Like most of western Europe, Portugal has been experiencing some rather inclement weather over the last few days. The sun has mostly been in hiding, and we are back to wearing our warm clothing as we wait for it to return. This state of affairs did not hinder the celebrations for the ‘Revolução de Cravos’ on Saturday, and in Góis we enjoyed the Filarmónica Varzeense band marching past our office in the morning. The afternoon saw the Scouts gathering down by the river in Várzea Pequena, to release hot air balloons in the name of Liberty. Unfortunately the black cloud that was hovering above us chose to burst just as we had all gathered to watch the big balloon go up – but undeterred, we re-grouped when the rain had passed to celebrate the release of red, green and yellow balloons (the colours of Portugal, naturally) brightening the grey sky above us in the commemoration of freedom.
After last week’s rain, we are all happy to be enjoying the sunshine again, as the temperatures start to climb back into the mid-20’s. This Saturday is a ‘feriado’ (public holiday) in commemoration of the end of the dictatorship in 1974, an important day for many Portuguese, for whom the memory of the event is all too recent. The occasion is known as the ‘Revolucão de Cravos’, and is represented by red carnations, in many cultures a symbol of deep heartfelt love. In the gardens around Góis however, it is not red carnations that catch the eye, but the roses that are now in glorious bloom. Sometimes it is the heavenly scent drifting over from a modest flower, sometimes the sheer abundant energy of a burst of climbers that demand admiration. I know I am waxing lyrical – I love roses. Roses, like red carnations, also symbolize love. Politics are politics, and affect all our lives – but the power of love affects us more deeply still, and the scent and sight of roses is a little drop of sweetness for us all.
After writing the last blog entry, I was seized with the desire for hot cross buns, and decided to take matters into my own hands. The results of my baking efforts are proudly displayed here and I must say, they tasted as good as they look! We are also proud of our little seedlings that are now pushing their way happily upwards on our window-sill. The growing season is well under way, and we have tomatoes, squashes and aubergines to name but a few, preparing to make their way into our garden. There is immense satisfaction to be had from growing one’s own vegetables, and it is well worth the time and effort put in at this stage, for the joy of harvesting the produce later in the year.
We are now in Holy Week – the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Portugal does not celebrate ‘Santa Semana’ with the same fervor as Spain, although there are local traditions that are still upheld. Throughout the region, for example, it is still customary for the priest to visit and bless every home in the village over the Easter period – those welcoming such a visit leave the door to their house open, and make sure that they themselves stay in, never knowing quite when the priest will arrive. On Palm Sunday a procession is held through the streets of Góis, with people carrying branches of rosemary and bay, olive branches and camellias. Traditionally the rosemary and bay is taken home to be used in the kitchen for the rest of the year, and so great quantities used to be borne in the procession, with competition as to who had the biggest ‘bouquet’. Rather than chocolate eggs, the customary Easter delicacy is sugar almonds, and mountains of these can be found for sale in the local shops and supermarkets alongside the modern foil-wrapped Easter eggs. And while we miss toasting hot cross buns, we do enjoy the beautiful ‘Folares de Páscoa’ - sweet spiced loaves, baked round like a nest, in the centre of which nestle one or two hard-boiled eggs under a cross. This loaf is traditional to central Portugal, and partaking of it on Easter Sunday after the deprivations of Lent is supposed to bring health and good luck. ('Folares de Páscoa' is also the name given to the gifts traditionally given by godparents to their godchildren at Easter, consisting of a loaf, some sugared almonds, and perhaps another small present.) Whether Christian or Pagan, it is wonderful to see the ancient symbols of the cosmic egg and the quartered circle (as etched on the stones of Mestras millennia ago?) still a recognized part of the celebration of spring and rebirth.