By Kieran Ford
The Heart’s still Beating
The summer has finally returned, let the festivities begin!
I headed off to Central Portugal’s pride and joy, Coimbra. A city often referred to as the heart of Portugal, partly due to its geographical location, and also as it’s the home of Portugal’s first ever and now world famous University, which vital education has flowed from for centuries.
I’ve found Portugal to be a very traditional country in general, and with Coimbra having such a rich history, there are many examples of Portuguese heritage to be found here.
What better way to witness Portuguese culture in all its long-established glory than at Queima das Fitas (Burning of the tapes) – the end of university, exuberant, student carnival where 19th Century traditions are exhibited in a modern day way.
Harry Potter Party?
The celebration nowadays is spread out over an eight day music festival. The main event is the Cortejo – an epic parade taking place on the first Sunday of May.
This marks the end of academic life for students. They burn their ribbons that they’ll no longer need and have one last blowout before taking their intellectual armoury out to war with working life!
The dress-up plays a big part – long black robes (that actually inspired those depicted in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, as she once lived in Porto), ribbons, waistcoats, coloured hats and canes. It’s a real scholar’s fancy dress party.
“…It’s as if they’re riding their statement ridden chariots into the thick of all the corruption and struggles that lie ahead.”
Not a Marching Parade
Huge vibrant floats, bus like, each numbered, one to fifty or so, manoeuvre through crammed and winding streets. Starting at the steps of Coimbra University, they barnstorm down into Praça da República before cavaliering on down to the river.
The floats are lavishly decorated. They represent different subjects and depict strong politically motivated protests.
Riding aboard these floats are the beer sodden students, soaking bystanders and gatherers along the way with a concoction of booze sprayed around in the messiest ways.
There’s Beer Everywhere!
Students can’t leave the ceremony without having poured a beer over a fellow student’s head. It’s quite a bizarre sight – well-dressed youths taking showers under beer cans left, right and centre.
Another strange tradition seen taking place amongst the floats and crowds is one where students hand their wooden cane over to a friend, clench their matching coloured top hats on their heads and bow in preparation for three firm strikes on the top of it. Then follows three kisses on the cheek and it’s rounded off with a good old kick up the arse into the real world!
It’s as if they’re riding their statement ridden chariots into the thick of all the corruption and struggles that lie ahead. They know it won’t be easy, but they have to be prepared to battle through as there’s no avoiding it from here on out!
(♫) Then After the Show it’s the After Party (♫)
So, all in all it’s all pretty crazy, which is quite uncharacteristic of the Portuguese from what I’ve seen. I concluded that when the Portuguese go hard, they go HARD! They just don’t do it as regularly as us Brits…
Another thing about the Portuguese (and Brazilians, there’s lots of them studying here too!), that you think I would have learnt by now, is that they go out LATE.
After watching the carnage unfold all day, I was sure nobody was going to make it out to ‘the party’ in the arena that night.
Around 1:30 / 2am the place was dead compared to the Friday and Saturday nights, and I thought my suspicions had materialised. I began to think about bed. Low and behold around 3.30 / 4 am spruced up groups came bowling through the gates and it just got busier and busier. They just go home, eat, maybe sleep, wash, then head out for round two. As one student had told me earlier – “No one backs down during Queima.”
Same with their nightclubs though isn’t it… Coming home in pure morning daylight is the norm. It’s off to the café for a pastry at the end of the night instead of the kebab shop for a doner!
One of the thoughts leaving the parade was how much of a cleanup job somebody had on their hands… SO many beer cans! Fair play to them, it was already pretty spotless when walking the same streets to the festival that night.
As mentioned at the beginning, it seems the Portuguese stay true to their traditions. They’re a very loyal and proud nation and I think that’s admirable.
Witnessing this historic event still going strong centuries down the line, was as much evidence of this as if the traditions had been canned up and poured over my head!
As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.