Tractors of Faith
Weather in Portugal is amazing, but very often it is unforgiving, especially during summer. Ocean's relationship with the continent is each year tested under the scorching sun. Having that in mind, it shouldn't be a surprise that at the beginning of September one of the biggest, regional, religious celebrations is focused on praying and thanking for water. The event I am writing about is being held in Misericordia – a place with an everlasting spring. Legend of that spot is bringing pilgrims since 13th century. Those who are choosing to go there are mainly farmer families from surrounding villages. This year we joined them, two sloths – the very first foreigners according to our hosts memory.
The mechanism which repeats annually is very simple: villages are sending their representatives packed on the back of tractors traveling in a slow chain of vehicles to their destination in Misericordia. The cordon we had joined stopped on its way twice. The first time was for joining the forces with another village (our two tractors were complimented by twelve, or so, more). And the second – for a meal at a church built by and for the pilgrims. When we reached Misericordia, each of the villages separately circled the church there: vehicles together with foot forces holding sacred symbols up in the air. Of course we did so three times, in an ancient, holy tradition of that magical number. Afterwards whoever wanted went into the temple for a short, individual prayer, following which was free to join the regular festivities (long tables, food, fair ground with booths selling various things, and concerts of life music).
The above description as accurate it might be as much doesn't give a proper taste of the whole thing.
Tractors. Those were decorated with creativity which is difficult to contain in words, just check the photos.
The need for speed. We covered about 25 kilometers in more or less 3 hours. It's a test for patience and an adventure on it's own. It allows you to slow down in a coffee-fueled country.
Music. There was no singing of religious songs, no faithful chants, the melody of the procession came from machines engines and laughter louder than them. Sometimes those were accompanied by bagpipes – each of the villages send one virtuoso of that instrument. They were giving a great show for anyone opened to the sound of bagpipes. I couldn't help but think about 'Braveheart', but the melodies played were as far from Scotland as possible in that situation.
People. Amazing, Portuguese people who created a family feeling for sloths like us without knowing us prior to the event were the highlight of this festivity. We laughed together, drunk and ate together despite the lack of language skills.
This part of our adventures in the West of Portugal was food for our souls. It showed us that the biggest strength of the faith of people here is the faith in the people themselves, in communities coming together and enforcing their connections year after year, for centuries now. All dipped in a cheerful spirit of religion which is not overwhelming at any point (which is in contrast for example with Polish parish fairs).
Portugal is not that lucky with its geography when it comes to meeting other cultures, it is tucked away at the edge of the Iberian Peninsula. The situation makes it quite difficult for the country to have a face to face meeting with an outsider who is not a tourist. It is of course a generalization coming from the fact that even citizens of former colonies who are scattered all over the country live the Portuguese way rather than flashing their own.
The municipality of Torres Vedras found a brilliant solution. They are inviting each year a different country to invade them in a very 21st century, cultural manner. The formula is simple: hosts organize a historical fair (traditional, local costumes, music and food are available around each corner of the town center) which is complimented by artistic events coming from different parts of the world.
This year it was time for the Japan. Such a clash of civilizations can be really exciting, and for me was so without any doubts. A view of small kids from Torres Vedras, a city of about 80 thousands citizens, watching a modern take on a traditional Japanese dance was a marvel to behold. And, as difficult it might be to comprehend, such connection works there perfectly year after year. Various performances, music, video, art – that's my kind of invasion! Especially that, just like others, it is served in the Portuguese souse of welcoming, family atmosphere.