Last time I spent an extended period in Portugal I shared a flat with a man called Aiden. It was 30 years ago and we were both International Management Trainees at the Bank of London and South America, which struck me as an odd name for a bank in Portugal until I saw Banco Espirito Santo across the road. BOLSA was part of Lloyds and was gone long before the crisis; BES seems to be here still – I presume the generosity of the taxpayers of the Euro area has more to do with this than any intervention by the Holy Spirit.
I thought of Aiden yesterday because of his linguistic skills. He and I enjoyed the same lessons in Portuguese from the redoubtable, blue-rinsed Donna Judith, but he was so much better that it pained me every time he effortlessly deployed the pluperfect subjunctive. That’s why one of the few things I recall with clarity, or at all, from this early Portuguese experience is Aiden making a grammatically complex and perfectly executed enquiry at the bus-station, only for the little man (they were all so short in those days. Still are, actually) to mimic the use of a large steering wheel and say “Bus… Bus” – here he made the sound of an internal combustion engine, spraying Aiden with a light mist of spittle – “numero dois, DOIS” – he waved two fingers in Aiden’s face to ensure his message was understood. It was great.
Just outside the marina at Nazaré there is a small shop – cum- café. On our first day here the owner quickly dispensed with Portuguese – mine is still as excellent as ever – and addressed me in fluent French. “How can you be sure I am francophone?”, I objected, in my best French. Annoyingly he switched to a slightly Brummie English. Fine.
Then yesterday I wanted to buy some of his delicious Portuguese pastries (much nicer than they look).
“What’s this one made from?”
I saw my chance for linguistic one-upmanship.
“Il est fait de quoi, celui-là?” I asked again, in a slight St Germain-de-Prés accent, pointing.
Ha! I tried to keep the triumph from my face.
“Do que é isto feito?”
I bought a variety, and he was right. They were made of excellent, all of them.