Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Religious Festivals, Rocketry and Anyone Fancy Sardines for Lunch?

The first skyrocket sounded at 7.30 this morning. Yesterday it was 8.00 and tomorrow’s schedule says it’ll be 7.30am again.

You see we're in the Portuguese countryside, not far from the border with Spain, and very close to a little village called Vila de Punhe. Vila de Punhe is currently three days into a six day religious festival. From what we’ve seen and heard, rockets, which are generally followed by church bells, are a very important feature. Today’s festival schedule was brought to us with breakfast. It doesn’t just say rocketry at 7.30. It also says fireworks at 16.30, and fireworks with dancing waters again at 24.00. This latter sounds more romantic than accurate and I’m guessing it’s the translation from Portuguese to English that renders everything quaint and enigmatic. For instance, at 10.00am this morning, my schedule reads mass of the emigrants with a pilgrimage to the cemeteries to the sounds of clarins and a fanfare. And in fact as I write this, I hear the church bells pealing and looking at my watch, it is 10.00 am.

Yesterday we wandered down the valley to the village to see the Marching Bands and what was translated as a Gathering of Academies and Confraternities. In the afternoon we revisited for an ethnographic procession. I looked up ethnographic in the dictionary beforehand to try and grasp just what it was we might be seeing. It did help. Lots of floats to do with local customs and culture.

But first there was the waiting before hand. The procession, which was meant to start at 16.00, didn't actually get moving until 17.00. 

This woman had two live hens: spot their red combs in her basket. Once the procession started she carried them on her head.
Eventually things got underway. The humdrum and the ordinary were transformed into colourful and interactive floats. I think the 'doing the washing display' was my favourite. 

 This was very obviously an agrarian community.

And last but not least, at the very tail end of the procession...the men with rockets!

We came to  this particular remote part of Portugal expecting we'd have a week of total peace and quiet before heading back to Riyadh. Well, it's certainly not shaping up to be that. There’s far more excitement in the air than we could ever have anticipated. There’s a Solemn Procession and something theatrical we think we might go to this afternoon, and then tomorrow a Twilight Procession. All accompanied by yet more fireworks and church bells, of course.  

But standing on the grass yesterday watching the floats go by was an experience quite out of the ordinary. It was the very best kind of fun. The kind of fun you remember and smile about together, long after the holiday’s over.

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