Friday, September 30, 2016

When a squash costs 30 Euros

Every year our village holds its 'Harvest Festival' a procession through the streets with the villages, the local priest and the icons.   Serenaded by a local band who play those religious classics such as 'Yellow Submarine' and the song I know as 'Hitler only has one ball/ Dad's Army theme tune'.




It's a time when the village fills with people once again, as the Lisbon dwellers come back to take part in this traditional annual festival.   You can spot the Lisbon dwellers by their shoes....honestly, you can.

After the procession, band performance and general standing around waiting for something to happen, comes the annual harvest auction.  Money raising for the church and to pay the band fee!


Local people donate their home grown produce, usually string upon string of onions and the biggest squash you can imagine.  These items are then auctioned to the highest bidder, as our local shepherd and honey maker tries his hardest to get money out of us all!


It's a tough job.   Every year there seems to be less and less donated.  Every year there seems to be less and less people and every year his job becomes harder, as people don't readily part with their money.   It's a sign of the times.  Even those with the good shoes don't seem to take part like they used to. 


But then who wants to pay 10 Euro for a bunch of figs when they are falling on the floor all around us and you can pick them from the tree as you walk by? 


The fact that strings of onions sell for 15 euro, a squash can raise 30 Euro, or a jar of honey can raise 10 Euro is a demonstration in how generous spirited the Portuguese can be when it comes to trying to keep their traditions alive.  Despite the lack of people in the village, the economic climate and the changing importance of the church as the centre of village life, this tradition continues.




And then there are the giant squash, we've come home with a half size one, which will make enough soup to last a small family a few months.  God only knows what this chap will do with the two he bought.....but at least he can get them home safely!














When a squash costs 30 Euros

Every year our village holds its 'Harvest Festival' a procession through the streets with the villages, the local priest and the icons.   Serenaded by a local band who play those religious classics such as 'Yellow Submarine' and the song I know as 'Hitler only has one ball/ Dad's Army theme tune'.




It's a time when the village fills with people once again, as the Lisbon dwellers come back to take part in this traditional annual festival.   You can spot the Lisbon dwellers by their shoes....honestly, you can.

After the procession, band performance and general standing around waiting for something to happen comes the annual harvest auction.  Money raising for the church and to pay the band fee!


Local people donate their home grown produce, usually string upon string of onions, and the biggest squash you can imagine.  These items are then auctioned to the highest bidder as our local shepherd and honey maker tries his hardest to get money out of us all!


It's a tough job.   Every year there seems to be less and less donated.  Every year there seems to be less and less people and every year his job becomes harder as people don't readily part with their money.   It's a sign of the times.  Even those with the good shoes don't seem to take part like they used to. 


But then who wants to pay 10 Euro for a bunch of figs when they are falling on the floor all around us and you can pick them from the tree as you walk by? 


The fact that strings of onions sell for 15 euro, a squash can raise 30 Euro, or a jar of honey can raise 10 Euro is a demonstration in how generous spirited the Portuguese can be when it comes to trying to keep their traditions alive.  Despite the lack of people in the village, the economic climate and the changing importance of the church as the centre of village life, this tradition continues.




And then there are the giant squash, we've come home with a half size one, which will make enough soup to last a small family a few months.  God only knows what this chap will do with the two he bought.....but at least he can get them home safely!














Saturday, August 27, 2016

It's all brown

It's been hot, too hot for too long - 35 to 37 degrees most days, making it impossible to do much at all.  It's strange that you end up wishing for a cloud or two.  

Massive thunderstorms brought some much needed rain the other night, but by morning the ground was bone dry once again.

Needless to say there has been no gardening done since June when this hot weather came to stay. Except emergency watering, which is done every two days.   Not that it seems to have had much impact.  The grass (well the weeds in the grass) have turned brown and dust is forming where grass used to be.  The upside - no need to mow!


The African daisies which usually look wonderful have turned a brown colour and need a massive chopping back once the gardening weather improves and the oregano which grows like a weed has given up and is starting to turn a brown/grey colour.

The birds stay in their hiding places during the day, but I keep the food and water topped up for them every other day.   I suppose the upside is they have given up eating Lord's left over food from his bowl!

Our stunning wild garden which is at the end of the garden and was stuffed full of bugs and wild flowers last year has turned into a potential hay meadow. 






Despite watering this poor hydrangea is not going to make it.  A good cutting back in October should bring it back to life next year - I hope.

All in all, it's a bit dry out there. Having said that, the lemons are growing, the tomatoes are turning red, I'm sun drying home grown tomatoes for the winter and I know things will grow back.

It's like my Mum says, 'it's got two chances', it lives or it dies.

At least the new patio and the enormous lime tree is creating some much needed shade for Lord, who still wants to go for a walk at 3pm despite the heat!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Little Donkey


In a world before fridge/freezers how did you store your food?  Peasants used salt and created 365 recipes for salted cod fish, but royalty used ice.  Ice houses were built in locations around Portugal and snow compacted within them to form large blocks of ice.  This ice was then transported by donkey or cows to the river, then onwards to the royal family. 


