The Church is on Fire!

Remember the list of Portuguese vices I wrote about a while back and my lamentations about traditional Portuguese music and the big festival that was planned for our local village?  Well, it’s over, and I can tell you that there is such a thing as Post-Portuguese Festa Fatigue (PPFF).  Yep, symptoms include ringing ears, bewilderment, agoraphobia and exhaustion.  But there is also amusement, and a healthy dose of it.

Things started off innocently of course.  At the beginning of the week banners began to appear and noise levels were reassuringly moderate.  Next a stage was erected, but it was in a side street one block over, so along with noise levels, my unease remained manageable.  The following day, however, more street decorations appeared and slowly our small village transformed into a place that looked like it was preparing itself to receive a worryingly large number of people.  Every night we would sit on our deck – like real heathens – and listen to a million Ave Marias broadcast over the church loudspeakers while we were having dinner.  And every night music would be played.  My fears of non-stop wailing voices and people camping outside my front door, however, seemed to be unfounded.  So, yes, I dropped my guard.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Yes, you can buy all these lovely things...

It was hard to believe that our little village could even accommodate one stage, so when a second one was erected and street stalls appeared on every spare inch of sidewalk, I knew there would be trouble.  More so when the stall owners swiftly put up their two-man tents on the sidewalks too.  Clearly arranging accommodation for the week was never a big challenge.

After the gradual build-up, we woke up on the Friday morning of that week with: BOOM!  The official start of the celebrations.  Official?  Hadn’t they been celebrating for a whole week already?  BOOM! it went.  And again.  BOOM! BOOM!  Really?  The first morteiro had already delivered the message rather clearly, thank you very much.  BOOM! It was merciless.

And then arrived the esteemed providers of music – the so-called “Juniors”.  Along came the jubilant masses and we had to crank up the volume in our own house to try and block out the monotonous sounds of the accordion.  Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t perhaps only one tune in existence here; one that simply gets recycled with different lyrics and nobody notices because they’ve been bored into a trance since song number two.  Anyway, eventually we ventured out: to observe this crazy world that had sprung up outside our home, but also a polite (yet painfully tentative) effort to engage with it.  Street stalls everywhere, people everywhere, bumper cars, noise and the overwhelming smell of fried food, most likely coming from the fartura stall (an evil member of the doughnut family).

It has to be said that the Portuguese are very happy festa-goers and the whole event really is a giant group affair.  These are all things I admire, especially
from the sidelines, and it certainly is entertaining to watch people break out
into impromptu dance moves.  As we watched the stage and the “Juniors”, who really were kind of junior, we noticed that lip-synching isn’t reserved for famous pop starlets only.  Nope, as Juniors 1 and 2 stopped to say something to the crowd, the singing continued merrily in the background.  It didn’t seem like anyone cared.  Or perhaps noticed?

On Sunday I thought things would start winding down because the previous night’s stage had disappeared.  We escaped for a few hours and returned to start counting down the minutes to midnight.  Which arrived with more excruciatingly loud music and this:

Monday came.  Surely we would have a normal day.  At some point people would have to return to work and normal lives, wouldn’t they?  BOOM!  BOOM! BOOM! answered the village.

A quick look revealed that yet another stage had been built. Uh-oh.  BOOM!

As if we hadn’t heard the previous 500 hundred BOOMS already.

Wait, what’s that?  The sound of sirens.  Hmm, what could it be?

No longer on fire, but still smoking

When I looked out the window I saw angry orange flames, black smoke and some stunned onlookers.  The church had caught fire!  Too much fervour?  A miracle?  A planned event to show how dynamic this place is?  No, afraid not.  Upon further inspection, it turned out to be an issue of candle crowding in the prayer niche, but the underlying symbolism is still amusingly appropriate, don’t you think?  The bombeiros (fire fighters) arrived and quickly the fire was put out so that the day’s big religious service could take place uninterrupted.  Again we escaped and returned a few hours later to witness people streaming out of the village.  THIS had to be the end at last!

BOOM!  And the music – yet another concert – started up again.  At last, on what did in fact turn out to be the final night of the festa, I admitted to myself that I was defeated.  PPFF had claimed another victim.  I didn’t care about anything other than silence.  I searched around in my “travel box” and found some earplugs.  Slowly, mercifully it all faded away… until the festa one village
over started a few days later…


5 responses to “The Church is on Fire!

  1. Clearly, you did not have enough wine. Wish we were there to help you out. 🙂

  2. Michelle Ryals

    Viva la Festa!!


  3. I’m a Portuguese (from Porto) living in Amsterdam and could not stop smiling as I read your post. So typical Portuguese…

    My advise to you: next time (and there will be many) – try to drink 2 glasses of chilled Vinho Verde (Alvarinho). You will see yourself joining the crowd in no time, and noise can actually turn into music. 🙂

    • Hi Nuno – Invaluable advice! Believe me, I’m already quite fond of chilled vinho verde, perhaps I should simply increase my intake as you suggested! J

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