Entrudo in Lazarim: Portugal’s Pagan Pageant
The bus churns to a stop in Lamego. I grab my bags and fly out the door, into the backseat of an idling cab.
Hiking into Lazarim
We race past orchards and the blurred ruins of monasteries, hashing out a plan. He drops me on the road to Lazarim, and I join others hiking into town, where festivities are underway.
Not a scantily-clad samba dancer in sight – what sort of Carnival is this?
The resulting commingled culture adopted the Portuguese Entrudo, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, and over time, infused it with a riotous, licentious joy.
Vino Flows Freely
Townsfolk scurry about, hefting chewy hunks of broa and trays of meats for the fire. Vino tinto flows freely as dignitaries shake hands, and celebrants greet and embrace through nubby woolen coats.
I fight the cold with pastry; sweet pudim ovos from the ladies at the Cancer Society Booth.
Historically, carvers were local men of the land, and mask imagery rooted in Christian beliefs. Now carving is specialized, commissioned, and can be inspired by current events. Jose Antonio da Silva Costa, called Costinho, worked in the family furniture business. Born in 1972, he’s the youngest of the local masters, and perfected his craft in Lazarim. Each mask can take him up to thirty hours. He smiles shyly and hoists up his devil-in-progress.
A Breathing Brueghel Painting
Fat Tuesday begins with ominous clouds skirting the mountains, threatening rain. The curious arrive undeterred, while a crew from Lisbon’s TSF Broadcasting runs cables and positions video cameras. For the first time, Lazarim is to be included in a national Carnival round-up, set for broadcast that evening.
Tangy aromas waft through the serpentine streets from another square, where sturdy women in peasant garb arch over bubbling iron pots, set on open fires.
Flushed and grimacing, they stir the feijoada stew with a possessive determination, and shoo away children who dart about the edge of the flames like teasing fairies; a living, breathing Brueghel painting.
A squinting, black-clad matriarch points to the sun, which has shifted from behind the clouds to brighten the landscape. And now, the first devil appears – like a silent apparition. Inscrutably masked, suited in straw, he pierces the sky with a wooden pitchfork, and forges a path right through us.
Geishas, Goblins and Demons
Soon a moon-masked marauder on a donkey, a maiden shrouded in lace and ivy leaves, and a cross-dressing, umbrella-toting phantom, have materialized. Geishas, goblins, and long-tongued demons pop up abruptly, douse the unsuspecting with clouds of corn meal flour, and evaporate. Castro, Bin Laden, and Camões, Portugal’s legendary poet, are among us. A Pope draped in a flea market tapestry rug blesses all with his scepter.
In time, we thread our way back to the main square. Caretos (masqueraders) pack in with villagers and visitors to await the featured event. All eyes are on a balcony above, where a young couple in funereal garb stand poised, books in hand. To each of their sides, colorful male and female mannequins, held aloft on sticks, sway in the wind.
O defeito que tu tens
The defect you have
Comeis carne a toda hóra
You spend all the time eating meat
Standing squeezed between a masked sheep and a skeleton, I feel as if I’ve dropped in on an extended family gathering. But my grasp of Portuguese is pobre; I miss the punch lines, and, for the time being, must simply revel in the rhythm.
A Scene From a Children's Book
Cigarettes dangling from their lips, the drummers begin a dirge. Everyone lines up for a procession. The readers, in mock-somber demeanor, take the lead, followed by the bobbing Compadre and Comadre puppets, assorted masked devils, animals, senhorinhas, politicians, ghouls, and us regular folks. A scene torn from the pages of a children’s book.
We wend our way along ancient granite paths to where Lazarim backs into the mountains, and form a circle. With great theatrics, the effigies are carried uphill to a platform, and in turn, lit with firesticks. They whistle and whirl in circles, like an amusement park attraction, before exploding in booming puffs of colored smoke.
Amid cheers, the procession reverses direction, and the mischief resumes; more dousing, rambunctious running, an occasional lecherous prod. Bemused villagers take a break from their labors to watch though half-open gates. I peak back to see fruit trees, small vineyards, and lines of laundry, dancing in the smoky air.
A Party That's Hard to Leave
At a closing ceremony at dusk, participants are recognized for their distinctive costumes or masks, which they remove with great flourish to reveal true identities. Surprise – that menacing devil in red; a sweet-faced college student. The moon-faced donkey rider works at a port winery downriver.
Back in Lamego that night, I dust the cornmeal flour from my clothes, shower, and settle under the covers with TV remote at the ready. After the late news, Portugal’s Carnival cities report in: Torres Vedras, Ovas, Loulé.
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