Monthly Archives: January 2017

Neruda en México — sort of

I have to apologize, because I’m at it again, blogging about something other than the long-promised theme of “Cervantes on the beach.” The distracting factor this time is my trip to Washington, DC this past weekend for the Women’s March on Washington — an amazing experience, though not related to Spanish. While there, I returned to a Mexican restaurant I had enjoyed on my previous trip to the city. It is called Oyamel and features small plates that are innovative and delicious. I strongly recommend it!

As on my previous visit, I noticed that the words of my long-time favorite poem, Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche, are inscribed on the restaurant’s walls. This time I took some photographs (below). You can see the titular first line of the poem interrupted by the window in the first photo, and wrapping around the corner in the second.IMG_20170122_160253


Puedo escribir… is one of the most famous poems by Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet. It is part of his Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, published in 1924. Readers familiar with Hispanic literature will wonder, of course, why a Mexican restaurant is decorated with Chilean poetry. Perhaps this is because Oyamel is part of a larger restaurant group run by José Andrés, a Spanish chef, whose restaurants include cuisine from around the Spanish-speaking world.

At any rate, it was a thrill to be able to enjoy my favorite poem while enjoying a delicious lunch with friends.

Some nice local coverage

My home-town newspaper, the Scarsdale Inquirer, just published this article about ¿Por qué?. My dad, my biggest fan, was thrilled to see the article, even though it completely sidestepped his role in my ancestry. This is ironic since it was his abiding interest in Spanish that inspired me to take up the language in the first place, whereas my mom had studied French and barely spoke a word of Spanish. That wrinkle aside, it’s a nice article.

From the Scarsdale Inquirer, Friday, January 6, 2017

From the Scarsdale Inquirer, Friday, January 6, 2017

I’m still planning to get around to that “Cervantes on the beach” series, but first have to fulfill my civic duty this weekend and protest in Washington, DC. Will be back on Sunday if not in jail.

Spanish versus Portuguese

I owe my readers an apology. In my previous post I promised to write several posts about the Spanish of Cervantes. Instead, my recent days have been devoted to annoying grownup stuff (car trouble, health insurance wrangling), happy grownup stuff (visiting my grandchildren), and also sending out “blast” emails about my book. All important, yet distracting.

This makes it even more awkward that my first post since promising Cervantes is, instead, about Portuguese! But I couldn’t resist, and you’ll see why.

My “blast” emails have given me the chance to reconnect with some friends and family I haven’t been in touch with for a while. One childhood friend wrote back, “I have been studying Portuguese and this has made me wonder about why Spanish is so much more complex.” In direct contrast, a cousin of my husband’s asked, “when will you do [a book] on Portuguese, in my opinion a more difficult and mysterious language?”

I hate to disappoint both my old friend and my cousin-in-law, but I have never studied Portuguese and have no idea how it compares to Spanish in difficulty. I do know some interesting factoids about the difference between the two languages:

  1. It’s easier for Portuguese speakers to understand Spanish than the other way around (the topic of an earlier post);
  2. The future subjunctive, an Iberian invention, is more frequent in Portuguese than in Spanish, where it’s only seen in legalese;
  3. Spanish and Portuguese both have the ser/estar contrast, but permanent location is expressed with ser in Portuguese, versus estar in Spanish.

However, none of these factoids has anything to do with the relative difficulty of the two languages. Perhaps some readers will write in and help with this question. Please!

In the meantime, anyone interested in Portuguese is recommended to read the delightful “not just a physics memoir” Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman. Its chapters on Feynman’s time in Brazil show how learning a foreign language can open unexpected doors.