Exquisite chuckle

Sources of Joy – Day 43

Outside of conference business, I arranged last week to meet up for (good quality) coffee this morning with a  Porto-based translator who edited the English version of a big project I did in 2011. The flimsy excuse was to discuss timetabling for a large translation of hers which I shall be revising in due course.

We met in one of the open spaces of the Mercado Bom Sucesso, the original structure of which was built in 1949 and remains unchanged to this day, so I discovered on the Friday evening (very handy being in the company of hyperactive, expert smartphone googlers). It is only the interior furnishings which have since been altered. I mention this because not many people are aware that the design concepts of Bauhaus and art nouveau, often regarded as so fresh and modern, are actually almost 100 years old.

Interior roof and ceiling detail. Construction completed 1949, as I saw it on Friday 23 May 2014.
Interior roof and ceiling detail. Construction completed 1949, as I saw it on Friday 23 May 2014.

Now that you have the context (why and where), here is the story:

The two of us were in the preliminary catch-up chatter phase of our meeting. She is born and bred fully bilingual English and Portuguese – and if I can be English (read British), then anyone can. So, our conversation is in English, with a heavy peppering of Portuguese.

Interrupting herself, my fellow translator says to me in Portuguese in a low voice, “Who is coming towards us?”

“Haven’t the foggiest”, I reply in the same language and tone.

At this juncture, I should explain that every time I stood on the steps and smoked outside the hotel I stayed in this weekend, I was accosted by at least one beggar asking either for a cigarette or pleading hunger. I am tired of being interfered with when minding my own business.

Standing before the two of us – who are obviously in conference – is a pale-skinned woman in her late thirties in bell-bottom jeans, with a burgundy blouse of garish design not tucked in, and matching sunhat (imitating the design of the kind one plonks on the head of the average four-year-old at a beach). This vision has wide eyes and a Cheshire Cat grin without the Cheshire Cat depth to it.

This vision of oddity says hello. My project partner and I both stare at her imperiously, thus betraying our British heritage.

The quite clearly bonkers vision speaks some more, all the while pretending that this is not an awkward situation. My fellow translator and I are now both assessing the proximity of this nutter to our respective handbags each lying on the spare chairs at our coffee table for four.

Crazy lady says this: “I am English and I am on holiday here for two (?) weeks. Do you speak English?”

Without looking at each other, and still with fixed imperious stare, we utter in British unison of which John Cleese would be most proud, “No.”

We both pause, possibly for the sheer enjoyment of watching how utterly flabbergasted this female interloper is by our response.

Then my project partner and I deliver a second, almost identical response by way of explanation. She says, “We are actually in a meeting right now.” At the same time, I say, “We are having a business meeting at the moment.” I suppose this is one situation where I can be grateful for the “German overlay” I have apparently put on my southern African accent, according to one Brit who commented not so long ago.

While I am looking for Catherine Tate among the passers-by, my collaborator has regained her gracious self and – in flawless English of which Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II (as she spoke on the day of her Coronation; not now) would have approved – is wishing the totally flattened ego in a hat a pleasant stay in this very interesting city. I have nothing gracious to add, but am heard muttering “Meu Deus!” (my God!) under my breath.

Our would-be con artist beat a hasty and most apologetic retreat. As soon as she was out of earshot, we both enjoyed a long, closed-jaw chuckle, before resuming what now became a very business-like business meeting in a language which neither of us speak.

My excuse is that I was trapped on a train, and desperate.
My excuse is that I was trapped on a train, and desperate.






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