Get Thanked" - with a caramel mud cake using the magazine cover theme.

“How Busy Women Get Thanked” – written on white chocolate (the sign did not last very long).

 

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.

 

Aldi’s ‘Perfect Aussie Christmas’ takes place in … Romania! (Budgie smugglers included)

The fortified Saxon church in Biertan, Romania. Photo from Wikipedia.

The fortified Saxon church in Biertan, Romania. Photo from Wikipedia.

It’s not often that you get a Romanian connection in Australian television advertising, but here’s one. German grocery retailer Aldi has produced an advert about the “Perfect Aussie Christmas”. It’s supposed to be set in a (fictitious) Scandinavian town called Julbacken, but the real life location in the advert is Biertan in Transylvania, Romania. According to some reports, the centre of the nearby town of Mediaș was used in filming too. However, the most scenic bits, in which you can see the historic fortified Saxon church (pictured above), are definitely set in Biertan. And yes, you can hear Romanian in the advert too.

The ad looks at the sort of things an Australian might do over Christmas (where it is bloody hot at the time of the year) and transposes them to Europe (where it is bloody cold). Hence there is a surf lifesaving team dressed in “budgie smugglers” * – the swimwear much favoured by our Prime Minister (and Bernardo too, I might add, when he does his  swimming). And there are demonstrations of cricket games and impersonations of hopping kangaroos.

Oh, and if you are wondering what the “Duni” wooden shack is, that is a “dunny” – an outdoor toilet. For some reason, in early Australian housing, the dunnies were set up in isolation away from the rest of the house, usually right at the bottom of the back yard. Going to the toilet in the middle of the night must have been laborious, and scary for the kids.

Here is the advert in which Romania is looking good …

Unfortunately I did not get to see Biertan on my visit to Romania last year. The language course I did there included a cultural outing from Sibiu to Sighișoara (the other famous Saxon citadels in the region) but not Biertan, even though it is only about 10km off the main road. I believe Biertan is now included in the itinerary. I will do it next time!

* The Urban Dictionary says budgie smugglers is ‘Australian slang term for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear. The ‘lump in the front’ apparently resembles a budgie when it is stuffed down the front of someone’s shorts.’

Going from Biertan to Sydney, Australia, here is a fun look at budgie smugglers … and you can see why Australia is such a popular destination for Europeans at Christmas time – the beach and surf looks fantastic. I’ll smuggle my budgie this summer.

Earthquakes of one sort and another in Romania, Portugal and Brazil

graph-27783_640There was an earthquake (or cutremur, in the local lingo) measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale in Romania yesterday. It was centred on Țifești, about 80 kilometres north-west of of Galați, and very close to the last reported earthquake in that country in October 2013.

Anyone who lives in an area that is prone to earthquakes – and there are many – should be aware of what actions are recommended should one hit. See “What to do in un cutremur or mysterious earthquake swarms“.

Political earthquake

Meanwhile, the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW) is carrying an item “A political earthquake in Romania”, which gives an excellent analysis in English of Klaus Iohannes’s shock win in the Romanian presidential election. To hear Romanian journalist Lavinia Pitu’s views on the stunning political upset, go to the broadcast here.

Tremors in Portugal and Brazil

Meanwhile, political earthquake swarms are occurring in Portugal. Also yesterday, former prime minister José Sócrates was arrested along with three others as part of an investigation into tax fraud and money-laundering. Barely a week ago, Immigration Minister Miguel Macedo resigned amid a growing scandal over the country’s provision of  “golden visas” or fast-tracked resident permits to business figures.

Images from Pixabay

Images from Pixabay

In Brazil, meanwhile, there has been a massive corruption scandal at the oil giant, Petrobrás: many politicians and public figures are alleged to have received bribes or kickbacks on contracts. (The police investigation is known as Operação Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash, or Jet Wash). The scandal is putting immense pressure on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who once chaired the Petrobrás board. The weekly current affairs magazine Veja and newspapers such as Estadão de São Paulo are probing to see how much she knew and how far up the political and business ladders the kickbacks went, and there have been demonstrations in the streets about it too.

There will be a lot of interesting reading in Portuguese language newspapers for some time to come.

