March 20, 2017

Almoço com os Romeiros

I previously mentioned the romeiros – groups of religious pilgrims who spend a week walking around the whole island, visiting all the churches and praying and singing as they walk. Early this morning as I was gradually waking up I heard two different groups pass by the house. What a lovely thing it is to lie in a warm bed on a cold, rainy morning and gain consciousness to the sound of twenty or thirty men quietly singing as they process beneath your window.

After a slow morning (emails, late breakfast, online Portuguese lessons), Robin, the other visiting artist who arrived late last night, and I decided to head out for a walk around town. At some point Robin got to feeling hungry and I suggested we return to the cafe where I'd had my meeting with Gianna on Saturday for some lunch. Many of the cafes here have a small room up front with a bar and a couple of tables that is visible from the street, but then there's another room in back that isn't so obvious. The front room being full, the waiter directed us to this other room, about the size of a typical dining room in a house, which was mostly taken up by a long table full of boisterous guys ranging in age from 20-something to 70-something. They were having a great time, laughing, eating and drinking and getting just a little rowdy. I noticed that many of them were wearing rosaries and figured they might be romeiros who had finished their walk. Robin and I were the only other people in the room, our table pushed into a corner just a couple of feet from theirs.

At about the same time that our lunch arrived, the singing began. One hymn followed another for maybe 30 minutes. Some were very solemn, others more upbeat, all delivered with much sincerity, enthusiasm, and varying degrees of intonation – the latter becoming more variable as successive rounds of aguardente were consumed. Occasionally they'd sing a verse in English for our benefit, looking our way to check if perhaps we were feeling perturbed, which of course we weren't. In fact, we couldn't have been happier, and our recording devices were on the table in an instant. I just had my phone, but it gets the point across.

At some point there was a break in the singing and I told them how beautiful it was and asked if I could take a photo. This led to them bringing us a couple pieces of their leftover chocolate cake (how could we refuse?), and one of them coming over to relate to us in quite good English what was going on. He graciously explained the whole romeiro thing – who they are and what they do and why they do it – and said that this was their post-pilgrimage celebration. He referred to the men as his brothers, and mentioned that not all of them had completed the trip; one ended up in the hospital (reason unknown) and another sprained his ankle and they had to carry him on their backs, and some just got tired and couldn't finish. So this lunch was all about some hard-earned letting off steam after completing their long trek.

Best. Lunch. Ever. And especially for Robin, an excellent first-day introduction to this place.