It’s actually quite difficult, even for me, to be grumpy in November but I try. The trees explode in tones of russet and amber, the air is crisp and the rain stops, albeit temporarily. St Martin’s day, on November 11th is famous for its Indian summer. Actually the sun does show its face but it still feels freezing, so it’s my advice to admire the sun through a window whilst huddled round an open fire eating chestnuts. Eating Chestnuts is, in fact, what you do on St Martin’s day, along with copious amounts of food and beverage in the company of friends or family. Then you reach for the Andrews liver salts (if you are lucky enough to have any) to curb the subsequent indigestion.
The best thing about November in Guimarães though, by far, is the annual Jazz festival. It runs for 2 weeks and has been held here for over 20 years attracting some of the big names from the jazz world to this tiny corner of Europe.This year I managed to see Ron Carter. I scurried there after work on the first Friday (the soft melodic sound had me dozing off at one point, proving I am not as young as I used to be and really should have been in bed). Of course it was well worth staying up for, but sadly I had to turn down invites from my girlfriends to go on to the après jazz session following. Some of us have to get up early on Saturdays!
On the last Saturday evening of the festival I bought tickets for my mum and dad, both jazz aficionados, for the “HR big band in Frankfurt “(although the band was, indisputably, in Guimarães). Dad offered to take us all, including my son Marco and his girlfriend, out for a meal before the show. (What a treat, I hadn’t been looking forward to cooking for six people right after a long day at work). Needless to say my husband came for the meal but snuck off home after it (he being an X factor aficionado). He missed a great show of course but jazz is not really his thing. Slippers and sofa are.
When we arrived back home, close on midnight, I got a text from my friends. “Come out to play” it said. It was tempting. The live jam sessions in local bars and cafés after the shows are the best part of the festival and so far I had missed all of them. I looked longingly at my son. (Husband was, at this point, in his pyjamas). “How about taking mum out for a beer?” I ventured. “Just the one”, I added. He looked at me knowingly. His girlfriend decided she had had enough jazz for one evening so we dropped her off and proceeded down town into the night. I suddenly felt young again.
Three beers later, seduced by the mellifluous sounds of the saxophone and comforted by the throb of the big bass, not to mention the effect of the alcohol, I was reminiscing with my friends about parties we had had twenty-five years ago. Poor Marco, he had heard the stories all before. Eventually he got me out of there towards three in the morning. I missed most of Sunday.
But it would be his turn next to party on into the cold night air. On November 29th there is a unique celebration in Guimarães called “Nicolinos”.
This traditional event is mostly for students and involves the transportation of a very tall, phallic-like stripped pine tree through the streets of Guimarães accompanied by a loud, ceaseless but carefully coordinated beating of drums. Old and new students from the town get together for dinner, pranks (cranes have been known to move to different building sites during this night) and booze, and then join the procession. The festival is somewhat pagan, even bacchanal, in tone and ends with the erecting of the pine trunk in a special place on the other side of the city, in the early hours of the morning. Gnome/Santa like hats are worn, declamations, infused with irony and hidden meaning are made on the streets, much drinking is done.
The emergency unit in the hospital takes on extra staff. Perhaps in the bygone days of fascism this was the one night when everyone could break lose and have fun. My son has delayed his holiday so as not to miss it. My friend’s son is coming over from England with two friends on purpose for it. Good luck to them I say. To me the bitter cold night air, the horrendous jostling of drunken youths and the deafening, ear splitting, unstoppable drum beat are enough to make me want to join my husband curled up on the sofa watching X factor re-runs. Give me jazz any day.
Actually roll on Christmas for a properly hung pine tree!
Christine lives half way up a hill overlooking the historic town of Guimarães the birthplace of Portugal. Although Christine has lived in Portugal for most of her life she is still a Brit at heart.
Until recently Christine ran a trading office working with top high street fashion names like John Lewis, Henry Holland and Ted Baker (where she also managed the production in Portugal for a number years). She now works at the British Council teaching part time, works freelance as a translator and, in between, writes.
To connect with Christine via Twitter and Linked in and find links to her e book and other written work visit her "about me"".