I went for a walk after lunch on 2 January 2019. Close to my home, there is a bus stop. Standing at the bus stop was a man in his late twenties, wearing a red checked shirt and carrying a small backpack. I greeted him in Portuguese, and he replied likewise. As I passed him, it occurred to me that there would definitely not be any bus stopping there at this time of day. Just then, I became aware that he had started walking behind me, so I stopped and turned around.
“English?” I asked, and he said yes. “I’m glad you’ve started walking, because there is no bus coming here any time soon.” He told me that he was not waiting for the bus, but checking his phone to see which was the best way to walk to Loulé, about thirteen kilometres away, and asked whether I could give him directions. I said that there were two options at the next main crossroad, where I happened to be going.
I asked whether he minded steep hills, which was a bit of a joke, because, if anything, that’s one thing Portugal has a lot of. I described the two routes, and he said that he preferred the smaller roads away from traffic. In this case, it meant the best choice for him would be the shorter route, over the higher hill, with a better view.
It was a lovely bright blue day, and not too warm. We chatted easily. I discovered he had spent several nights, including New Year’s Eve, with a Portuguese family, having met the daughter of the family at festivities in a nearby village. He told me he was walking around Portugal, and had headed south by train when the cold spell in the north began. It was good to hear that he had spent a traditional Portuguese New Year with a Portuguese family. He liked the “vibrations” in these parts, and was amazed by the hospitality he had received, and would definitely be keeping in touch with them, and a young woman called Ana, in particular. I said that I understood what he meant about the good vibrations because I felt exactly the same way in 2006 when on holiday here, and moved here two years later ” Zimbabwe, even though I knew no Portuguese. “But you survived,” he said. “Yes, I did,” I said, and smiled.
That was a pleasant thing for me to reflect on as we watched someone ploughing their land at the roadside, and as I stifled amusement at more than one driver in the cars that passed so obviously staring as they wondered who it was walking with me. This is a village, remember. I waved occasionally at some of these drivers, and this was observed without comment by this young fellow.
By now, I knew he was from France (since I had asked), and that he had decided a walking trip to warmer climes was a good way to get away from the protests and recent explosions in Paris, where he lives. He had no trace whatsoever of a French accent in his English, which came across as more American than anything else, so I could not have guessed his origins from his speech alone.
Since the walk to the crossroads was only going to take about 25 minutes at a steady, fairly fast pace on this gentle but persistently uphill route, I decided that extraneous information, such as my being a translator, or the partner of 2006 whom I had mentioned no longer being alive, was not required. It was too nice a day.
Instead, we talked of where this traveller was heading. After Loulé, he was going to follow the Portuguese coast, on his way to Spain. I mentioned a few towns he might like to take in on his walk.
That is when he said that he had surlined on his map a couple of the places that I had mentioned. I said, “We don’t really say “surlined” in English – highlighted, or even underlined, is more usual.” He assured me that it was an English word, to which I replied that it was, but that it was quite academic, precious even. “It is an English word used in normal prose; I read it in a book – by Tom Sharpe,” he said. “Ah,” said I, “that makes sense then, given that he is a satirical writer.” And we left it at that, and shifted easily into the next thing, which was his deciding which of the two routes I had described previously he would like to take. He asked me how much shorter the hillier route was, to which I replied that I did not know, since I had never walked it before (he found this amusing), but I would guess that it was about two kilometres shorter.
We arrived at the crossroads. I gave him directions again. He took out his phone and brought up the map. I followed the route he would take with my finger. He asked me my name. I said “Allison”. He told me he was Clement (English pronunciation). We shook hands, he thanked me; I wished him a good journey, and off he went.
Post script: When I got home, I could not find “surlined” in my Shorter Oxford, nor in any dictionary online. There are a few instances of its usage in text, normally in the phrase “surlined text”, and one instance of the text being “surlined in italics”. The content of Tom Sharpe’s books seems to be impervious to Google Search. No matter. When I read it at seventeen, I thought “Porterhouse Blue” was amusing enough at the beginning, but fizzled out towards the end. I never did get the title of the book Clement was reading, and that does not matter either.
Post post script: As stated in a comment below, I was hard-pressed to find the dictionary definition in French of surligner, meaning to draw a line above a line, symbol, or graphic sequence, and not the most common modern meaning of highlighting text using a fluorescent marker. Both definitions occurred to me on the walk described above. Those interested in corpora, and online resources in French, might enjoy browsing the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales website.
Here is screenshot from that site of the definition of surligner:
©2019 Allison Wright