Saturday.I'm up early on a bright morning, the last
weekend in June, plotting my strategy for another full day of celebrating Provincetown's Portuguese Festival. The official activities began
Thursday night, with an opening party under a tent at the Bas Relief
-- - food, drink, and dancing into the night.
home last night, with the nostalgic swing music fading behind me,
I thought of the rich history of this little spit of land at the
edge of the "new world".More than ever, I was aware of the deep imprint
of the Portuguese seamen who have risked their lives to make a living
from the sea, descendents of those storied voyagers of a small medieval
nation - isolated from the Mediterranean and facing the Atlantic
- who set sail on the vast unknown of the high seas more than five
centuries ago and brought us into the modern age.
is the sixth year of the revival of this festival of color and tradition,
which showcases the religious, cultural and nautical heritage of
the town's Portuguese community.The
celebration occurs in conjunction with the annual Blessing of the
Fleet. This centuries old rite, held before the onset of the summer
fishing season, calls on divine providence to safeguard ships and
crews from the danger of the seas and ensure a return to port with
a bountiful catch.Still cogent
is an old Portuguese proverb that says, "If you want to learn
to pray, go to sea."
up to the blessing are days of revelry and reunion as the children
and grandchildren, uncles and aunts and cousins arrive from "away" for
a grand homecoming. Mark Silva, whose grandfather Ferdinando Salvador
was a fisherman from the Algarve, the southern most corner of Europe (and the location of the legendary navigational school started by Prince
Henry the Navigator in the 15th century, where some say Columbus
himself studied) is the initiator of the revived festival.
in 1997, the town was looking at ways to strengthen tourism.Mark
recalled that it was the 50th Anniversary of the Blessing celebrations
in Provincetown.He marshaled
a wide group of community volunteers, Portuguese, Irish, Italian,
Yankee, and wash-a-shore, got together a planning committee, and
began raising funds from the business community.The
group planned activities Mark and others remembered from childhood
-- a block dance, a parade, a captains and crews appreciation dinner,
kids games and competitions, fireworks, traditional dancers and musicians,
and food, an infinite variety of local Portuguese food washed down
with ample sips of vinho, and culminating on Sunday with the
Fishermen's Mass at St. Peter's Church and the procession to McMillan
Pier for the Blessing of the Fleet.
that first year, Silva says, the general attendance at each event
has doubled, and more and more of the widely dispersed family of
Provincetown Portuguese are planning their summer trip home during
the festival weekend.It has
become one of the biggest ethnic festivals in New England. Tim McNulty coordinates much of the food organization
out of his famed Lobster Pot in the center of town. McNulty says
that in just 4 hours at the Clam Feed on Friday night, he went through
4,000 clams, 500 lbs. of steamers, and 30 gallons of chowder.
not surprising that the food is the major draw for many who attend
the festival.Mary Jo Avellar, journalist and cookbook author
says that, "Despite the Americanization of the Provincetown
Portuguese, a portion of Provincetown's character and vitality is still deeply Portuguese. Much of that spirit
and character can be attributed to the foods our Portuguese ancestors
enjoyed and which are still prepared today."
began with a Kid's Fishing Derby at Cabral's Pier run by the town
recreation dept. and honoring Capt. Mannie Phillips, legendary figure
on the pier, expert and innovative tuna fisherman, son of immigrants
from Olhấo in the Algarve.
the really important event of the day, at least as far as I'm concerned,
was the Portuguese Soup Tasting.Picture
this:under the tent at the Bas Relief, a line of
welcoming servers hold big ladles poised over steaming pots emitting
the intense aromatic cocktail of native pork sausage, clams, beans,
and kale, onions and spices. Soup, soup, everywhere.For
a mere $5.00, I can have a bowl of each, plus a linguiça roll.
favorite was the spicy Azorean style soup, with hot peppers and saffronand
including chouriço, a pork sausage flavored with paprika and
garlic.Another tasty version that particularly appeals
to my soup-as-nurture mind contains chick peas and linguiça,
squash and sweet potatoes and was provided by L'Uva Restaurant, where
Christopher Covelli is the award winning Chef /Owner.
satisfied, as only good soup can make me, I stepped out into the light, that amazing light that has drawn painters
to Provincetown since the end of the 19th Century, making her the
oldest continuous art colony in America.I strolled
over to Ryder Street and stood among the expanding crowd of folk
swaying and dancing before a stage set up in the town parking lot
where contemporary Portuguese-American musicians play and sing into
the afternoon and evening.
the Homecoming Clam Feed on Friday night, Chef Tim -- impresario,
cookbook author, and entrepreneur (Tim's Chowder, Inc.) -- offered
diners buffet tables laden with clams in every form -- chowder, stuffed,
on the half-shell, steamed, pasta with clam sauce, and the incredible Cataplana,
a heavenly clam stew from the Alentejo region of Portugal, consisting
of tender little clams punctuated with cubes of pork and spicy sausages.