Santo António da Neve in the hills above us was one of the places famous for ice, ‘Neveiros’ the snow farmers (so to speak) worked all year to cool the food of the high born. 







The ice blocks made a slow journey from the top of the mountain down the donkey tracks to the river.  How the ice didn’t melt in the heat of the day is beyond me.  

There are still hundreds of ancient tracks in the mountains here and I recently walked one to take a donkey to his new home. 




Friends of ours rescued an old female donkey last year and have been searching for a stable mate for her. They finally found one on the other side of the mountain.    What do you do when you need to move a donkey from one location to another and you have no animal transport truck to move them? 
Well, you walk of course!

Xisto (or Mr Xisto or my name for him ‘monkey donkey’) was being handed over from his old owners to our friends in July.  

We met them on top of the mountain to do the formal hand over.  Mr Xisto had already been walked miles from his home to the top of the mountain, rested overnight he had the other half of the walk to complete.    My friend Ingrid and I decided to join Mr Xisto and his new owner for part of that walk.

It wasn’t easy, the quickest way down the mountain is also the steepest!   Mr Xisto was not happy as he picked his way down the narrow track.  

It was hot too, water stops were much needed.  But donkeys are such amazing trusting animals.  He followed our lead and Ingrid did a super job or propping him up when he needed her to lean on.   

We walked for two hours, met a group of goats, sling shot some stones at some very nasty dogs and learned that Mr Xisto stops when there are hornets having a go at his flanks.    



We felt like we were walking in the tracks of the Neveiros’ – the romantic image of walking in the shadow of the ancestors of Portugal, with a donkey in the afternoon heat sustained our sense of humour.  I am sure these ancient tracks are long gone, but the sentiment was there.


Instead of stopping after two hours we carried on and on, and took Mr Xisto almost all the way home.  But with the light fading and feet hurting and backs aching we decided to call it a day and his owners camped overnight on the mountain top.   Mr Xisto and his owners got up at dawn the next morning and walked the last part of the journey to his new home.

Mr Xisto is settling in his new home with his stable mate very well.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Innocent masked mischief



‘Entrudo’ is a traditional shrovetide celebration in Central Portugal.  Up in the mountains of Central Portugal they are trying to keep this typical village tradition alive by keeping up the annual Entrudo and encouraging new people to join in.   


Celebrating Entrudo means cross dressing and making your own cork mask (a local resource in the hills of Portugal).  Once suitably disguised you go and make some innocent mischief in the neighbouring villages. 

   

It’s harmless enough; moving flower pots, creating barriers in the quiet village roads, throwing cob nuts at people and generally making a noise.  The sounds of the accordion are never far from the ears and traditional limericks and bawdy rhymes are recited telling the story of the villages, it’s history and it’s residents. 




The group of revellers was organised by Lousitanea, a eco business set in one of these traditional hillside villages.  This tourism organisation helps to keep traditional village life alive.  They organise walking tours, bread making and traditional craft events in this stone built village set in the Lousa mountain range.  Lousitanea are the only group keeping the tradition of Entrudo alive in this part of Portugal, with support from the local tourist board.    




There were about 30 in our group (with about a third non Portuguese) and together we boarded a small coach (paid for by the tourist board) and we visited three local villages.  The tracks taking us to these small and sometimes remote old villages challenged the coach driver who barely left first gear! Home owners in the villages joined in the merriment, as they served us wine or sweets or danced along to the accordion.  



It’s a great tradition, but its dying out because people just don’t live in these remote villages anymore, these villages are full of holiday homes and rich owners from Lisbon and only a handful of year-round residents.  




I’m told that the heritage of Entrudo is not written down in the history books, instead it’s an oral history, passed down from generations of villagers.  It’s become less popular in recent years, since the Brazilian style of carnival took over in the larger Portuguese towns.  Carnival celebrates the same point in the religious calendar, but the Brazilian way is to add scantily clad dancing girls and samba music – all very well in Brazil, but in February in Central Portugal it’s a bit cold and these poor girls take on a blue tinge to their skin as they dance through the streets.


 So, this Entrudo is taken pretty seriously, you must keep your mask on in the village, as part of the group you cannot take out your phone and start taking photos, you are asked to remain in character during your visit to the village.  Posing excessively is allowed though!   A group of people in regular clothes join the group to keep you in check, make the visits run to time, clear up after you and take photographs.   



It’s exhausting!  Hiding behind the mask you start to feel dizzy, dressed up in lots of layers you quickly get hot.  One couple told us that they take part in something similar in Lisbon during June and that gets really hot!   

After three villages and a lot of noise we head back to the start and lunch is served, taking off the mask is a relief…you quickly realise that size does matter and the thinner the cork the lighted the whole thing is to wear!    


It’s a great bonkers tradition that I hope will continue in these villages.  But it needs a community to keep it going.  As more and more of these old mountain villages become places for summer homes or are abandoned almost completely these traditions won’t thrive and we’ve all got a part to play in making sure that does not happen.


 Thank you to Amilcar Martins and Goncalo Sousa for the photographs which I have taken from various facebook posts.