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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Why I Am A Motivated Student (Yet Have Not Studied)

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We were assigned to self-learn the subjunctive after instruction last monday.  It is 3 pm THIS Monday.  I am at work.  I have already called my Portuguese-teaching father to ask him how to cheat that I studied.  My father, the former Baptist, does not know how to cheat anything.  (By “cheat” I mean “Engorge your brain quickly with knowledge in easy, maniacal steps.”  I do not advocate real cheating, because I used to be an English teacher in the public schools, and I have a chip in my ass that makes sure that if I don’t do all I can to take down the monster of plagiarism, I will explode like a Japanese Nuclear reactor.)    My dad only runs with honest hard work like the little son of Pilgrims he was programmed to be.  Arrrrgh!   How he got through the UC system to a PhD is a testament to the fact that a few can actually do all that work, since throwing too much material and seeing how you cope with it is their teaching model.  I have no doubt my father read every word that he was ever assigned.

skeleton on park bench

Im waiting to look like this before I open my book.

And of course, there’s the shameful fact that my prof is doing this class for free but I’ve put more effort into arranging my shoe tree this week.

Why do we procrastinate so, when we hold the only key to our goals in our hand and then don’t open the effing book?  Why is it so hard?

I am totally motivated to learn Portuguese.  I want to do my research, and by golly, it’s going to involve some reading in said language.  I already went to the Berkeley library to research my piece for the Marsh, and there were three shelves of books on Cape Verde. Four were in English.  One was from what seemed to be a pirate or a deckhand recounting his travels at the turn of the 20th century, but was obviously blowing distasteful smoke up my unimpressed arse.  So that left three.
Imagine all the stuff I couldn’t read on those inviting shelves.   Imagine what I’ve already lost NOT speaking this language.

Maybe I’m just lazy.

How do you get yourself motivated?


Unofficial Class on the Sly: 01 (It’s okay if you laugh at my crap cartooning skills)

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I'm running to Class.

Of course, Im late.

enjoying class

Its 6:25. All is well.

we get chucked from the student room

Its 6:26-HuH???

we wait for elevators

Hmmmm... Will we have class in the elevator?


Da deee da dummmmm, da deee da deee.....

Deolinda tries to shut us up.

Come on, people. Were SNEAKING!!

hiding class in teacher's lounge.

Hope nobody wants tea!! Except us. Can we have some tea?

All I can say is the class is a logistical mess, but we’re making it happen.  Rather, Deolinda is making it happen.   Thanks again, Deolinda!  I’m off to review the subjunctive.  Oh yeah.  That one’s coming!

Sad to See You Go, Rev. Gomes (May 22, 1942 – February 28, 2011)

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One night, long into a bout of depression and insomnia that had come from a combination of being unemployed, feeling useless, and not sure what to do with the rest of my crappy life, I was dead awake at 4am.  There literally was nothing on except shopping network and a PBS documentary about Henry Louis Gates’ search for the histories of prominent African-Americans.

I thought I’d get a history lesson and fall asleep.  And was well on my way to snoozeville when I noticed that the name of the next prominent man was – GLORY BE – PORTUGUESE!!!!

Rev. Peter Gomes

Rev. Peter Gomes

That never happens.  Anywhere.  Especially on a show about African-Americans struggling to find their history out of thin air.

But it sure did.

Mr. Gomes had something familiar about him.  At first, I thought it was his slight resemblance to the Voice of CNN, but then I realized that was totally ridiculous.  There was something in his posture, a stateliness I’d seen before.   But not in James Earl Jones or Darth Vader or anything that pop-culture ilk.

And then he started to talk about his father being a whaler from Cape Verde.  My mouth dropped open.

My grandfather was born in Cape Verde.  No one ever, ever knows where that is unless they are talking about Cecila Évora.   I have longed, longed to research the historical context of my family being there, but have feared the reaction of my relatives.  Why does this California girl need to go poking around ancient history?  Can’t she just shut up and drink her Pabst Blue Ribbons at her sad hipster bars she’s WAY too old to be hanging in?

But the real shocker was the cheek swab.  Henry Louis Gates was taking everyone’s genetic material and trying to use it to trace the history that slavery ripped away from so many people.  Guess Gomes’ haplotype?  Jewish.  Oddly enough BOTH Sephardic and Ashkenazi.   But the clincher was when he said exactly what my mother says about Jews in our family.  He shrugged (so does she), and said “Don’t you know, every good family has one!”

I don’t know what you know about Cape Verde but a black person does not get a Jewish haplotype, which is the direct genetic link of the patrilineal line, without some ugly, ugly history.  I’ve begun to write a performance piece about it for a class, and it’s well received, but not one person in that class is White Cape Verdian or Black.  I’m not sure I could do it in front of either.  But I have to be able to.  Or I, selfishly, won’t find out if it’s just my class who thinks it’s hilarious.   Not that racism is funny, but how it’s still a part of me, someone who has tried hard not to live as a racist, the past has some pretty bizarre vestiges left in me.