Shock as Sibiu guy wins Romanian election

Sibiu's main square at night. Photo: Bernard O'Shea

Sibiu’s main square at night. All photos: Bernard O’Shea

I was very surprised to read on the news late last night that the Mayor of Sibiu, Klaus Iohannis, had beaten Prime Minister Victor Ponta in the Romanian presidential election. Ponta had won the first round, in which there were 14 candidates, and was tipped in the opinion polls to beat Iohannis in the subsequent two-candidate run-off.

Sibiu was where I did a two-week summer language course last year, through the Rolang School. The city was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and was one of the fortified Saxons towns on the south-eastern frontier (the goal being to halt any Ottoman invasion). Its German name was Hermannstadt, and the German influence is still there, although it has been diluted significantly, as the German community had to put up with a lot of persecution and oppression under the communist regime, and many left when they could. Klaus Iohannis himself is an ethnic German.

This is called Liar's Bridge. I swear!

This is called Liar’s Bridge. I swear I am telling the truth!

When I was there, the locals told me that Sibiu was widely regarded as the most well-run and least corrupt city in Romania, and they said, if only the rulers of Sibiu could rule the country too, but you never know whether that is just local boastful talk, exaggeration or naivety. Well, now they have got their wish, to a limited extent – how much can one man change an entrenched political system? Good luck to him.

According to news reports, in Romania, the president is in charge of foreign policy and defence, and names key prosecutors and the chiefs of intelligence services.

Anyway, the news coverage made me feel nostalgic and I’ve plucked out some of my pics of Sibiu to hopefully inspire you. Summer language courses, 2015, anyone?

LET’S DANCE

Sibiu is a festive place. While I was there, it hosted a very colourful international dance festival, followed shortly after by an international Gothic rock festival, headlined by bands from Germany and Scandinavia. Check out some of the vibes.

A Romanian troupe at  Sibiu's international dance festival

A Romanian troupe at Sibiu’s international dance festival

But it was the South American dancers who really caught the eye

But it was the South American dancers who really caught the eye

Germanic folk, maybe? At a dance festival.

Germanic folk, maybe? At the dance festival.

Fun with the dancing fountains

Fun with the dancing fountains

LET’S ROCK

I don’t know which band this guy plays in – it was one of the “filler” Romanian acts early in the day – but he was a bloody good guitarist and his band was excellent (they had a female lead singer who also played keyboards). If you are out there, Mr Guitarist, send me a CD!

Rock and roll played loud in a city square at 11am is a great way to start the day! (Bernardo's a late starter)

Rock n roll played loud in a city square at mid-morning  is a great way to start the day! (Bernardo’s a late starter)

LET’S EXPLORE

Just outside Sibiu at Dumbrava is the ASTRA National Museum complex, the country’s largest open air museum, where you can see traditional houses and artifacts from over the country. Plus some folkloric singers and dancers, if you are lucky.

Girls, girls, girls!

Girls, girls, girls!

No place like home

No place like a quaint old home

And what was he thinking?

And what was he thinking?

 

After Brazil 2014 comes Equatorial Guinea 2015 and France 2016

The excitement, tears and triumphs of the football World Cup in Brazil this year are behind us, and now we have more juicy details of FIFA’s corrupt bidding process to look forward to. No matter how many bibs and napkins they use at their banquets and gatherings, some of those FIFA officials are going to end up with egg splattered on their faces, ties and shirt fronts. Messy!

There is also administrative turmoil at another football body, the Confederation of African Football. Morocco was due to host the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, starting in January, but very recently pulled out because of fears of the Ebola disease spreading. This weekend Equatorial Guinea – which was initially “discovered” by Portuguese explorers but became a Spanish colony – was announced as the last-minute replacement host. It is the only country in Africa where Spanish is a de jure official language.

After that the next major international football event to take place will be the 2016 European soccer championships, hosted by another Romance language-speaking country, France.

Nice, one of the host cities for Euro 2016

Nice, one of the host cities for Euro 2016

The tournament runs from June 10 to July 10, 2016, and will be held in 10 cities: Paris and nearby Saint-Denis in the centre of the country; Lens and Lille in the north; and Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon, Saint-Étienne and Nice in the south.

The competition has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams, so all up 53 teams – divided into eight groups of six teams and one group of five teams) are competing for the 23 qualifying slots alongside hosts France.