An open bar included excellent Portuguese wines.
need to pace myself.There's still a whole day of festivities before
tomorrow's Blessing.I decide
I'll do a walking tour around town, check out the scattered activities,
before I catch the parade. One of the things I truly love about Provincetown is that it's a walking town.Sometimes I go months without moving my car
from its treasured parking spot.
take the short cut up High Pole Hill, through the grounds of the
Pilgrim Monument, which marks the first landing place of the Pilgrims
at Provincetown, over to Motta field, where there are kids games
and a cookout going on, then back around the through the beautiful
town cemetery.Here on the
leaning grave stones I read still prominent Portuguese names going
back to the 18th century.When
the New England whaling industry began expanding, the Yankee captains
made the Azores a first port-of-call and took on the skilled Azorean
and CapeVerdean crewmen, and the stage was set for Portuguese immigration to Provincetown.
swing past the Food Court at the Bas Relief, which feeds an endless string
of festivalgoers from late morning into the evening.In all the talk of Portuguese food, Ernie Carreiro's
name keeps coming up. Carreiro learned to cook from his dad, one
of 13 children who came from the Azores to New Bedford with his widowed mother.Ernie cooked by his dad's side at Tip for Topsin',
the popular restaurant they ran at the top of the only real hill
in Provincetown.Tim McNulty
calls Carreiro 'The Guru of Pork', for it's Ernie's masterful renditions
of pork dishes that draw the crowd.His
specialty is vinhod'alhos (wine of garlic) -- pork tenderloins,
soaked in a vinegar garlic marinade for a couple of weeks, sliced
thin and pounded into buttery tenderness, grilled and served on a
Portuguese roll. Ernie gives ample credit to the faithful Lions Club
volunteers who keep it all going, but the Food
Court is definitely his kingdom.
is the biggest day of the Festival and the crowd on Ryder Street has expanded exponentially, mostly swaying in the
wake of young Portuguese Dancers in traditional costume who circle
and spin under the waving strings of red and green flags criss-crossing
the street.An elderly woman beside me starts tapping her
foot, and before I know it, she's out in the street, a handsome young
dancer has taken her hand, and she's lifting her skirt and skipping
forward with the heart and smile of the Portuguese girl she still
is.The crowd erupts in wild applause.
day has warmed.The afternoon sky is bright blue, a few puffy
clouds scudding past, and the crowd moves toward Commercial Street to stake out a spot for watching the parade, which
includes Portuguese marching bands from all over SE New England, colorful floats and the town dignitaries.
rush home for a quick shower and a change into something more daring.I don't want to miss my perennial favorite,
dancing in the street to the fine vibes of the Berkshire Bateria
Escola de Samba, a wild group of about thirty talented drummers,
dancers, singers and melodic instrumentalists.The
group performs a wide variety of music from Brazil, including hot
samba rhythms and cool bossa nova jazz -- sounds that keep me moving
in a way my body's forgotten since last year! They cool to a final
drumbeat around , and we walk homeward through the darkened streets,
an ultramarine sky stretched above us, a barely waning moon.
morning.At St. Peter's this morning they celebrated
the Fisherman's Mass. Special prayers were said remembering those
who have been lost at sea. At the conclusion of the Mass, the fishermen
lift the statue of St. Peter, the revered patron saint of the local
church, also a fisherman. Led by the Monsignor and followed by a
column of parishioners and townspeople, they process to the pier,
the historical heartbeat of the town, for the Blessing of the Fleet.In
the old days, Mark Silva remembers, there were more than 60 boats
in the fleet; this year, I count 15.
fishermen board their boats with family and friends and the flotilla
sails past the pier, where the Monsignor blesses the boats with holy
water.The boats pull away,
passengers waving, horns blowing, in a jubilant spirit, out into
the harbor where they will party into the afternoon.
lcweb.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/portam/carte.html.(A fascinating exhibit from the Library of
Congress: ' Portuguese Communities in America: A Cartographic Perspective,' relaying Portuguese
maritime exploration and immigration to the U.S.)