Today is Thanksgiving and we think of friends and family sitting around their large tables and sharing a feast of tradition. I can’t help but also think of another long table laden with traditional foods that we were fortunate to enjoy.
It started with a look at a gathering of women dressed in long skirts and headscarves. Men were in black vests and white shirts butchering a large animal outside a Casa do Povo (community center). I was dressed in traditional black cycling tights, while Willie wore his classic baggy shorts. Even still, we didn’t hesitate when we saw a friendly smile and subtle wave to come join them.
A few words are shared, cryptic explanations of our journey, our interest in what they were doing. Suddenly a young woman speaking English appears and our day is transformed. We learn that this is a kind of traditional culture club special event. Berta, our interpreter and spontaneous host for the day informs us that the event started with the killing of the pig (we missed that part thankfully) and now the butchering in the traditional way.
We are offered a taste of cookies and homemade liquor just before a bus arrives and we are whisked away with the group to visit a riverside village and see their “culture house”. We board the bus with a kind of joyful bewilderment that comes from being plucked out of our environment and land in a different time and place. The ladies behind us chatter away with expressive voices. We can’t understand a word, but when Berta’s daughter, Filipa starts to sing, we can hum along to the simple folk tune as the bus erupts in song.
At the fishing village, the changeable weather has turned nasty and woman wrap themselves in waist-length wool capes that no doubt keep the cold, damp out much better than my nylon jacket. We squeeze together into the three room house and while they hear the details of life living on the river, we take in the faces, the intricate stitchery on each woman’s cape, the tufting of their shirt colors to make each one special. Sidelong glances from those near us and I’m sure they wonder who the heck we are. Berta continues by our side though, always giving some interpretation of what’s going on.
Back at the Casa do Povo in Gloria do Ribatejo, long white tables are set for dinner, the pork is roasted, potatoes cooked, bread sliced, wine poured and desserts dished – the best rice pudding I have ever tasted, topped with a light sprinkling of cinnamon. There appeared to be enough for everyone three times over.
Stuffed and thinking more of a nap than dancing, an accordionist took the stage followed by a harmonica player and couple of percussionists. Girls to grandmothers joined in a circle dance on stage. Couples then twirl in fast footwork that would make square dancers smile. Berta tells us she has been doing these dances since she was six years old. Now her daughter about that age is doing the same. It’s clear the culture club is doing more than recreating history, they are keeping traditions alive.
It’s a full day of sight seeing and history lessons, beautiful hand-crafts and traditional folk dancing. We are honored to be included at their table and amazed at the open hand of friendship. About the time I begin to wonder where we will be sleeping that night, Berta takes us to see a bedroom used by the volunteer fireman that will be ours for the night. As is the Portuguese tradition, she gives us each kisses on the cheek good bye. As is my American tradition, I give Berta a hug goodnight. Hoping some day to see her around our table.