The next round of qualifying matches take place this weekend, and the competition is wide open and has been full of surprises. The expansion of the tournament means Europe’s second-tier teams have much greater hope of qualifying than ever before, and judging by the results of the first three rounds of qualifying games, have attacked the task with relish. In contrast, most of the European teams that made it to Brazil for the World Cup earlier this year look vulnerable and jaded..

Here’s a quick round-up of the situation before the start of this weekend’s matches: The top two teams in each group will qualify, as will the best third-placed team of the nine groups. The other eight third-placed teams will have to compete in a play-off to eliminate four.

  • In Group A, Iceland and the Czech Republic are the front-runners with 9 points from three wins each, whereas the Netherlands have just 3 points and Turkey 1. Latvia (2) and Kazakhstan (1) complete the group.
  • Group B is headed by Wales with 7 points from three games and Israel with 6 from two. World Cup participants Belgium have 4 from two and Bosnia-Herzegovina just 2 points from three games. Cyprus (3) and Andorra (0) complete the group.
  • In Group C, Slovakia are the surprise leaders with 9 points, having beaten Spain (6) at home. Ukraine (6) are also in contention; less so FYR Macedonia (3) and Belarus and Luxembourg (1 each).
  • In Group D the world champions, Germany, are suffering on 4 points, behind Poland and the Republic of Ireland on 7. Scotland also have 4, Georgia 3 and Gibraltar 0.
  • Group E has England comfortably in front on 9, followed by Slovenia and Lithuania on 6 each. Switzerland have disappointed with just 3, level with Estonia, while San Marino have 0.
  • In Group F World Cup participants Greece have made a shocking start, gaining just 1 point. Northern Ireland lead on 9, followed by Romania 7, and Finland and Hungary on 4 each. The Faroe Islands have 0.
  • Group G is wide open. Austria have 7 points, Russian and Sweden 5 and Montenegro 4. Moldova and Liechtenstein have 1.
  • In Group H, Croatia and Italy have 9 each, Norway 6 and Bulgaria 3. Malta and Azerbaijan on 0 are the easy beats of the group.
  • In Group I, Albania have 4 points from two games, Denmark 4 from three. Portugal have 3 from two. Serbia and Armenia have 1 point each from one and two games, respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A peek at the West Slavic world

The Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava. Slovenske seems to be the Slovak word for Slovak, which makes you wonder what their word for Slovenian is. Photo (c) Bernard O'Shea

The old Slovak National Theatre building in Bratislava. “Slovenske” seems to be the Slovak word for “Slovak”, which makes you wonder what their word for “Slovenian” is. (My internet translator tells me the answer is “Slovinske”). Photo (c) Bernard O’Shea

Normally if I were to go on holiday I would opt for a Romance-language speaking country, partly because from a communications point of view I feel comfortable in that environment, and to give myself more exposure to and practice in the local language. But of course you have to broaden your horizons and stray from your comfort zones, and there are so many other interesting places and languages in the world that it would be a pity to ignore them.

A nice Hungarian goulash moments before being devoured by Bernardo!

A nice Hungarian goulash moments before being devoured by Bernardo!

Very recently, thanks to a prize I won about a year ago, I had the chance to visit the Czech Republic and Poland for the first time, and to see more of Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, with partial support from Emirates airline, Rail Europe, and the tourist boards of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. During this time, apart from visiting some really beautiful and interesting places, I’ve eaten lots of wholesome food – spicy sausages and cabbage and goulash with dumplings, roast meats and more roast meats, and a delicious type of sweetbread known as tredelnik, which is cooked on a rotisserie and coated with sugar and various flavours (cinnamon, walnut and almond, for examples).

I have, of course, sampled the famous local wines and beers. Everyone in the Czech Republic seems to think Pilsner Urquell is the best beer, but I found a better brand…

Bernard tastes great, trust me! Photo: Bernard O'Shea

Bernard tastes great, trust me! Photo: Bernard O’Shea

I took my Lonely Planet Europe phrase book with me – it covers 15 languages (including my five Romance languages) but unfortunately Slovak is not one of them. Sad to say, for my tired old brain, it took a lot of memorisation, trial and error (error being the key word here), to be even able to say “good day”, “how are you”, “please” and “thank you” in these languages. And one of my gripes about language phrase books is that they give you the words parrot fashion, without explaining the grammatical structure. So, to give a very simple example, with the Czech greeting “dobrý den!” you have to do a bit of research to confirm that dobrý is the “good” part and den is the day bit of “good day”. Likewise, there is often little indication of which phrases apply when speaking to a man or a woman, if there is gender differential in the language.

