A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
There's a concert tonight and tomorrow, so no news for now. Instead, here's a one-photo-per-day gallery of our residency in Portugal, the journal from which I've been serializing in these blogs.
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I promised the journal from our residency in Nodar. Here is the eighth installment. Please write to me if you want a copy of the full journal in PDF format with photos.
Saturday, April 21
Stevie came back from Parada with a bagful of various goodies (nutella and ibuprofen among them!), and had no trouble negotiating the roads in the driving rain. Luis, meanwhile, was hydroplaning his way back from Castro Daire as the torrents poured off the hills and onto the highway. After some drying out, we were all ready for the trip to eat with Nazaré and Fernando. Dinner last night was excellent, but much to Stevie's chagrin, the fish were indeed whole--and not only that, she and I were each offered a freshly fried whole fish, the small delicacy of which Fernando was very proud, as soon as we walked through the door. I chawed it down headfirst with a quick blink to avoid looking it in the eyes, and Stevie began to eat, but pocketed the head when the lights flickered out briefly.
The fish, despite their relative intactness (they were cleaned, but the head and all the bones and gills and tail were present), were delicious, only requiring a slight attitude adjustment (and blinking). Aaron, meanwhile, was cordial but slightly off-center for a few minutes; his vegetarian sensibility is quite refined, and the slabs of pork and beef and chicken and fish and squid may be more dead animals than he's seen at a table for some time.
There was also a wonderful quiche, full of potatoes and peppers and other vegetables; a massive pot of rice with kidney beans; two bottles of União regional red wine, similar to what we had been drinking, plus some carafes of local wine; and a huge crusty yellow cake for dessert, along with local port (not Fernando's, but from a friend) and honey liqueur (Fernando's).
(A side story is Nazaré's son, a teenager who was with us for dinner. He is Wellington, named for his father Wellington Calôr de Oliveira, a Brazilian. It seems that English and other 'out-of-culture' names are common there, just as they are in North America.)
With the port and liqueur flowing easily, dinner ended in a complete linguistic breakdown. Manuela was switching randomly from Italian to Portuguese to English, Nazaré was using 'LP English' from pop songs, Aaron was grabbing for anything that went by as Cristina navigated mostly in Spanish. We were stunned into gibberish, since by that time, Luis had given up translating, leaving us to swim in the sea of language. Wellington and Fernando just smiled at the chaos, especially as the lights kept flickering out and Aaron cried out "opa!" (We learned later that the storms causing the lights to flicker had been so severe that someone was swept off the road and killed in a landslide from one of those torrents just a few miles away).
We returned home and went to bed, but the rest of them stayed up to watch Italian and Armenian political films with the volume very loud. It sounded like a political rally for the next two hours, after which a cat fight broke out below our window. Miecha had disappeared, but the doors were closed. She showed up later to scratch loudly in her box. Then the dogs all started barking, and someone began yelling at them to be quiet. Before long the earliest birds were singing at yay-it's-gonna-be-sunny levels outside the window. Although I slept well in the interstices--and little but the cat fight woke Stevie--it was a restless night. Everyone was asleep this morning, so we had coffee and I began editing the songs recorded the past few days--thirty-seven of them so far, with more tonight. Miecha was exploring outside for the first time in days, though still limping, and the fog lifted through the mountains to open into brilliant sunshine, just as the birds had predicted. I finished editing the songs this morning, Stevie continued learning Portuguese and also did some more of the wash (Tia came to offer use of her washing machine for the large sheets), and eventually lunch appeared from Manuela, with ham, couscous with pumpkin and zucchini, salad, bread and wine.
Stevie writes about the wine: One takes a large 1.5-liter pitcher over the slate and cobbled path a few meters to the next house, into the wine cellar through the courtyard--where the hens and geese live and tell about it constantly--through a heavy weathered door and down two huge stone steps. To the left are the blocks of uncut cork, native to the region; on the floor, four huge oak barrels. From the farthest a brass or bronze tap releases the flow of wine for the meal. The wine is so fragrant the aroma fills the cellar as the pitcher fills. This wine is unlike any we've ever tasted. It is very full-bodied, and easily coats the inside of the glass. Imagine grapevines literally everywhere--over the village streets, over the terraces, between the houses, shading the sheep, shading the 'cisterna' where the washing is done. The villagers gather these grapes and combine them in huge vats. Often they are still stomped. The wine is deep purplish magenta, and the clear glass pitcher is indelibly stained. The surrounding hillsides are covered in eucalyptus. The entire area burned two years ago in a forest fire, almost all the oaks were lost. The locals say the wine tastes different since the fire, so I can safely say it is a bit smoky, and not just from the barrels. It is also remarkably grapey, but with no raw edge, absolutely no sharpness or front-of-the-mouth newness at all. It is as smooth as wines twenty years older. In short, a very fine wine, honestly among the finest we've ever had--though of course one must consider the setting. This afternoon I made another attempt to fix the camera, unsuccessful, and also posted online in hope of answers. None have been forthcoming. Stevie is working on some pizzas for dinner. The sun is out. Now we wait for the singing women tonight.
