Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Terceira - Wild Bull Street Fighting

It’s been very difficult finding even a moment to write in the journal. These Silveiras certainly keep you busy. One note: Richard keeps us moving and Lucy keeps us all well fed and happy. There is always some little bag of goodies in the van as we make our expeditions. Should we get lost, we will not perish from starvation.

Tuesday – September 2nd – Terceira

This morning started with a short ride down to the local café, about ½ mile away from our villa. Just the local crowd and they eyed us with a fair amount of suspicion. I doubt they see many American tourists in this quadrant of the island. On the way we passed by and through what we imagined were huge garlanded arches, set up no doubt for the town festas. (sp?). We also scouted out the local cheese factory for a group visit later that morning. A very nice gentleman offered us samples of three of the cheeses that were for sale. Just right following our strong espresso at the café.

Returning via a rather circuitous route to the villa, we picked up the remainder of the party, and headed back to the cheese factory to restock our van provisions. Then on to Angra do Heroismo (about 6:00 on the island map), to procure our boat tickets from Faial back to Terceira on Sunday. “Angra” as it is known, is a charming seaside town, a UNESCO Heritage site, and the most populous town on the island. One can understand why it gets the attention. The town center is compact and surrounded by interesting buildings. It is a short walk down to the water where the local church (blue/lavender depending on the light, you can’t miss it) sits atop a hill overlooking a lava sand beach and the docks.

Walking the streets is a sensual experience. All the senses are bombarded by various stimuli. The streets themselves are cobblestone and narrow, and drivers are quick. The sound the tires of approaching vehicles make on the cobblestones cause the pedestrians to quickly step into doorways (the drivers anticipate you doing this and don’t even slow down). The sidewalks (when there are sidewalks) and plazas are made of small black and white blocks forming various designs that delight the eye and sometimes confound the feet. The smell of the sea is ever present. Since we had to wait for the ticket seller to return from lunch we separated, and Kat and I found a cafe and some lunch. Rather than eat inside we decided to take our goodies down to the sea, and there we sat enjoying the solitude and beauty of the place. We did go into the church and were rewarded with a special invitation to check out the catacombs (who knew) beneath the nave. Not much to see, but I think the older woman who was in the sacristy was just thrilled to have someone come into the church. The altar itself was much more elaborate than we had anticipated.

The group reconstituted, we procured the tickets without incident , and headed to the second major city on the island; Praia da Vitoria (at 3:00 on the dial) having circumnavigated the island for the first time. Praia translates as beach, and what a nice beach it is. Rich and Lu and the kids donned their suits (there are town provided changing rooms) and faster than Kat and I could say “No Thanks”, they were heading toward the water. We decided on a walking tour of this very attractive town. At the top of the hill overlooking the beach we were rewarded with a peaceful courtyard and an old church with Manueline era doors.

Their swim over and some already dressed, we relaxed at an outdoor café, sipped our beers, and decided that since we were in Praia, and today was Tuesday, we should go to the local bullfight. Huh? How does Richard know all these things? Somehow he does, and I’m ready to sign him up as tour guide for all future trips. Rich navigated us upward to the highest point in the town (I could tell because the only thing higher than us within sight was an obelisk shaped monument to someone or something. The views were spectacular and we were (according to Rich) a short walk to the street where the bulls would “fight.”

It was a short walk and we knew we were in the right place when we passed homeowners covering their front doors and windows with plywood. On one side of the street the front doors and windows are at street level, on the other it appears the front doors are a flight up, and across the front of the house is a raised one story veranda/viewing platform, far from any danger. These people are serious about this.

We had no reserved seats, and it was clear to all of us that ground level was the wrong level. We spotted a 7 foot high stone wall adjacent to the Vieira Café in the town square that was still un sat upon and made a beeline for it, not sure of how or when the beasts were released. It was clear to the older half of our group that only the younger half could scale this wall and safely perch on top of it. In mid-ponder a man walked up to us and un-padlocked a chain that held together a beat up door in this very same wall, ushering us into a tiny courtyard which contained; growling dogs (not dangerous) and a set of stone stairs (dangerous) that led to a small balcony. Prime standing room!

I looked down to the right and realized (for the first time) that we were just to the side of the area where the bulls are kept, four of them, each in their own sturdy cage. Swarming around these cages were men (some dressed in black pants, white shirts and black hats) and boys with poles and ropes. They proceeded to thread a long rope into the cage and presumably around the neck of the clearly enraged beast.

A signal flare was fired and with the report the street immediately cleared of traffic and people. A few moments later we got a good look at a very upset bull as it charged from it’s cage and stood in the square surveying the possibilities. A few intrepid young men began taunting the bull and when the bull charged them, they took off down the road to our right, trailing a long rope whose end was held by four of the black-hatted handlers. Slowly the square began to fill with people who watched the action taking place down the street. We watched them, and when in unison they began scrambling back up walls and into doorways, it was clear that the bull could be only moments behind them. Sure enough, the bull shot past us from right to left and now began chasing people up the street to our left.

The mob grew and receded once again as the bull returned to the center and made one last attempt to seriously damage the young provocateurs who poked it with umbrellas and waved various shirts and cloths at it. Panting and drooling, the bull was slowly retracted back into it’s cage, the door was lowered and the signal man fired off a 2 report shot to signal that the first fight was over, and the police (stationed at each end of the road) could allow the traffic to flow once again.

Whew! First, the bull is bigger and faster than I had expected, and second, once the initial excitement of the appearance of the bull subsided it seemed the crowd (similar to a crowd at a racetrack) was poised waiting for a “BULL MAULS MAN” event that would headline tomorrow’s paper.

From our vantage point we watched the action over the next 10 minutes as the street vendors plied their wares, the neighbors chatted and I (having the fine mathematical mind that I do) realized that with half an hour having passed since it started we had watched but 25% of the planned program.

Boom went the signal flare, and surely enough the second round of the fight mimicked precisely, the first. Right, then left, then center. Angry bull snorting and dripping, testosterone youth badgering, and ultimately the return of the beefsteak to the cage. Two pops and the road filled with cars and people once again.

A quick poll confirmed that the 8 of us had seen enough of this story, and using most of the allotted 10 minute break to find the man who had let us into this gallery (he had re-chained and re-padlocked the door), we quickly made our way down and out, and scurried to the car. Been there, done that.

I took a short video of the action as it took place just in front of us:

The day was capped off with a delicious dinner at a restaurant called the Beira Mar, right on the water (what isn’t on this island?), past Silveira Beach. It was there that I was introduced to the delightful spicy sauce called Piri-Piri, just right for pooling into the olive oil plate as an additional bread dip. The fish was fresh, the waiter wasn’t, telling the same old joke about 3 day old fish over and over. Matt and Zach have made a science of picking which Vinho Verde we will have and they have been right-on each time.

Upon returning “home” about 10:30, Kat and I and Sarah and Matt sat at the veranda table chatting away, when we were joined by Avalina. At no loss for words she regaled us with stories of her youth, her marriage, the origins of the house we were in, her time in New England and her political philosophy. Matt slipped away. Sarah politely excused herself, and after viewing pictures of her from high school, Kat and I remarked on the late hour and almost made it back into our side of the house. We accepted Avalina’s gracious invitation to come in and share some cheese with her, but refused the bread and banana liqueur she offered. We must get to sleep as we had a big day in front of us tomorrow … off to Sao Miguel.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!! Invaluable.