30 August 2011

Flog it Almocageme Style

It's incredible to realise that a year has flashed past and last Sunday 28 August was the 2011 Cortejo e Oferendas e Leilao in Almocageme (the fruit and vegetable auction).  For our second visit we were more organised (we thought).  Last year we took the bus thinking parking would be difficult and had to leave ages before the end, so this time we drove up and parked close to the square about 3.00pm which was the scheduled start time.  However, this being Portugal, things were still being organised so we chose to have a coffee in the coffee bar that gave a good view of the action whilst we waited for the start.

Nice coffee house (not on the actual day as it was much busier than this)

About 4.00pm we moved over to the square as the ritual of microphone testing had begun and out of the fire station rumbled the most beautiful 1950's fire appliance closely followed by a truck similarly attired with green branches,and set off down the main street to make the tour of the village through the one way system, up the main road and back down to the centre collecting other little trucks en route.  After about 20 minutes the procession of trucks led by the fire engine, made their way slowly and carefully into the laid out square ready for the start of the auction.  Each vehicle carries items from a particular area and they are sold in sequence.

Returning to the main square

Approaching the square

Side view of appliance

Goodies on board

One of the trucks

And another one

We moved into the main body of the square to get our seats and to check out the other vehicles and, of course, the bar/cake area.  It was a lovely day and it was noticeable that we were the only people who chose to sit in full sun - the portuguese choosing to shift their chairs out of the full sun leaving us rather exposed as the foreigners.

Cakes to the left, beers to the right

English in the sun, locals in the shade

The fire engine was unloaded first with all the goodies being placed onto a table in front of the bandstand and the same auctioneer as last year, who is excellent fun with great banter and teasing of the crowd, obviously knowing the majority personally.

Goodies being arranged ready for sale

As all the items are donated by invdividuals from the villages, they are sold village by village.  The auctioneer reads out the name of the donor and then whips up the crowd for bidding.  He has a helper to point out any bids he might miss, although the normal procedure for this appears to be whistling or yelling for attention.  After each vehicle's contents have been sold, the total for each village is read out and cheered. 

This year there was an abundance of pumpkins, melons, pears, apples, nectarines, peaches, tomatoes, onions, plaits of garlic, potatoes, dried beans, along with ducks, chickens, pigeons, cactii and other plants, wine, spirits, port, liqueurs, handbags, pictures, storage pots, champagne and sparking wines, cold box, cheese, homemade jam, grapes, copper jug, beer, large cake, traditional cakes, hampers and candles.

The pumpkins ranged from round to oblong, small, medium and large as in this photo.  This monster that took two men to pick it up, weighed 60 kilos and was sold for 11 euros to the great amusement of the crowd.

This beauty that need two strong firemen to lift it

I desperately wanted to buy the two ducks to release them into the river by us, by was prevented so they went for 10 euros for the pair.  The pigeons were bought by people who then released them up into the sky to rounds of applause which was a lovely moment.

The two ducks - fear not, the one in the bag is alive

He thought this was a great auction buy, she was not so certain

Bidding got rather heated when the alcohol appeared.  There was a great selection of reds from the Douro, Alentejo and Colares as well as the white jug variety.  Most went from between 5 and 8 euros a pair of bottles, the white, obviously not quite as popular either went for the same price or less.  The wine from Colares, an expensive wine normally, was rather interesting to watch.  We picked us this bottle for 7 euros (75cl) but the others went for between 15 and 25 euros.  Some to the owner of the local grocery store.

Our bottle of 1997 Colares wine

Interestingly it seemed to be our senior ladies who went for the sparkling wines.  One lady near us managed to get one bottle of sparkling and one of champagne and then went on to successfully bid for a rather nice pink, embroidered bag to put them in.  She was beaming merrily as she set off with her bargains.  Another senior lady went off with a very nice green, wicker bag which she showed off to her friends around the fountain for admiration.

One young girl was desperate to get her hands on a cactus and the first batch went without any success for her.  Suddenly whilst she was busy talking to her parents, another pair came up for auction.  They shoved her forward and a lovely man at the side, stopped bidding to enable her to get them for 5 euros.  She was estactic. 

The young girl trying to bid for her cactii
Amusingly there were two instances of couples bidding for the same item because they were so intent on bidding that they had not realised their partner next to them, also had their hand up.  Friends bid against friend but all in a lovely, friendly way, and in some cases you could see people divving up their spoils between bags in the time honoured 'one for you, one for me' tradition.

As the sun started to go down, so the pigeons started to swoop over the square and the temperature dropped and cardigans and fleeces appeared.  Next year, we must remember to bring one!

Pigeons flying over the square

About 8.00pm the auctioneer stepped down in after a strenuous couple of hours and handed over to one of the firemen to continue with the remaining two trucks.  By this time the light was starting to go so the firemen brought out a very flash floodlight.  It looked like a plastic bag on a stand, but then it slowly inflated until it shone brightly on the proceedings.

The inflatable floodlight

We left shortly after the floodlight went up due to being somewhat chilly.  Next year - cardigans and jumpers for bidding after 8.00pm.

So here are some of our bargains.  We also picked up 6 bottles of red wine for 15 euros and a bottle of Grants Whisky for 6 euros. A cool box, brand new, for 6 euros.

Tomatoes - 6 euros for the whole box

8 euros for these beauties

So for the next few days I will be featuring tomatoes and onions in my cooking.  Tomato Jam, Gazpacho soup, Tomato Sauce, Onion jam, French Onion Soup........

Next year, must remember - get there early to park and get chair in shade and bring a cardigan or fleece for the evening.  Can't wait.

