BootsnAll Travel Network

Braga! Public dancing, bed bugs, Bom Jesus

Christopher´s reply on bed bugs is very helpful. I did some research on the internet myself yesterday and was reminded of a few helpful things. First, the bugs are visible (and I remember what they look like from Africa), so I inspected everything I own and didn´t see any, which is good, although as Manko can tell you, my vision sucks, even with glasses. Second, they lay eggs which hatch in two weeks, and I almost certainly have eggs in the backpack, my journal, etc., so all that stuff will have to go just before the two-week mark unless I can find a reliable insecticide that will kill the eggs (unlikely). Third, clothing can be salvaged if washed and then dried at high heat. Given that I may encounter still more bed bugs before the trip is over, I have decided to keep everything for two weeks. I walked two miles to the university area this morning and found a coin op laundromat and washed & dried (hot) everything I own except what I had on. I discovered that very hot, almost scalding water, applied to the bites, helps more than the ointment I bought at the farmacia yesterday. I didn´t yet have the right word for the bugs (thanks Christopher), but I called them insectos de cama, and that got the point across. Otherwise, this is the best part of the trip, with song, dance, and great joy.

Braga is a very large city with a smallish medieval center full of spectacular monuments and well-dressed but very kind-hearted and generous people. I have about decided that the Portuguese are the most beautiful white people on earth. Braga´s a slightly self-imortant kind of place, though. For example, everywhere else I have been in Portugal, yogurt, which comes in four-packs, may be purchased one pack at a time. Here, you have to buy all four (won´t work for me, as I have no fridge). However, letting that go, last night was the highlight of the trip for me so far. In the main public garden, boasting three fantastic fountains, any number of spectacular buildings lit up gloriously and colorfully, and two Art Nouveau cafes, there was live music. It was a group consisting of two mandolins, an accordion, a violin, three guitars, a very large drum, an array of small percussion instruments, and seven wonderfully talented singers. They were on a large stage with a sound board and all kinds of techno stuff (Seth could tell you about it all). A crowd of maybe 400 people came together, some of whom were dancing in the front by the band. But here is the surprise: the average age of the dancers was about forty. They were all madly joyful in their movements, most of them in m/f couples, though there was one m/m couple and about three f/f couples, and there were a few lone dancers, including one woman of about 80 who blew the crowd away entirely. The main dance they were doing was a quick-step between a polka and a waltz with a kick to it, and the music runs the dance: by which I mean the music will move very slowly, and the dancers will move slowly with it; and then suddenly the drum explodes and the music speeds up, and the people speed up with it, whirling and twirling and kicking and leaping. The old lady held both arms aloft and moved slowly and gracefully during the slow bits, but when the drum hit, she would do a little hop and then dance all over the square, holding her skirts just slightly above her knees and kicking her feet up on every third beat. Oh, she was magnificent. She´s thin and muscular, richly wrinkled, white-haired, and sublime. I will hold the memory of her dancing in my heart for as long as I live. There were children, a few teenagers, some kids dancing with their parents, and one pair of women in their fifties, obviously quite wealthy, with frosted hair and expensive suits, dancing with great energy, with big purses hanging off their arms. I smiled till I thought my face would burst. This is the Portugal I came here to see, and this is one of the answers to the Pilgrimage Question: one of the things which is absolutely vital to the rest of my one wild and precious life is music and dancing. If there is live music again tonight, I´m going to join in as a lone dancer, despite a couple of blisters on my feet, sore calves, and thirty-three bed bug bites. (Given the fact that each is the size of a fifty-cent piece, a good part of my body is welts, most of which don´t show, although a few do.)

