São João

It’s 2:00 am and I am too keyed up to sleep, so thought I’d write now… but do not expect my usual dulcet prose.

Tonight is the festival of São João, the patron saint of Porto.  Party in the streets all night long, basically.  I loathe crowds, but didn’t want to miss this.  Good decision.

Left the flat about 10:00 pm, went out on the verandah to check conditions before leaving – after another gloriously clear, warm sunny day the temperature had dropped a bit, and there was a mist coming up off the river.  Moon just off the full, about 45 degrees above the horizon just east by south.  Perfect.

There were throngs all the way down the Avenida, heading to the river, but as the metro reached Jardim de Morro, just at the Gaia end of the Ponte Dom Luis I, there were dozens of food stalls set up (the Portuguese love their sweet pastries at all hours for any excuse, and I can’t blame them, they’re good), and vendors selling plastic hammers.  For some reason there is a tradition of bopping people over the head with either a leek or, march of civilisation and industrialisation, a plastic hammer.  I think the idea was that it was a way to let someone know you thought they were cute, but I gather many people are a bit indiscriminate.  My picture of a woman with a leek didn’t come out, but …

Some people clearly take this tradition more seriously than others.  Most folks had little plastic mallets bought off the street vendors, this one was clearly hand crafted at home from the sort of foam rubber used in upholstery.

I came out of the metro at São Bento, was promptly bopped on the head for the first of many times tonight (like I said, they must be indiscriminate, I couldn’t possibly be  THAT cute), and joined the flow of people towards the waterfront at Ribeira, where that photo above was taken.  There was a stage set up (in front of the TV screen where we can watch the World Cup games – I’ll return Friday to watch Portugal vs. Brazil) and a variety show which I think was being broadcast live on RTP.  Good fun, good music.  And the most benign crowd I have ever been in, probably because there were as many grandparents and small children out as there were everything in between.

The fireworks at midnight were absolutely the most fabulous I have ever seen.  They beat 4th of July on the Esplanade in Boston and they even beat 4th of July in Brooklyn when I was on the roof of my building watching not only the fireworks over the statue of Liberty but the fireworks set off on the streets all around by every Mafia-spawned brat in my hood.

There were at least 5 separate launching points for the fireworks that I could see, and they filled the sky from Ponte Dom Luis to Arrábida.  Absolutely spectacular, enchanting, magical.  When it was over the variety show went on a bit longer, and then I was sort of carried along in the crowd up the praça, packed like a sardine in a tin, but it was ok – people were good natured and cheerful about it all.  I finally got out of the current near the Factory House and walked over towards the IVDP and up Rua das Flores back to São Bento to come home.

Didn’t get any good photos of the fireworks, too thrilled watching them, really, but before the main show a few were set off from near the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, at the Gaia end of the upper deck of the Ponte Dom Luis I (that line of lights all across the photo).  Wellington had his headquarters there at one point during the peninsular war.  Both the Mosteiro and the Cálem armazens below were all lit up tonight.  Magical evening.  I keep falling in love all over again with this city.