Brazil: The Portuguese Language Museum
By Mark Taylor
Recently I visited the Museu da Língua Portuguesa (The Portuguese Language Museum) here in São Paulo. The museum itself is relatively new, having opened in March this year. It's also optimally located in the beautiful Estação da Luz (Luz train station) which dates back to colonial times here in the city, and is one of the oldest train stations in São Paulo. Opposite the museum there's also the state's art museum, Pinacoteca (covered in a previous article).
The museum itself is situated on the three upper floors of the station, and doesn't affect the day-to-day workings of what is still a functional train station. The work on the museum cost a not inconsequential R$37 million, and for the most part it shows. Part of the cost involved the restoration of the station, and overall it required 750 workers, and 30 language specialists to design and construct the exhibits.
Once you've bought your tickets and entered the museum you take a lift all the way up to the third floor. Between the two lifts is the Arvore de Palavras (Tree of Words), a large metal sculpture that runs the height of the museum. The tree is ingrained with many Portuguese words, and created by the Brazilian architect Rafic Farah.
At the other end of the floor the Auditório (a small cinema) is located. Queue here for the next showing unless the queue is extremely long, if it is come back later. The cinema shows a presentation on the growth, history and diversity of Portuguese (directed by Tadeu Jungle, and created by Antônio Risério). Following the presentation, and I won't spoil the surprise at this point, you enter the Praça da Língua (Language Square). Essentially a large square room with bench seating on either side. Once seated the room will darken and then a second presentation will start, which is projected onto the facets of the ceiling. This 20 minute presentation includes pieces of classic prose and poetry, read or sung by many famous Brazilians, the words for which are projected, along with images and video, accompanied by sound and music. The presentation alternates each time between three versions, so you may even want to return to see a different one. Along the wall from the exit to the second floor are all the pieces of text used in the presentation, which you can read at your leisure.
The second floor consists of the Grande Galeria (Big Gallery), the Palavras Cruzadas (Crosswords), the História da Língua Portuguesa (History of the Portuguese Language) and Beco das Palavras. Whether you come via the lift or the stairs the first thing that will strike you is the Grande Galeria, a 106 metre screen that stretches the length of the floor, and is fed by multiple synchronised projectors. Eleven different films play on the huge screen, taking around 9 meters of screen each, and lasting around 6 minutes. The films are centred arond the richness and diversity of the Portuguese language, including such themes as dance, festivals, carnival, football, music, human relations, values, and a dedication to the Portuguese culture. Every few minutes the entire screen switches to a view of the Luz train platform, at which the train arrives, and then amusingly the platform departs!
Midway along the floor is Palavras Cruzadas and História da Língua Portuguesa. Palavras Cruzadas are a set of eight multimedia columns, which are dedicated to the languages that formed Brazilian Portuguese. Two of the columns are dedicated to the African languages, two for the indigenous languages, one for Spanish, one for English and French, one for the languages of the immigrants, and the last to the world of Portuguese. Each column is in the shape of a triangle, and has three interactive screens, one per face. To the side of Palavras Cruzadas it's hard to miss the History of the Portuguese Language, which is a large static display and timeline of the development of the Portuguese language. It starts with the precursor languages to Portuguese, and then explains the developments over the last 6000 years.
Behind these two in a separate darkened room is Becos das Palavras (Word Corner), which consists of a set of three table-like screens, set at three different levels. Each screen starts with various parts of Portuguese words floating across it, which you can grab through the motions of your arms and hands. Scanners in the ceiling above the table register the movements of the arms and show them on the screen as well. Once a word has been grabbed and assembled for a sufficiently long time it is selected, and then the history of the word will play. This proved to be very popular with plenty of screaming children and adults trying to "grab" a word.
On the first floor is the temporary exhibit, which is currently an enormous representation of the classic book Grande Sertão: Veredas by Guimarães Rosa. Each page from the book has been transferred to material, and then suspended from the ceiling on counterweights made from bags of soil. There are seven routes that can be followed, traced on the floor, that follow either a character or aspect of the book. On the floor are various optical puzzles which have to be viewed from a specific angle to be understood, often involving a climb up a ladder or steps (another popular one for children!). In summary the museum is unmissable for anyone studying Portuguese who has at least basic fluency. Even if you can't understand everything it will be a lesson in itself and allow you to soak up the many different ways the letters, words and sentences are presented. For someone more advanced in their Portuguese or even fluent it's equally a fascinating experience to understand the roots of the language.
It's recommended to get there early, particularly at weekends, ideally half an hour before it opens. The queues are often over an hour in length as the day progresses. Large bags cannot be taken into the museum and have to be left at a cloakroom. Non-flash photography is permitted. Tickets: R$4 Adult, R$2 Student, free for under 10s and over 60s. Open Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 6pm. Praça da Luz, 01. Luz. Also easily accessible from Luz Metrô station. http://www.estacaodaluz.org.br
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Previous articles by Mark:
Brazil: Election Time! Part 2
Brazil: Election Time! Part 1
Brazil: Torrent TV
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Brazil: Whistle-stop Salvador Part 2
Brazil: Whistle-stop Salvador Part 1
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Brazil: São Paulos Pinacoteca
Brazil: Dont Forget, Youre in Another Country!
Brazil: PCC Violence Returns to São Paulo
Brazil: A Recycled City Part 5
Brazil's World Cup Defeat Party
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