The Portuguese Curse by Hobie Anthony

Portugal and its language, Portuguese, has been coming up a lot lately. The filmmaker Monte Hellman announced that he will spend the next few years in Portugal making a film. Since I first saw, Two Lane Blacktop (1971), Hellman has been one of my favorite directors. Two Lane starred the musician James Taylor. It’s a road-trip movie about freedom and individualism. It’s one of the most subversive movies I know. It ends in a blur of car-racing action and melted film: The audio track goes near-silent, Taylor’s long hair flails in the wind, stops in freeze-frame, the film dissolves then the theater lights go up.  Hellman and I are friends on Facebook, which I’m sure means a lot to him.

Coincidences. We usually modify them with mere to indicate that they have little meaning or importance. Words and concepts and images repeat at times. Carl Jung called these repetitions synchronicity or having to do with the collective unconsciousness. Finding patterns in life is like finding a gentle melody which recurs each time the chorus comes around, or a riff repeating in verses. The pragmatists say that the world is not music and that these patterns are delusions. I’m not sure if they know what they are talking about.

Portugal is to Spain as Austria is to Germany, a vestigial growth which is usually ignored or included as an afterthought. We know they’re there and we accept their individuality, but they are always in the shadow of a larger state. I live in Oregon, so I have empathy for the Portuguese people. We are that part between California and Washington. I once thought of the whole Pacific Northwest as a rain-soaked outgrowth of Seattle. Like the quiet kid in class, establishing a low profile allows a degree of autonomy that the popular kids lack. We can make our own rules, we can be quirky and enjoy ourselves. We have an outsider’s perspective, an objective view.

The quiet kid writes the alternate history. While the yearbook shows the glory of the football team, the quiet kid witnessed their bullying. The record will show who the prom king was, but a sensitive soul saw through macho bravado to see a scared homosexual adolescent.

Seven months ago, in July, I moved into a shared-living house. One of my house-mates is from Brazil. Every morning, over coffee, we intertwine English and Portuguese. I introduced her to grapefruit, which she hates, and she feeds me Brazilian cooking, which is delicious. I struggle to quell my knowledge of Spanish and French, since my ignorance sees more similarities between Romance languages than differences. Obrigado, Bom Dia, Gustoso, Boa Noite – these are the Portuguese phrases I am comfortable using.

When Autumn was a few days past its Equinox, I was bandaging from the break-up of a long-distance affair. To take my mind off of my loneliness, I volunteered for my favorite non-profit and met a woman of Portuguese heritage. We discussed how her name was misspelled by her mother, who had yet to learn English when the hospital made her birth certificate. I think she also told me about a Portland-area food cart which sells Portuguese street food.

I dated a woman a month later whose father was Portuguese. She called her pubic bush the ″Portuguese curse.″ It was thick and black and reminded me of Frieda Kahlo. In the end, the curse was my oversized, tragic attraction for her, which she did not reciprocate. Soon came the dump. She had recently ended a real, long-term relationship. Our tryst was a subordinate clause to prior relationships, a bounce-back rebound, an aperitif between courses, greater partnerings. We never gained relationship status on Facebook. It was as though it never happened.

Around the time I was ditched, I discovered, via Facebook, that my first love, my high school girlfriend, speaks Portuguese. She won’t speak to me in any language, which is another story altogether, but if she lived here, she could offer my house-mate a more-satisfying communication. I was happy to see her pursuing intellectual things; she is very smart.

I’ve long admired Portugal. In that country, they do not kill the bull at the end of a bullfight. I did a report on Portugal for fifth grade Geography class. The humanity of their bullfights was the central theme of my report. I made a poster display and the teacher said that my presentation was, ″highly unusual.″ I didn’t see what the big deal was.

Bull sacrifice is an ancient practice which some say provides the mythic backing for the Christ story. Bull sacrifice is seen as analogous to the crucifixion that ended Jesus’ story. The bull cults took a backseat to Christianity once Constatine got it in business. In the hearts of the Portuguese people, who have a majority of Catholics in their population, the bullish representation of Christ lives on after every bout. The bull fights and struggles, but he lives to fight again. Perhaps there’s an inner mythos in which the Portuguese people see their spiritual guide as living, vital.  Maybe Portuguese spirituality lives, and is resilient, and is not about death.

So, what does this all mean? Why does it matter that Portugal has arisen as a theme in this time of my life? Should I move to Lisbon? Should I move to Brazil and enjoy climate change on the equator? Is my fate to be tangled and tortured in the tentacles of a Portuguese Man ‘O War?

When life takes on a narrative thread, it’s luck. It’s being in tune with one’s surroundings and finding the transcendent. Life is a fun thing, it matters. It may not mean a whole lot, there may be no Joycean revelation to tie it all into a neat bow, but it is fun and it matters. We explore black and wooly Portugese nethers; we discover metaphors and explore countries. We make new friends and burn bridges to the past. In order to make it more fun, it’s vital to pay attention and soak up stories as you go. Life is a struggle. It takes drag-strip courage, then it ends.


About the Author

Hobie Anthony was raised on the red clay of Georgia, cut his teeth on the hard streets of Chicago, and now roots into the volcanic soil of Portland, Oregon. He can be found or is forthcoming in such journals as Fourteen Hills, Fiction Southeast, The Rumpus, [PANK], Wigleaf, Housefire, Crate, Ampersand, Birkensnake, Word Riot, Connotation Press, and many more. He earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. When he needs money, he writes.