As September draws to a close, and the season of Michaelmas is upon us, we have been seeing the bringing in of the maize harvest in the local villages. Even as we move ever further into the mechanised, technologised 21st century, the traditions surrounding the maize cleaning are still evident in the community, as people gather together in convivial groups to strip the outer sheath from the maize cobs. In years past this process would last long into the night, and be a good excuse for a party - nowadays it takes place on a lesser scale, but obviously still has significance for the participants as an important part of village life. Once the maize is peeled, the cobs are laid in the sun to dry, before being put to a simple threshing machine to remove the kernels. These are then spread out on sheets in any sunny spot at the side of the street, necessitating extra-careful driving through the villages at this time of year as you negotiate the golden mosaics of toasting corn! Maize has been central to the diet for a long time here in Portugal, and the growing, harvesting, threshing, and milling cycle has defined life on a daily and annual basis for generations of women that have been responsible for putting the loaves of ‘broa’ (maize-bread) on the table every day. Many women would walk from their villages every day down steep hillsides to the mill on the river and back again, carrying the flour. Those days are now gone, although they abide within living memory. The maize, and the broa, are still very much part of everyday life.
One of the most important crops of the year is now in the process of being harvested – something that is appreciated by almost everybody in one form or another – the noble grape. For many people of course, the grape harvest is synonymous with the wine that will be produced, and drunk, in copious quantities over the year. Others enjoy the eating of grapes, especially when they are warm off the vine, without the addition of chemical sprays. Not only do grapevines provide this wonderful, health-giving fruit and cheering tipple, but the shade of the vine is the traditional shelter from the heat of the sun in the summer months, and in towns and villages vines are trained over trellises to create cool green tunnels and canopies. So significant is the grape to Portugal that it is said that the old name of Lusitania originated from Lusus, the companion of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry.
“This you see is Lusus, from whose fame
Our kingdom Lusitania has the name” Luís Vaz de Camões
If you want to read more about the history of grape growing in Portugal, take a look at this page on our website: http://www.goisproperty.com/Gois_Portugal/Grapevine.html
This is the week that sees the river beaches go quiet, as the children reluctantly head back to school for the long autumn term. More than anything else, this heralds the end of summer. Having such a long summer holiday in some ways makes it harder to get back into the routine, and it must be a shock for the teachers too! Unlike in the UK we have no half-term holiday in Portugal, so it’s heads down and shoulders to the wheel for 14 long weeks without a break – by the time Christmas comes everybody is ready for a rest. So inevitably we start looking forward now to the shortening days and the chestnut ‘magustos’, cold mornings and fires in the evenings. How quickly it changes – just a couple of weeks ago it felt as if summer would go on forever - but thankfully, we enjoy all the seasons here in their different dress, and autumn is a time of mellow tranquility that I for one savour.
As the temperature cools slightly, to a fresher daytime level, it is still hot enough to plunge into the river in the afternoon, and sit out in the warm air after dark. We have been enjoying a new night-time visitor for a few evenings now – snufflings among the tomato plants alerted us to the presence of a spiky little person with a pointy snout –our very own Mrs Tiggywinkle! Last night she was joined by Mr Tiggywinkle (I use my gender terms loosely here) and we are only too happy to have their help keeping down the slug population. Meanwhile the skies are still relentlessly blue in the daytime, and we are enjoying the luxuriance of fruits on the trees and hedgerows: elderberries, rowanberries and blackberries are growing in profusion. Yesterday the girls and I slipped off to our secret swimming place – everybody has one - leaving the river beach at Góis to the visitors. While we splashed and dived around the waterfall I noticed all these creatures in our vicinity: the fish in the river, dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies fluttering and darting around our heads, a baby frog that jumped out in front of me, a yellow wagtail that flew down to drink, and an eagle soaring high above us. What a joy, to be out there among them!