In the past two months I’ve created another life, and to some degree, another persona here in Porto. It is my way of dealing with the separation from my family and home and friends. I try to not think much about home and I do it by existing in a state of semi-denial. My watch is on Portuguese time and in the 24 hour format. I try not to skype or face time because it is too difficult for me—email, whatapp, messaging works best at keeping the wall up. Seeing faces makes me very homesick. I try to not think about what they could be doing or what time it is in Pittsburgh. I live here in this place and in this place people only know me as I present now. Since I can’t speak fluently, people don’t really know me as Mary. Here they know me as the Portuguese version of Mary, which is Maria.
Maria is browner than Mary and her hair is shorter and she weighs a little less. She knows how to de-bone a fish and knows the ingredients that go into a dish called “old clothes”. She eats cabbage and Brussels sprouts and drinks wine when she cooks her dinner. She cooks. She knows what a cooked pig’s ear looks like but draws the line at tripe. She waits in line for food. She can harvest olives. Her TV obsession is “Australian Master Chef”. As you can tell, Maria is interested in food.
Maria is always being asked directions or for the time. She walks everywhere and takes the steps rather than the escalator. She likes to walk the city and look at doors and the faces of people and at families. She says good morning/afternoon and night and hello to everyone even though her accent is strange. She goes to the Church of Paranhos daily to sit and think. She knits. Maria can go 48 hours without talking to anyone other than her posse of feral cats.
Maria/Mary Beth worlds came together when my long -suffering and patient Portuguese teacher realized that his aunt was working with me at the University. He asked her– “do you know Mary Beth”? and she replied, “who is that??” They finally figured out that Mary Beth was Maria but it made me think about this duality. Here they only know what they see and who is presented to them and the information that Mary Beth can share in her limited way.
It’s an interesting duality. We will see how Maria develops and what remains when Mary Beth returns.