Sunday Morning, April 22
Last night was nothing we expected. But first, back a few hours. We were all getting equipment ready, Manuela was posing for photos with the dinner's octopus, Miecha was limping around but finally out of the bedroom, Aaron was out doing field recordings.
Dinner was that octopus, plus a crostada of cheese and olives and tomatoes that Stevie had made, and salad. She was also working on treats for the post-singing party--strawberries in chocolate, another crostada--and Manuela was making a cheesecake with kiwis, strawberries, pineapples and oranges.
Everything was running late, and dinner wasn't on the table until after 8:30--and the women were supposed to gather in Sequeiros at nine. Even so, it wasn't rushed, and we set out for the upper town in two cars, picked up Nazaré, and followed the switchbacks into a village very different from Nodar. At least at night, it seemed darker and poorer and even a little forbidding. The parking lot for the new (not yet finished) town meeting hall was gated, over which hung a kind of large neon shooting star, unplugged. The lot and the hall were dark and deserted, so we stood waiting a few minutes. One old woman with a cane walked tentatively into the lot; yes, there would be singing tonight. Two men, clearly town characters and broadcasting an abundance of wine, arrived next; the shorter one seemed unconcerned that I understood not a word, and continued to converse with me. Cristina ran up the street to ask in the café if there were others to be found; Luis went in the other direction, to a house where the group's leader was supposed to have some other singers, the key to the building, and light. We put the food back in the cars, and Manuela sat back down again to rest her feet.
We all waited. Another two women came one by one. Finally the youngest of them, probably in her thirties or forties, showed up, clearly in charge, with key in hand, ready to open the new hall. It was a veritable bunker, cinderblock with a dusty ement floor, and lights hanging on wires hammered to the beams. The ceiling was wood (it formed the floor of the outdoor stage) and held up by tree trunks. There were empty back rooms. Benches lined the far wall. The only relatively complete part of the room was the bar, with shelves of glasses. Even with the hanging incandescent bulbs, it was dark with severe shadows. I prepared the recorder, Stevie had the camera on a tripod (since it was so dark), and Cristina began rolling the video.
As people were still arriving, the singing began without announcement. Everyone had a different role. One youngish woman seemed to know everything by heart, and just stared straight ahead, immersed in the sound. Another, one of the first to arrive with a cane, also knew everything, and was just as oblivious to the presence of the filling room, the chattering men, and the skittering children. Others sang, looking on from a notebook the apparent leader was holding, including Nazaré and Donzília, who had joined the group for the evening, and the single man in the group, with a hollow face and thin moustache. A very thin older woman in a country dress also appeared to lead the choice of some songs; her face shifted from friendly to severe, for all the world looking like the classic image of a schoolmarm.
And the music! The wildest of North American sacred harp singing cannot compete with what they sang. With occasional breaks into twoand three-part parallel harmony, it was all unison- (and octave-, because of the one man in the group) singing, phrase-based, and using a shift from implied major to implied minor midway through many of the songs. Perhaps just one we had already heard Donzília sing, but the rest were quite different. Women from the benches along the side joined in on some, as did the two little girls.
After more than a half-hour of full-throated singing, they took a break while the food was served and the wine was offered--a different red and newer taste than that from Nodar, but still poured from large jugs capped with local cork. The men quickly gathered at the bar, most of the women kept on the benches, and the children ran around. Then it was time to perform what Luis translated as a 'challenge improvisation'--which was acted and sung by the leader and one of the others dressed up in men's clothing and a painted moustache. We couldn't follow the words, but it seemed to be an attempted and failed clumsy seduction, with a light bulb popping out of the "man's" zipper to whoops of laughter from the gathered townspeople, a group which by this time-- the wine having been opened--had grown to about thirty.
A few more songs were sung and the evening wound slowly down, the townspeople drifted away in reverse order, the hall was emptied and locked, and just a few of us were left with the two town characters continuing to chatter cheerfully and incomprehensibly. We drove back down the hill, the kitchen cleanup happened, Stevie went to bed, Aaron and Cristina were in deep conversation, Luis was working at the computer, and I settled in to uploading photos and audio to the computer.
I had misunderstood months ago precisely when we were supposed to be here in Nodar. It sounded from Luis's original emails that the residency was planned so that others were coming in the day after we left, so we scheduled the last flight out of Porto on April 28. But they actually wanted us here until the evening presentation that day, and offered to pay for the difference in tickets to Sunday. I will call Air Berlin and see if they will make the shift. It is a bright morning here, but the big stone house is always relatively dark, with large wooden doors and small windows that keep the heat in winter (the house has no heating system) and cool in summer. The lower floors are stone, and even the lower steps. Luis has built a bread oven to double as a barbecue on the porch (kind of a 'breezeway' in the States).
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