And then there is Bom Jesus. It´s the Neoclassical church on the hill above Braga (thanks, Pedro), the one with the Rococo serpentine stairway of (oh, I don´t know, let´s say 750 steps) with chapels and fountains at each bend. I took the elevator to the top, having already put miles on my feet doing the laundry, but I spent time wandering on top and then walked all the way down. I lit “candles”–the votive candles of my youth have been replaced by a glassed-in board behind which is an array of Christmas-tree lights. You drop in money, and a light comes on for a while. You drop in more money, more lights come on. I lit four. It´s cool, sunny, and perfectly gorgeous up there, with vistas for miles and miles. There´s a park with a “rustic” fence around it made of stone carved to look like tree limbs. Oh! And while I was eating lunch (yet another variety of bacalhau), there was an accident in which a horse kicked a car, and suddenly a wild fight broke out, involving maybe 30 people, women tearing other women´s hair, men landing punches on each other´s faces and chests, everybody yelling. It was jaw-dropping. Everybody in the restaurant stood up and gaped (including me). As best I could tell, the fight was between the man who manages the horse rental place and the family that owns the car. It was about who was to blame, the horse-handler, or the driver. And it made me think of W.H. Auden´s magnificent poem, Musee des Beaux Artes. It begins, “About suffering, they were never wrong, the old masters,” and it describes a Breughel painting in which everyone goes on with their private concerns while for some, tragic or great moments are occuring. While Icarus falls out of the sky, the sailors have ropes to mind, the farmers continue digging their furrows, and “the dogs go on in their doggy way.” Here were some pilgrims solemnly ascending Bom Jesus, the goal of many pilgrimages. They are praying and bowing and crossing themselves, and this is a great moment in their lives. And meanwhile there is a huge fight over whose fault it is that the horse kicked the car. Marvelous. Marvelous.

I remember Seth´s comment to my very first entry to this blog. He said blogs can be a way to store information. Since I will have to destroy my journal in two weeks to avoid further bed bug infestations, this blog will serve me as journal of this pelerinage. Let me just say for myself that a few rays of clarity have come to me so far. What is necessary for the rest of my life is (1) music and dancing, (2) listening to people´s stories, (3) writing for my own eyes and those of God, however God is defined, (4) working with prisoners, continually exploring the meaning of freedom. I may see a few more things as I continue.

Braga is mostly huge blocks of shoe-box apartment buildings. I could see the beauty of living here in one of those tiny niches, taking the occasional picnic (as many do) to Bom Jesus, going down to the main plaza on summer weekends for music and dancing, and sitting occasionally in one of hundreds of very old churches, feeling the stillness. It´s a beautiful life. Or so it seems to my visiting eyes. I have not forgotten my first conversation in this country, with Leo, who said it´s a nation on Valium because they can´t make ends meet. But they dance, Leo. They dance. And they know how to be still.

Speaking of which, I leave tomorrow for Ponte de Lima, which is supposed to be a very sleepy little medieval town without all the development that makes Braga, Leiria, and Porto hum. I´m feeling ready for some silence, so I´m going to take an internet fast. Even if there is an internet station next to the youth hostel where I will be staying, I´m not going to blog for at least two days. I´m going to be as still as I possibly can be, completely still, in a beautiful old place with a Roman bridge. The town got named for the bridge because the Roman soldiers thought the river Lima was in fact the fabled Lethe, and if they crossed it they would forget all about home, family and what lay back in Rome. One of their leaders proved them wrong by braving the river himself and yelling back at them, calling them by name, to prove he still had a memory. But the symbolism of the River Lima draws me. The idea of a small town with little going on draws me. I want to stop watching the news and communicating for a while and just BE fully, silently, observently, tenderly present. I will be in Ponte de Lima for three days, and maybe I´ll blog on the third day, or maybe Ponte de Lima has no internet connection (that could be refreshing, and by the way, Braga has not one but TWO McDonald´s, one of which is smack in the middle of the beautiful public park where the music was last night–I had completely forgotten about McD´s till I got here). My next destination after Ponte de Lima is Guimaraes, which I imagine is a little like Braga but moreso. Look for more stories when I get there. Be assured that I am radiantly (I might even say vibrantly, given the heat given off by the welts) joyful. I got an email from Manko saying she is well and is doing better than she expected. That sets my mind at ease. So here comes quiet for a few days. And that will be its own beauty. Love to all who share these days with me. May you all one day have as much joy as I am experiencing right now.

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2 responses to “Braga! Public dancing, bed bugs, Bom Jesus”

  1. “And then there is Bom Jesus. It´s the Rococo church on the hill above Braga”

    The church is not in Rococo style. The stairs are Rococo but the church is neoclassic.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks, Pedro. I’ve just cleared it up. If you find other errors, please let me know.

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