It’s common knowledge that Paris and much of France shuts down for vacation in August.
What’s not that well-known is that many French people head to Spain and Portugal, where they visit their “poor” cousins, friends, and family members while enjoying down-home Portuguese and Spanish hospitality.
In other words, “férias!”
Throughout the month of August, those of us living in central Portugal cannot help but be bombarded by ubiquitous brightly-colored plastic bags hanging everywhere, imprinted with too many letters too small to read while driving, announcing this town’s férias … or that one’s.
Suddenly, little villages and larger towns are where it’s happening … with overpriced food cooked and eaten with flies al fresco, beer by the barrel or bottle, and second-string singers who – though advertised as famous – appear in our own little hamlets to entertain us.
Observes the Rev. António Vitalino in Reconquista, Beira Baixa’s regional religious newspaper, “Infelizmente não é apenas por causa da sua condiçao de ser peregrine, que o ser humano se desloca do torrã e do país onde nasceu. Mas também devido a guerras, a perseguições, a cataclismos e à fome.”*
Father Vitalino obviously overlooked or forgot about the férias!
Assuming, of course, that fires don’t disrupt the festivities, the férias change everything … for better and worse, beginning with the people. Overcapacity indulging is what turns community “festas” into férias.
Joyous occasions though these celebrations can be, they bring along with them troubles … and trash.Trash bins that barely can contain their own disposables now overflow, unable to close. More refuse in plastic bags continues to be added and placed on top of and next to the bins, where cats and dogs roaming the streets rip them open and feast of their entrails … leaving tracks of thrown-away food and decayed vittles throughout the village.
“Land mines” multiply, as an influx of immigrant dogs and cats that accompany adults and children are let loose to litter on our streets.
Capillaries barely capable of carrying – or accommodating – vehicles to begin with are suddenly overwhelmed beyond capacity. Cars are left wherever: in the middle of streets, at roundabouts and intersections, double- and triple-parked, anywhere and everywhere.
No room at the inn? Forget the inn. There’s no room for the locals at their own coffee shops and bars, a sacrilege greater than sin.
Hobbit houses otherwise abandoned the rest of the year are brimming, bulging, and bursting at their seams with visitors and far-away families. Adolescents aged from barely double-digits to teenagers and young adults – people who should know better – go carousing noisily through the streets at very early morning hours, while their elders desperately try to rest and sleep. There’s plenty of noise-making at these férias. From the babble of voices around communal tables, eating and drinking … to the spine-chilling feedback of rebellious sound amplifiers … too-late hijinks of intoxicated youngsters weaving their way through our streets … and the firecrackers, a bit too dangerous for these times of ferocious fires.
Just as férias can be good for one’s soul and community spirit, it’s also quite healthy to bypass the hustle-bustle for calm and tranquility.
Needless to say, this year is quite different.
Maybe for their own good — and ours — people will stay put?
*“Unfortunately it is not only because of their pilgrim condition that the human being moves from the torrent and the country where he was born. But also because of wars, persecution, cataclysms and famine.”
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Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.