24 August 2011

Summer festivities

Cannot believe how long it is since I last blogged. This is not due to an over excess of sunbathing on white sand in front of blue seas, far from it.  This has been the most bizarre summer I have ever experienced.  We had rain on 1 August and again the following week and then thunderstorms and grey skies and hints of dampness.  Very unusual and precludes visits to beaches.

In June and July I had problems first with the internet and lack of signal.  Various excuses given over a period of nearly a month until it returned and then the phone vanished.  Reasons for this ranged from copper thieving from nearby villages, to trees!!!  The trees were dealt with a couple of weeks ago and guess what, the phone has died again.  The internet is always wobbly when we have large cloud formations coming in from the Atlantic as they like to perch on the top of the Sintra hills, covering our side with a lovely mystic mist and the other with rolling clouds that look like melting 99 icecreams minus the chocolate.

We have been busy on our garden bits and pieces and although we were given a piece of the estate for an allotment, we had to give it up as the battle against weeds inevitably beat us, but we salvaged what we had planted and transplated to large bins close to the house, where everything has taken very well.  Our tomatoes were not as good as last year but that could be because we used a different variety or the weather - who knows.  I have sourced some wonderful tiny currant-sized ones to try next year.

It is the season of village festivities.  The hills are alive with music is an understatement.  Living on a hillside we get the full benefit of the evening entertainments from across the valley.  Some is very good, some has extra loud bass lines, and some is downright funny.  All of this music does tend to start with rehearsals about 4.00pm with the usual "testing one, two" etc and then you get a minor blast about 8-9.00pm and then peace whilst food is consumed and then it starts in earnest around 11.00pm, getting louder until about 2.00am and if you are really unlucky and a light sleeper, you can get blown out of bed again around 3-4.00am.  The latest this year, so far, was an extra loud session at around 6.00am.  Good job we both like music and can manage to sleep through it although we often comment on how people who live opposite the social centre and surrounding houses cope - they must all be participants!

This coming Sunday is the Fruit and Vegetable Auction in Almocageme, that we went to last year.  This time I intend to be much more organised with what I want to bid on.  The car will also be coming with me.  Last year, because we did not know how busy it would be, we took the bus and then had to carry a large tray of tomatoes back with us!  Not this time!  Annoyingly it clashes with a festival in Praia das Macas which is a religious ceremony, where the Madonna is carried into the sea.  I really wanted to see this but will have to wait until next year.

Last Wednesday we went to visit the Sao Mamede de Janas Festival because we had been told how interesting it was.  Wednesday was the day for animals and a blessing and recommended by my friend in the pet shop, so armed with her directions on how to find it, we set off about 3.00pm as the blessing was due at 4.00pm.

Typical street decorations at Festa time

As we approached the road blossomed with decorated arches and lamps which most villages have for their festas.  One side of the road was a traditional fair with various rides, roundabouts, dodgems (and yes they do the same - stand on the side and check out which is the fastest), doughnut vans, cherry brandy stands (a shot of cherry brandy from Obidos in a chocolate tasting cup for 1 euro), and a couple of stall selling clothing, pottery and electrical bits and pieces. 


The other side was given over to serious stalls of clothing, pottery, cake and bread vans, ice cream stands, food stalls etc.  Parking was down the sides of the roads (for early birds) and organised fields for the rest of us - all good humouredly monitored by the local police.

Bread and cakes to one side, clothing to the other

Very jolly and smiling police

Amongst the stalls were speciality food stalls like this one selling suckling pig, which is a much loved delicacy here and found on most markets.  You can have it in restaurants, and some shops specialise in takeaways of it.

A roast suckling pig stall

Could not resist a fartura - extremely tasty and no doubt very fattening but there are times you just need one.  They are like a doughnut mixture which is rolled into a large curled round and then chopped into pieces which are rolled in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.  You can also buy other versions which have a line of chocolate or jam up the middle, but the original are the best.

Naughty but nice

We wandered down to where all the animals were penned and bumped into our butcher and his wife.  He has English pointers which he was showing although one of them was making a concerted effort to tunnel his way out of the pen to meet and greet the people.  There were some beautiful goats - this one actually posed for me - some with pretty baubles attached to the ends of their horns. 

Ready when you are Mr de Mille

Some of the cows and sheep were sporting fetching multi-coloured ribbons - whether this was an award or just purely for cosmetic use, I really don't know.  There were cages of ducks, rabbits, a large trailer of exotic birds also selling animal feed, a cute donkey and cart, horses, cows (looking somewhat bored by it all) and the noise level was amazing with people shouting to each other, animals making animal sounds, and on top of this, was a rather impressive stack of speakers around the stage with an accordion player and keyboard player, blasting out.

He seemed very calm in all the confusion

Not impressed with her ribbons - perhaps wrong colourway

Good sound system

People seem to have either come for the week or the day and were camping all over the fields around the fair.  All very well organised with blankets, picnic or dining tables, chairs and even a sunbed or too.

Resting in the shade of the trees

There was a small area roped off for the mass with a set of bleachers for people to sit on and as it got towards 4.00pm, they started to fill up and people started to congregate around the area.  The priests were in beautiful robes and were led into the ring by a man carrying a large cross.  There was a lovely little choir who sang beautifully and then various ladies read pieces from the bible.  One priest in particular appeared to be rather shy and was mouthing the words to hymns.  The service continued with the backdrop of mooing, baaing and general chattering but it was a really nice thing to see.

Awaiting the start of the Mass

The priests following the cross onto the dais