Yesterday was another down day, but this time I was feeling antsy and fed up with the inactivity. We’re entering that strange pre-trip lull, where it’s too early to really start doing anything in terms of packing or getting ready, but you know things are about to get crazy, and you’re thinking about everything you need to do… so your wheels just spin and spin. Or maybe that’s just me.

I felt slightly better after Gabe and I went to lift weights at the gym, but I still left the house for my Portuguese lesson feeling anxious and eager to get out of the flat. It reminds me of the time before our wedding — I’ve been so good at clearing my plate that I’ve left myself nothing to do, right when I most need to be kept occupied! So the time, which has been flying by for the past few weeks, has now slowed to a crawl, and the week shows no signs of going by any faster. Doesn’t it always work that way?

Luckily my Portuguese lesson went far to distract me from our imminent trip home, as it was one of my most challenging yet. So far, the other people I’ve shared lessons with haven’t spoken any other Romance languages, so my knowledge of French and Spanish have given me a leg up. This time however, my tutor paired me with a French guy who also speaks Spanish — in other words, this is his third Romance language, which as far as I’m concerned is simply unfair.

After being here for exactly as long as I have, he is already far more conversant and comfortable in it than I am, and is already on the second of the textbook series (I just bought number one last week). It does help that he speaks two very similar languages fluently, and he also lives with a bunch of Brazilians, which usually means a sink or swim approach to communication.

But after listening to him speak Portuguese with a Brazilian accent and English with an American accent, I decided that he may just be one of those people who is really really good at acquiring new languages and accents. I’ve known a few people like that, and have always envied their ability to pick up a language like an old hat in a thrift store and immediately look fabulous and entirely natural while wearing it. In other words, I kind of have to hate them, even as I admire their aptitude.

It was very educational to share a lesson with this guy, as it was kind of like having two tutors in the room. Whenever I didn’t know a word, he prompted me on it, or gave me the definition if I hadn’t heard before. I could almost feel my hair blow back as the conversation flew between him and my tutor, and all thoughts of going home or packing or anything else were abandoned as I strove to keep up. In other words, it was good practice for every day life!

I soon discovered that by concentrating intently on everything they said, I could indeed follow the conversation, and occasionally, if I was quick about it, I could even interject a short phrase or sentence. Of course if I got distracted or spaced out for even a second, I immediately got lost.

As far as I could tell, we talked mostly about yesterday’s holiday, which turned out to be Immaculate Conception Day. (All these national religious holidays really throw me off.) Somewhat ironically, the second half of our lesson was centered around a Portuguese artist named Paula Rego, who did a whole series of paintings as part of the battle in the 1990s to legalize abortion in Portugal. The paintings themselves were definitely not for the faint-hearted, but they did lead to some fascinating cultural insights and discussion, which I always look forward to from my Portuguese lessons.

So at least in terms of my language skills, things are looking up — and apparently my tutor thinks so too, or else she wouldn’t have paired me with someone more advanced. Quite the vote of confidence, although returning to my usual Greek partner for today and tomorrow’s lessons will be something of a relief.

Of course then I will go home next week, and forget everything, and have to start all over again when I come back. But so it goes. At least for now, I can process and minutely contribute to a conversation conducted at a normal pace about a relatively complex and controversial subject. In my books, that’s getting somewhere!

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