The lights in Guimarães are not ALWAYS lit. This happens to be the biggest celebration in the town in 100 years. The patron saint of the town is St. Gualter (St. Walter in his English manifestation), and on the first weekend in August since 1906, there has been a big celebration, homecoming, festival, hoopla. That´s why I had to leave: every room in the town is booked for the weekend. That´s why the streets are full of lights and people. The brochure for the event (available only in Portuguese) quotes Jose Saramago as follows, “a memória que temos e a responsabilidade que assumimos porque sem memória não existimos e sem responsabilidade não mereciamos existir.” I love his dry sense of humor. This morning as I left Guimarães, the streets were not sleepy, as usual. They were packed with people shopping, hauling great plastic bags of things up hill and down hill, buying flowers and foods and gifts for relatives arriving from out of town. There was a feeling of intense excitement. There will be food and music and dancing in every square of the town tonight. I´d love to be there, but it can´t be, so I´m on my way to Melgaço, which apparently is the one place in Portugal nobody else wants to be this weekend.
The only way to get to Melgaço from Guimarães is to go to Braga first. Back across the mountains, dotted with little settlements of five to fifty red-roofed houses, each centered on a church with a bell-tower, back through the vineyards and cornfields, where instead of wooden posts to hold up the grape vines, the local people use GRANITE posts. They expect those vines to be around for a while. Back past a thousand rose bushes in all their glory, I arrived in Braga at 10 a.m., only to find that the next bus for Melgaço leaves at 4 p.m. The ticket seller was amused by my situation, laughed, and said something about there not being much demand for buses to Melgaço, but he kindly let me leave my crummy market-bought duffel bag in his office, so I have this unexpected extra day in Braga, which explains why I am back in the James Dean Café, blogging again, with rock music blaring, a TV topping the music, a man smoking at the computer next to me, and a group of women laughing and chatting boisterously on my right.
Observations of the day: most Portuguese people (perhaps most people in the world?) live in little niches of apartments in huge blocks of flats with (the Portuguese part) metal shutters on the outsides of the windows, to screen out the heat. Portuguese flags fly from many windows (not so much about patriotism as about the soccer team that just almost won the World Cup). And oh, the deception of the market sellers in Ponte de Lima! When I bought my Beppi shoes, I noted a white strip of paper pasted on the box: Made in EU. But this morning, as I was doctoring my bed-bug bites with corticosteroids and binding up my blisters and preparing to start another day of walking in my Beppis, I saw a little glint of cellophane inside one shoe. I pulled it out: “Made in China.” It made me laugh out loud. It´s now 11:30. I have no agenda for the day and four and a half hours to enjoy. And all this LIFE. I will hurl my body into whatever there is to discover in Braga today.
Tags: Braga, Guimarães, Melgaço, Portugal