Shabby background

October 27, 2010


I felt like there should be a soundtrack.

It was the kind of experience that makes you question if you are just a world away, or if you are in a foreign film.  The sun hung perfectly in the sky, warming the morning and providing ideal conditions for this traditional "ceremony" of sorts, the annual vindima.  Everyone wore a hat and their finest clothes that they didn't mind getting dirty, a metal cutter in one of two gloved hands, the other tangled within the twisted vines that crawled along each aisle of the vineyard.  The young and middle aged chatted about family and rural life, while the more elderly among us could be heard muttering about how no one sings anymore.

You see, this used to be a place of singing.

The vines and the grapes would reverberate with the joyous sounds of cheerful workers contributing to a yearly harvest, the traditional songs and chants uniting both new-comer and veteran alike.  Now, though the songs have long since come and gone with the years, the spirit to join the community in the age-old tradition still continues.  This is the story of the vindima.

Dating back to more than a century ago, the vindima - then called Festa das Vindimas (Vines Festival) - was an honored tradition, characteristics of which are still embodied today.  The vineyard's owner invites his family and friends to come join him cutting grapes from the vine, sorting them by color, then loading them up to be sold to the local wine producer in town.

My first question was "So what do they get?", followed by, "Why do they all come?"

My very understanding husband replied, through a slight smirk, "Because it's what you do. It's tradition."

"But it's work", I replied... to which he reminded me, "Yes, but they love it".

And this, I can honestly say, is true.

To me, the tradition of the vindima is a very genuine reflection of Portuguese culture, especially that of the older generation:  You give because you love to, not because it's a requirement, expecting little in return.  Your family is the bread of your life, and your friendship with them is a treasure. Lunch - grilled fresh on the fire in front of you - is a really good incentive for one day's work.

And though the songs have quieted, the spirit still remains.  These photos* don't do justice to the entire experience, but hopefully they will give you a peek into the most genuinely cultural experience I have had in Portugal thus far!

*Note: for those that may be curious or constructively critical:  I did not forget my SLR camera. I chose not to bring it because of the extremely rural setting and the constant stickyness of my hands.  I did, however, forget to charge the battery on my point-and-shoot, so most photos came from Luis's mom's camera.  And no, I will never leave my SLR at home again.

This is the vineyard belonging to Luis's godparents

We love grapes!
The path that we walked as we cut...
Just imagine them singing... :)
From the vine... the small buckets... the big buckets... the truck...
and smushed to make them fit!
It would not be right for me to document the traditional, almost ceremonial customs of this event and not share with you the completley cultural aspects of the day as well.

After the grapes were picked and the hands were washed, everyone gathered for lunch.  To imagine this, think of the classic "outdoor dining area with a long table, under a canopy of leafy greenery and with picturesque landscapes in the background".  Now imagine it a little less glamorous, and this is what you get!

A typical lunch at these types of events is feijoada, similar to a rice-filled minestrone soup...
...and sardines.  Now, when I mention sardines, this is not your usual miniature fellows found in a tin can, nor the kind you may feed to your cat.  These are genuine Portuguese sardines, and there is only one way 
to serve them.... WHOLE.

You think I'm joking, but I'm not.  You gently scrape the skin off with the side of your fork, then grab the head with one hand, the tail with the other, and bite straight into that guy's back.  Another method is to use your fingers to take chunks of the fish apart, then slap it on a piece of bread for a traditional sardine sandwich.

Yes, I ate it... for the second time. (The first was my initial dinner with Luis's parents, which gently shocked me into the family...)  No, I didn't appreciate it as much as the Portuguese do, but I ate it, in the shade of the canopy of leafy greenery with picturesque landscapes in the background.  And I loved it.  Not necessarily because of its effect on my taste buds, but more for its effect on my soul.  Though this batch of grapes was probably no different than those in years past, somehow I felt like I had contributed to a little part of history.

Oh, and the grapes and homemade pastries easily made up for the sardines. :)

1 comment:

  1. The grapes look delic... and I want one of those homemade pastries! Yum!