Yesterday, being the Sunday closest to the birthday of the youngest member of the family, we made a trip to the zoo at Montemor O Velho. This was a very good move as it turned out, as apparently it rained non-stop in Góis and the surrounding area for the entire day, whereas further west it was pleasantly warm and dry. Whenever we drive west of Coimbra I marvel at how the landscape changes, along with the vegetation and even the light, as we get closer to the coast. One thing we always enjoy is spotting the storks, who build their nests on any available high edifice with a preference for electricity pylons, which they transform into veritable stork apartment blocks!
The zoo is situated amongst pine and deciduous woodland, making a pleasant walk through the trees from one area to another. As we approached the first enclosure we were aware of some commotion, and we came across the newly-created raccoon enclosure – so new, that the raccoons had only been delivered an hour ago we were told, and already 3 had escaped! From the look of them, the remaining captives had similar plans – could this be the introduction of another animal species into central Portugal? It was with a degree of apprehensiveness that we approached the Bengal tigers, slightly unnerved by the concept of escapees – but thankfully the tigers did not seem to possess the same activeness as the raccoons. I always have a certain amount of internal conflict around zoos – between my own childlike delight at being so close to these exotic creatures and pity for their captivity. Looking into the eyes of some of the monkeys can be a disturbing experience, while other species, such as the peacocks, seem to be more than at home strutting around the paths.
From the zoo we went to picnic in the castle, and enjoy the impressive views over the coastal plain. The castle always brings out the urge in our youngest to turn cartwheels and climb trees for some reason, while we appreciate the history and a nice cup of tea. As we headed back home into the mountains we could see how the rain had washed the dirt tracks down to the road. No need to water the garden when we got back then!
Once again it is Summer Solstice, and the energy is as high as the noonday sun! Here the urge to celebrate the light and fire of the season is expressed in blatant sun-worship, as those who are able to head down to the banks of the river Ceira and throw off their clothes (not quite all, but close to it) to luxuriate in the sun’s rays and river’s waters. You can almost see the stresses melt and flow away, as the human batteries recharge by solar power.
It is now the season of festas as Portugal celebrates its ‘Santos Populares’: June 13th was the day of Santo António, the patron saint of Lisbon, June 24th is the day of São João, celebrated wildly in Porto (see last year’s June blog), and 29th June is the day of São Pedro (celebrated by somewhere surely, but seemingly not as Popular as the other two!). Here in Góis the “Arraial” or open-air party for the saints was held last Friday week. We could smell the sardines sizzling long before arriving at the courtyard, where the party was already in full swing with a group of local accordionists of all ages playing lively traditional music. Colourful paper balloons festooned the trees – (I’m still waiting to discover what these symbolise- the sun, perhaps? Another echoing resonance of identification with the solstice?) and little pots of ‘manjerico’, were on sale with poems written on their accompanying flags. Traditionally these little herb pots are given by a boy to his sweetheart, and are undoubtedly a reference to the old fertility associations of this time of year, basil (manjerico)being associated with love in herbal lore.
In the larger towns the São João celebrations may be more elaborate, but I did feel a twinge of sadness that people have to settle for street illuminations in the motif of a bonfire, the real thing now being too high a risk at this time of year. What fun it must have been in times past to leap over the bonfire in the village square with your ‘namorada’ !
One of the loveliest things about living in this part of central Portugal is the variety of fragrances that waft on the breeze. At this time of year the lime trees are blossoming, and walking through Góis the scent of the big old lime tree outside the ‘May Tay’ fills the air around. Honeysuckle is also in bloom at the moment, replacing the perfume of the wisteria, and of course the roses, as I may have mentioned before, are everywhere you go. Another lovely thing, connected to the abundance of blossom, is the profusion of bees and butterflies. Sitting out on our terrace, I sometimes feel as though I am in a butterfly farm, for the variety of multi-coloured butterflies flitting around the garden, and it is the same on every bank and meadow.
Yesterday was a religious holiday here, and we took the day off from work to go and look for a ‘lost’ village near Folgosa. Although we managed to get tantalisingly close, the undergrowth and the heat made us decide to try again another day. The consolation, on the way home, was stopping on the roadside to pick a couple of kilos of fruit from the wild cherry trees growing along the way - and so many more were beyond reach! Then, almost hidden along the verge, we spotted the tiny wild strawberries growing, each one no bigger than a currant. The intensity of the flavour of these little fruits dwarfs that of their big watery cousins – just one on your tongue gives an amazing taste-burst! And you can’t buy these in supermarket punnets. Another interesting find of the day was the bleached skull of a javali, or wild boar, complete with tusks. I have yet to see a live javali – they are reputedly shy creatures- but their presence is everywhere, as they come around looking for whatever food they can from field and garden.
To round off the day, when it was dark outside, we had a firefly dancing at our window – a little flicker of magical phosphorescence against the stars.
Summer has arrived! We are now basking in temperatures in the mid-30’s, the sky is blue and the sun is magnificent. Over the weekend many of us took ourselves down to the river to cool off. Although the water was not as cold as I expected, the contrast was wonderfully refreshing, and the feeling on the skin when drying off in the sun afterwards is unbeatable. The river beaches in Góis are just starting to be prepared for the summer months, as the sand is laid down and the little wooden bridges built. This year we have a new wooden walkway built from the main river beach in Góis up to the Pêgo Escuro,(or as we call it “the beach with the waterwheel”), opening up a new option for strolling by the river or swimming one way under the overarching trees. The river-bars are also being prepared to open – the anticipation is delicious.
Today is the International Day of the Child, and the children of the schools of Góis are being treated to multi-coloured inflatables and a picnic in the park. Luckily they are in the shade of the huge trees of the Parque do Cerejal, so they should not be melting in the heat, and the teachers’ nerves should hopefully remain intact. Only 3 more weeks till the start of the long summer holidays...I imagine that both teachers and pupils are counting down the days!