The first day of Sao Joaninas

June 27, 2009

Friday was insane. After running in the morning I stepped out the door and got on a big comfortable bus for the 20 minute drive to Angra. I got to see a little bit more of the country.Apparently in the past few decades farming has shifted much more towards dairy production, and even more fields are planted with feed corn than there used to be. After the corn is grown they wrap everything in plastic and form big balls of feed that ferment for a few months before being used. I’m interested to see what my cousin Manuel Narciso says about what the emphasis on growing feed corn is doing to the land, whether it’s depleting the fields or if they’re still using traditional ways of maintaining fertility.

I looked out at big flat ocean and remembered that I’m in the middle of the Atlantic and should be in the water all the time. This weekend is busy with the festivals so maybe next week I’ll begin swimming as often as possible. Angra do Heroismo is a little town with a cool rennaissance layout, little narrow cobblestone streets, big churches, hole-in-the-wall stores and cafes and a big beautiful marina that sits about 20-30 feet below the city, which is built at the edge of a little cliff.

I saw the Bullfight Arena right as I came into town and decided to get off the bus right away and figure out how to buy tickets for that night’s fight. I walked around the back of the Arena and found a bar that seemed like it was the hardcore macho hangout of the local bullfight junky guys. There were a lot of mounted heads of famous bulls all over the walls and heavy smoke in the air. I ended up waiting for an hour before the ticket booth opened up with a bunch of other early birds, who were very friendly and let me, being a foreigner, take the front of the line when the booth opened and buy my ticket.

That being done, I headed into town and just scoped out the people. It seems like there’s a huge amount of teenagers walking around, maybe it’s just because in California I don’t see them, they’re all corralled into malls and other places I never go. Visited some old churches and wore myself out even more before the bullfight.

I arrived at the arena at 5:30 and things were just like I expected. Inside of the arena a wide and tall walkway runs in a ring around the entire thing where people congregate drinking beer and eating bifanas (pork sandwiches) before the fight and between bulls. I walked up the stairs and into the open air of the arena. It’s pretty old and has a traditional layout, with a special box in the bleachers for the local marching band (that plays bullfight songs at appropriate intervals during the show) and another one for the four “master of ceremony” type guys. Down in the ring there are four doors that face the four directions, and a 6 foot wooden wall that runs in a circle, leaving a space on the outside of the ring that separates the bullfighters and other officials from the actual ring.

So I was pretty freaking excited when the fight started. I’ll spare you too many of the details but the main attractions were a portuguese cavaleiro that rode these beautiful well trained bullfighting horses, a portuguese “suicide squad” (forcados), and a spanish Matador. The Forcados are awesome, it’s a group of 8 guys that stand in a line and taunt the bull until he charges. One guy basically grabs the bull around the head with his whole body and the other guys grab onto him until they subdue the bull. On the last bull of the night, the forcados took three times to actually catch the bull, leaving the guy in the front totally bloody.

There were 6 bulls and a lot of oohing and ahing from the crowd. Every aspect of the bullfight is wreathed in ceremony and tradition, and the sophisticated crowd had a lot to say when a matador or other character did something badly or well, or with good style. After each bull the cavaleiro and front man of the forcados or the matador parade around and get stuff rained down on them from the crowd (flowers, hats, water bottles, whatever). At one point they even honored the breeder of the bulls by parading him around the arena too. I would really go to a bullfight every week if I could, but it’s a little bit pricey. Aside from the ring fights, I guess there are public street bull fights almost every day, where local young men are the “matadors,” dodging the bulls or using umbrellas to make passes. I have yet to see one but after seeing todays fight, it’s going to be hard to not get into the street and try myself! We’ll see.

After that I headed back into the festival. At this point things were really picking up – the whole town was flooded with people eating and drinking and there were several stages spread out through the town. I hooked up with my cousins Lena and Pedro, who had left the kids at home with Tia Natalia. We watched a concert at the festival until 3am and then headed out to a discoteca, where we stayed until about 8am. Every story about my cousins being hardcore partiers proved true last night. By this morning I was totally exhausted. I woked up at 5pm today and I’m ready to do the whole thing again. I guess this is what vacation is for!

I’m excited for the next few days on Terceira, there is still a lot of stuff to do. My mom talked with my second cousin Manuel Narciso, the man who has been farming on our families land for 50 years. He is ready to receive me and hopefully he’ll put me to work in his vineyards and taking care of his animals. We’ll see, but so far I’ve noticed my relatives resist very strongly whenever I try to work.

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