house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Vinho Verde

October is here. Days are still long and warm, but there's a chill in the air and a lingering sadness in the tilt of leaves and long grasses. Trees are laden with fruit, an explosion of apples, quinces, pears. Grapes hang in heavy bunches from endless vines, all around. Grapes are ripe. With this realisation, all North Portugal is astir, there are vineyards to pick, there is wine to be made.

This is the most important time of the year. In the past, schools didn't start until after the grapes had been picked: everyone, children, teachers, grandparents put their shoulder to the task.

Foreigners too, we deduced and resolved to make ourselves useful. Our acquired land is covered in vines. They are all dead. There are rusted wires and granite posts everywhere, you can imagine a vast carpet of golden grapes covering the hillside. Once glimpsed, the past beauty and bounty of the place is unbearable.

Still, there are the neighbours. Everyone seems to have vast vineyards and waiting vats in the garage for making the wine. We meet them one day and offer our help. It is accepted and arranged. Walking back to the car we feel good, selfless, like the humble heroes of the land we clearly are.

As the day approaches, things are heating up in vineyards everywhere. There seems to be a clear order for picking, each person has a scheduled day, this way everyone else can come and help. On the main road, there are long queues of tractors carrying grapes to “adegas”, local wine makers who buy produce from cooperative members.

Thursday dawns, a mild sunny day. We need to wait for our children to finish school before we set off. Not to worry, we won't miss too much: all the action is in the afternoon anyway, we were told. In old clothes and trainers, we finally march through the neighbours' gate. We are tanned, tough and ready for any amount of hard work.

The place is heaving with people, all idle, sitting under fruit trees, sipping juice, playing with a puppy, smiling. We stop, momentarily confused. Is this the right place? Sim (yes). The grape picking? Sim. Scheduled for today? Sim, sim. Y'all having a break? Nao.

There is only one question left. Is the work finished? Sim. Our neighbour, Teresa, rushes from the house full of smiles, waving a wine jug. All done, all done. We are crushed. She leads us to the garage, where the grapes are being pressed. Her portly husband supervises the process, assisted by several friends. Grape juice trickles from a grimy plastic pipe. All eyes follow this process intently.

At some point, chega, it's done. Everyone springs into action. The pressed grapes, large slabs of them still in the shape of the vat, are scooped out into plastic bags. They will be used again, one of the sidekicks explains, to make aguardente, the local spirit. No chemicals, we are repeatedly assured, just good stuff.

All great and enjoyable, but there's a small sneaky thought knocking about our puzzled heads: what are we doing here? We haven't helped and are clearly of no use now (if anything, we are in the way). We try a polite retreat. It doesn't work. Teresa sees us and springs up from the group of women on the porch to deftly block our way out.

We are guided back inside the house, where a long table is laid. For the helpers, we realise with sinking hearts. We pick at our food (except our daughter who hasn't been too torn up about this whole thing, and gulps her portion guilt-free) but hey, as we sip the vinho verde, we start to feel much better. Everyone does. People become chatty and loud, we learn lots about the village, the history of our house, other neighbours, water sources, fruit trees and wine, above all wine.

A long while later, everyone exclaims and embraces warmly and we waltz onto our land. It's not the same, distilled through all the stories. A crumbling overgrown hillside no more, but charmed and alive. The sun nestles in a deep red cloud, glowing like a perfect grape.

As we walk into the old house, elated and swaying a little, we notice something on the long vines that curl through the broken shutters into the living room: four grapes, dark and sleepy, the last surviving fruit. A signature of the season and yet another welcome gift from the land.

We finally do some picking.


At 13 October 2008 at 15:54 , Blogger Magnus said...

what's all this about "we went to the neighbours to offer help"... ?
Bit of a royal we in there nao e?
Like the sleepy offer of grapes in swaying house. Nice.
Story of the well next ?


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