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Photo (c) Bernard O'Shea

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic is a great place to visit. Photo (c) Bernard O’Shea

I also find this particular Lonely Planet book weak in the sense that coverage of the greetings – which in my opinion are the most important words to know, the ones you want to use to win over people with politeness and show that you are making an effort to get to know their language and customs – is scattered and patchy. In my opinion, the greetings should be the first words given in a phrase book, not “Do you speak English?”. Czech and Slovak are pretty similar – not surprising, considering that until only recently (1993) the two countries were one as Czechoslovakia – and there is some linguistic crossover into Polish, as these languages belong to what is known as the West Slavic language group. German is the official language in Austria, of course (my appreciation of German increased while I was there) and Hungarian is pretty much a rule unto itself, although it is vaguely related to Finnish and Estonian.

DSCF4660These languages, particularly Polish with its apparent lack of vowels and proliferation of “weird” (to an outsider) clusters of consonants – for example, czy mozna przygotowac means “could you prepare?” – must seem strange to those who speak English and Romance languages. I was expecting them to sound harsh on my ear, but from what I heard spoken and on radio, this was not the case at all. Like many languages, they are mellifluous in their own way.

In the Czech republic I bought a 2CD compilation of the hits of 2014 titled Top 20.cz (Ceskych a Slovenskych Hitu). The first CD featured Czech artists, and possibly Slovak ones too, the second international ones. Here’s a track that I like from the former by Divokej Bill, a group that my online translator tells me goes by the name of Wild Bill, and the song title is Wake Up!

Here’s a version illustrating the lyrics – sing along everyone!

It wasn’t all Slavic languages though. In the Roland Cafe in the main square of Bratislava, where we dined one night, there was live music featuring a duo singing, of all things, in Portuguese. Their repertoire was mainly Brazilian, such as songs by the likes of Marisa Monte. It was like being in Rio de Janeiro.

Related links

Time to chill…

Been there (to the left), done that. It's Friday night, time to turn right! (Pic from Pixabay)

Been there (to the left), done that. It’s Friday night, time to turn right! Which way would you go? (Pic from Pixabay)

Whew! Thank heavens Friday has come around. It’s been a really long working week but now at last Bernardo can relax and unwind and has declared tomorrow an official NMBACRATCODAIYWEDD (no more bloody alarm clocks ringing at the crack of dawn and interrupting your wildest erotic dreams day). Even better, he has dined well. He found a Thai green curry chicken and rice dish bought as a 2 for the price of 1 takeaway special deal, who knows, three or four days ago, and it was still fresh! (It was refrigerated, you know).

Bernardo's Friday night diet, haha. Pic from Pixabay

Bernardo’s Friday night diet, haha. (Pic from Pixabay).

After a hot curry you need a chilled dessert to counter the chillies. Bernardo rummaged in the cupboard and sniffed around in his fridge but what he discovered was uninspiring – some stale biscuits and a few yoghurts, some wedges of cheese, half an onion. But then Bernardo had a brainwave. What would his culinary inspirations, The Lady of the Cakes, and Ra – Cooking and Stuff, do in such a situation? His eyes fell on a bottle of fortified raspberry liquer lurking in the corner. Of course! Soak – nay, drench – the stale biscuits in the liquer, dollop some yoghurt on top, er, no, don’t add onion, and all of a sudden it’s a delicious trifle. Thanks, muses!

Sipping raspberry liquer and digging his spoon into his trifle, Bernardo hunted around for some mellow music to play in the background while he revised his Romanian verbs. Romanian verbs on a Friday night! Get a life, Bernardo! Actually, Bernardo will be returning to Central Europe in less than two weeks’ time, and although Romania isn’t on his itinerary this time, the holiday excitement is starting to mount, and the memories of his visit to the region just over a year ago are flooding back.

Budapest is definitely on the itinerary!

Better brush up on my Hungarian then…

And if you haven’t seen this film, you should.

More mellow music musings to come, stay tuned…