Reverend Gomes got me out of that depression as much as anything.  It made me realize what I really want to work on (probably not how I can possibly ever make a million dollars, but what I really want to work on).  I started interviewing my parents.  I started writing and writing and writing and going to the library and writing some more.

And he was the one time I’ve ever seen my people on TV.  Yes, he was a Black man and many of my people would make jokes, but he was as educated and as distinguished as the best of us, and more so than most of us.  And I’d be proud, dead proud to be his blood relative.  I’m sad I’ll never interview him for my own work, never shake his hand, never thank him for the push and the shove he’s given me.  I’ll never forget him.

That moment, seeing him on television, realizing his posture and grace reminded me of my own family, I had never, never felt so much a part of the American landscape.  Sure, I’m American all the time.  But at that moment, one of us was there, for every one to see, just like the Pilgrims and the Ellis Island immigrants and the border hoppers, and everyone else who is part of our history.  One of us took our rightful place, right up there with the best of them.

Italians Scan the French Bakeries With Hope, Too.

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This weekend I went to go interview the hardest working honkey in Portuguese language teaching, my own dad, David Ross.  He teaches Portuguese at Fresno City College, which means, of course, always teaching under the knife of being canceled.  Much like our class at BCC, except that the dean at FCC is cool with 15 people taking the class instead of expecting the pipe dream of getting 25 people in Portuguese II to come to pass.

But I’m not here to lavish praise on my dad. Yet.  That’s another show, folks.  Because as my dad and I sat in the Café de Paris, which is in the full shadow of TGIFriday’s, something much more extraordinary happened.  We were pleasantly greeted by Ms. Loredana Lo Bianco, one of his former part-timers from when he was chair of Foreign Languages at Fresno State.   She is a sweet Italian prof with whom we chatted pleasantly about education cuts for a half hour (if you can call such a topic “pleasant” and not “ultimately terrifying” to three people who have some stake in the education profession).

And then came the confession:

Loredana was there to do what I’ve done so many times as a Lusophone with no Portuguese bakery:

platter of pastries

Feelin it, anyone, feelin it?

play “Scan the French Bakery for Passable Treats.”

And she’s Italian!

If you’ve never played “Scan,”  let me tell you a bit about how it goes.  Firstly, you prick your ears up for a sympathetic bakery owner who might be pushing American sheet birthday cakes, but really is from Belém.  You might get lucky, especially in California.  There are actually quite a lot of restaurants at least with a “secret” Portuguese menu.  Not that I know where they are.  That would mean that one, I wouldn’t need language lessons and two, my “Prodigal” status would not be necessary.

If this doesn’t pan out, you find the French Bakery.  If you are looking for similar European fare, especially  Western or Southern European, that’s probably your best bet.  If you’re into Eastern/Balkan, you might have other options, like Middle Eastern or Russian stores.   And bite me, then because you will have on your hands a bonanza of baklava and whatever else you want.  You don’t need me.    But for the rest of us,  find a French bakery.  They go by names like “La Boulangerie” or “Café de Paris” or “Petite Délice” or something Frenchie (duh).  So you go in and try not to attract too much attention from the staff; you need some time to compare and contrast your options.

It all depends on how long you’ve been away from Portugal and what kind of French malarkie are you willing to accept.  Delicious on its own, French pastry isn’t going to disappoint; I’m not saying that it’s not delectable.  However when you hanker for a hunk of cheese, does it not suck when you are only offered a glass of  fresh milk?   So picture your last Portuguese Bakery Experience in your head and see what the Frenchies offer.  Anything look like the last time you saw the biscuit counter at Café Nicola?  No? That’s fine, it was 15 years ago, and I think that pink cookie might pass.  EEEEERRRRRMMMMM! Tasty!   Chewy, chewy, chewy.  Pretty soon, you could go to a Jewish Deli and feel nostalgic from the cookie jars, even if you’ve never been to one before.  We’re all Europeans, right?

The shocker here is that my god, ITALIANS DO THIS TOO!! Granted, it’s Fresno, but come on, there are TONS of Italians there.  I know.  I went to school with ’em!  And there’s no bakery?

So it’s not just me.   Not just my family making do with a Bûche de Noel every Christmas (which is delicious, never mind chic).  It’s not just us, claiming on Yelp that Chinese bakeries have some Pastel de Nata-like thing and we should go try it (it’s not that much alike!).   It’s also the Italians.  Though probably not so much back in the Bay Area, anyway!