Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Eight thousand kilometers

Dear sister,
Right now, we are verging on 5,000 miles apart as the crow flies. It would be one very tired crow before it got from you to me, and when it got here, it might have turned into a raven. Even though the city symbol of Lisbon is a crow, there's no separation in Portuguese between them and their gwork-ier cousins. Corvos all.

Apart from filling my brain with language (and four hours of what ended up being one-on-one instruction, plus another couple of hours after class to cement things in my brain is no joke energy-wise), I'm right now trying to find a balance between creating patterns and a temporary permanence so that I can get some work done, and not getting lulled into the living-here so much that I don't go and see all of the city's wonders. I know that I will never be the kind of traveller or person who will regret spending a day doing sitting in a garden instead of trying to 'get through' a specific number of sites or museums or what have you, but given the luxury of time that I have been gifted with, the lull of habit has a bit of danger to it.

Last Thursday was the Corpo de Deus, so I didn't have classes. Instead, I went out to a neighborhood of the city known for three things: The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Torre de Belém, and it's pasteis de nata. Pasteis de nata –or, if they're from this little area, pasteis de Belém– are Lisbon's signature pastry, and the most common pastry accompaniment for a coffee. The coffee is espresso with sugar. The pastry is an egg-yolk custard baked in a shell that is somewhere between phyllo dough and puff pastry: the tooth and crispiness of the first, with the ability to hold together of the second. The pastries are baked traditionally (and almost everywhere still) in a wood-fired oven, leaving them with a delightfully mottled surface, like a creme brulée that is blow-torched without the sugar crust. Optional: a sprinkle of cinnamon. I promise to figure out how to make them when I get back.

The tower is lovely and gives views to the sea, but for me, had nothing of the allure of the monastery. As I wandered the cloister and visited the tombs of Portugal's two most famous writers, the serenity that still seeps out of the stones amazed me, made me think that, given the proper birth-century (and I guess, the proper biological sex), I would have been very happy as a monk. To live quiet, surrounded by stone carved into the heart of itself, giving a life to the quest for solidarity with or understanding of a higher point of being. To walk the halls and measure time in soft footfalls and the movement of the sun's shadow, quite apart from the sturm and drang of the world.

The stones echo still with calm and hold the sweet reverberation of song, the radiance of belief. They left in me the almost palpable sensation of waking with a winter dawn and singing life into the stones; to hear the wind roar through the archways and not bend before its fury. That piece of me that sees future fiction in the lives that temporality won't let me live almost saw a novel in that feeling, but it's not. Like the lighthouse keeper solitary vigil, a life of contemplation within walls of stone would be direly boring to read. Even I realize that the monk would have to be ripped from this heart-place to quest and adventure his way into having a plot. And I wouldn't want, I don't think, to do that to him. 

So I'll trade out the hard perfection of stone for the glow of streetlights in the evening, and contemplation of deeper meanings for preclitic, mesoclitic, and enclitic positioning of pronouns that, like the pronunciation itself, change their formation based on the phoneme that they abut or contract with. They're excellently complex. You ought to do it = Deve fazê-lo, from deve fazer-o, where the infinitive (or any word ending in r, s, or z) drops its final consonant but gains an accent, and the direct object pronoun adds an 'l'. I will do it= Fá-lo-ei, from farei-o, where the archaic compound future 'fazer ei' re-separates for a mesoclitic pronoun, and then the irregular future infinitive 'far' loses its 'r' and gains an accent. I won't do it (however)= Não o farei, because pronouns are preclitic in negative sentences, subordinate clauses, sentences beginning with certain adverbs, and sentences with indefinite subjects. I bet you can't guess what I covered in one of my classes today! :p Here's that streetlight, and yes, the colors are about accurate, even though that's a white curtain. 

All my love to dear Avery and the rest of the clan. Glory in that midnight sun for me!
Good night,
-your sister.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, 4938 miles per Google Earth. Would need something like a very confused shearwater though, given that the initial heading is north! Ha!