Yesterday afternoon I went to a party with two ladies from my building, a “cocktail” party at their friend’s house. I wasn’t sure how to dress, but besides lacking as much jewelry as the other women wore, I fit in pretty well.

There were about thirty women gathered at a lovely house, a three- or four-story single dwelling, with a drop-down backyard with a pool and outdoor living room. Gorgeous!

One woman who lives in my building, Bette, is my walk-by friend, whom I encounter several times a week as she walks her terrier, Mickey. One day last week, she called our apartment (if you know the apartment number, you can dial direct) and invited me in her broken English to attend the cocktail party on Friday afternoon.

I met her downstairs, where she and her friend Monica from the other building in our complex greeted me with the Brazilian kisses on the cheek. Bette and Monica both take English lessons twice a week, and were eager to try their vocabulary with me as we drove the five miles or so to the party. I, in turn, tried to respond in Portuguese.

We arrived at the party and I was reminded of the gatherings I used to attend in San Diego with the “Lutheran Lush Ladies,” the coterie of wonderful gals who would gather of an evening for conversation, laughter, and champagne. I stood at the side of the group yesterday, watching as the women interacted and looked over the jewelry and clothing on display (I guess it was a jewelry party). I didn’t feel left out, since I was enjoying watching (seeing doppelgängers of my friends at home), and Bette and Monica made sure to pull me into the group from time to time. Mostly, I stood outside where it was cooler (it was a hot, humid 80 degrees yesterday), and looked around at the new view of the city.

And then I met Fatima. I had met her mother, a spry 85-year-old who had hiked up her dress over her knee during an earlier photo opportunity. Fatima came over to introduce herself, acknowledged  that I didn’t speak Portuguese, and then discovered that I do, however, speak French. And we were off!

For the next hour and a half we chatted non-stop. I had no idea my French was still as good as it is. I’m sure a native speaker would have cringed, but Fatima and I got along like wildfire, speaking about people and countries of the world, about literature and writing, about the abject poverty of Sao Paulo and what can and cannot be done about it in the near future, and many other subjects. It was marvelous. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like a child, speaking in halting Portuguese, but was again intelligent and witty (or so I felt).

After a while, Bette and Monica and Magdalena and a couple of other women with saints names came and joined us and we had a three-way conversation, with them speaking Portuguese to me, translated by Fatima, and me responding in French, again translated by Fatima. It worked!

It seems all the ladies know each other from the “acadamie,” which I eventually discovered was the gym, not a school. They all go there daily to swim and take exercise classes, and I was invited to go along. I said I had no car (it’s too far away to walk), and no exercise clothes, and that I also work every day, but I suspect they’re not going to take no for an answer every day. It’ll be a good way to get to know the ladies, so I’ll try to go once or twice a week, if I can get a ride, at least until our car arrives.

I was exhausted when I got home, and famished. I hadn’t eaten at the party, and I think I used up all of my fuel trying to think in three languages. How great to meet someone who spoke French, though. I don’t need English, don’t expect English, but it was so refreshing to be able to converse and not just nod dumbly or haltingly get out individual words. I’m getting better, but still have a long way to go in Portuguese. But meantime, oui, je parle de francais!