Three Big F’s

Over the past year or so, we’ve found ourselves puzzling over what vices, if any, the Portuguese people could possibly  have.  This party-loving Catholic nation
is essentially a good bunch and it’s not the easiest thing to spot any great  wickedness in them.  Sure, they love wine – the fact that most of what is produced here is also consumed domestically attests to that, but I can honestly say we haven’t seen many who have been out of control.  Food perhaps?
Those Sunday family lunches around tables groaning under the weight of
food do rather seem like marathons, but they’re hardly scandalous, aren’t they?  Finally, after much debate and asking some  Portuguese friends what they thought their vices were, someone told us about the THREE F’s.

Futebol, Fátima, Fado

It’s only appropriate that I should address the local football (soccer) fanaticism this week, because FC Porto, a team  based in Porto, the city closest to us, has won not only the Portuguese League and the UEFA cup final, but sees this week out by playing in the final of the Portugal Cup.  Impromptu fireworks on the
nights that matches are played, the staggering number of football games
scheduled on television and their very passionate team loyalty all prove that
the Portuguese take this whole business very seriously.  And if you’re wondering if it’s really and truly a vice, I suggest that you ask the spouses of all those football fans…

The second F represents a vice on a completely different level.  Fátima is the name of a town in central Portugal that is famous for a religious vision seen by three children in 1917.  The first apparition was of a bright light and a lady who, in a later appearance, told gatherers that a chapel should be built in her honour.
May 13 is the day that commemorates the first vision of “Our Lady of Fátima”
and every year pilgrims flock to the town and shrine to honour the sightings.  Let’s be honest, though, dedication to prayer and reflection is hardly wicked, corrupt or a bad habit.  To many it would be downright virtuous, but I guess there is also enough cynicism, agnosticism and of course humour in this country to have led to the inclusion of Fátima on the list of vices.

And then there’s Fado, a national music genre with famous singers like Amália
and the very popular Mariza.  It can be quite melancholic and sad, but, even if you’re not familiar with Fado, I think you might find a few songs you could enjoy.  With the emphasis on “might” and “a few”, because after a while Fado has the potential to assault your ears.

I thought to myself, is that it?  If the three F’s represent this nation’s worst habits, we had nothing to worry about.  If I consider some of the vices that exist in my own country of origin, these pale in comparison.  What’s more, all three F’s can be avoided.  I don’t have to watch football, the Fátima pilgrimages do not form a part of daily life and frankly speaking, Fado is something I would have to seek out should I be overcome with the impulse to hear it.  So all seemed good.

And then the summer of 2010 arrived.  And everything changed.

An R and a P are added to the list

Let me explain.  Summer is the season of festivals.  The region where we live – the Alto Minho – has an astonishing number of celebrations per year.  Between May and September more than a thousand festivals are held.  Each small
village has at least one of these and if you’ve looked at a map of the region,
you’ll see why it’s so easy to get to a thousand.  What’s more astounding is that some villages, like the one that will be our future home, have 3 festas per year even when they only have about 500 residents.

Typical Decorations for a village festival

These are a big deal – preparations are made, decorations are put up along the streets, stages are built.  Most importantly, crucial entertainment is booked and only then can the party start.

This brings me to R – Rancho (from rancho folclórico) – regional folk music and dancing.  Perhaps it’s best if I don’t try to explain to you how I feel about Rancho, how I struggle to cope with the relentless high-pitched singing and repetitive melodies.  Perhaps I should just give you a sample or two.

Having fun? There’s more.  The P in my list is for Pimba, essentially pop with
kitsch lyrics, simple structures and accompanied by some noisy, synthesized – let’s call them noises – blasted from boom boxes in the background.  Some Pimba singers consider themselves poets.  Can you hear any poetry?  Listen…

Now imagine the sounds of Rancho and Pimba echoing non-stop across the valley hour after hour, day after day.  And then spare a thought.  Because in July the village where we currently live has a 4-day long festival. Yes, 4 days.  According to a local municipal website, this festival “attracts thousands of pilgrims to the parish…”  Do you want to guess the location of the church
square where festivities take place?  A mere 200 metres from our front door.  And the centre for the local chapter of “rancho folclórico”?  About 100 metres.  Plus, I’ve been led to believe that one of  the popular public spaces where people camp out during these celebrations is – wait for it – two metres from our kitchen door.

Frankly, I’m worried about the proximity of not one, but two pretty noisy vices
on my doorstep.  I already have visions of sleep deprivation, misery and, if things get desperate, evacuation.  However, where there’s no vice in people, there’s little virtue, right?  And since I’m all for an interesting vice or three, I’m going to try and live with it.  Or, come to think of it, develop a few extra vices of my own.  But oh, how like herrings and onions vices are in the morning after they’ve been committed…*

(*Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for paraphrasing his insightful sentiments about vices so liberally)


2 responses to “Three Big F’s

  1. I stumbled across your blog by accident and I must say I’m loving it. It’s quite funny and heart-warming to read about our own country by a foreigner’s point of view. (I did this myself for the last year, while living in London).

    I’d just like to point out that Fatima’s vision h.appened in 1917, not 1971. Minor imprecision but it’s worth pointing out.

    Good writing!

    • Hi Sara, thanks for dropping in! Portugal is certainly an incredible place and the lessons continue. Thanks for pointing out the wrong date – my typo, you’re absolutely right! I’ll be writing something shortly about how our own village festa turned out and how we “coped” with it…

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