An evening in the country is always pleasurable. And an evening in the country around the supper table with friends, even more so. But when you find yourself in company where one member has a birthday, and your hostess has arranged a surprise treat, then an evening in the country can turn into something quite special.
And so it was, that I found myself being entertained by the Fado Marialva.
Rural areas in Portugal came very late to electricity. Traditional homesteads, such as the one at which I was a guest, have not abandoned time-served means of cooking, heating and lighting, for who knows when 21st Century power may fail, and necessitate a return to the old ways.
In the failing light, the paraffin lamps were brought out, and the doors and windows flung wide open to receive the cooling breezes, for there were many flushed cheeks that required to be cooled! The wine was taking effect, and the blurred edges around everything may not have been entirely attributable to the flicker of the lamps!
The evening was gathering momentum, and the once reserved trio were starting to get into their stride. Their audience was starting to recover from the initial surprise.
To those of us who were familiar with Fado, and especially those songs which form part of the Marialva's repertoire, no sooner was one finished, than another request was shouted out. With traditional country fare on the table, and a seemingly never ending supply of local wine, short breaks for the singers to step outside for a smoke, and to rest the vocal chords, did not prevent time passing at a gallop. We cannot remember how many songs we got through, many favourites, or especially stirring ones, being sung more than once. And we prefer NOT to remember how many times certain of those among us couldn't resist the urge to get up and do a jig! To think that Fado is funereal, is to do it a great disservice, since while some lovely slow ones were sung, and some which were religious, that evening called for something different.
As I looked at the faces of those men that night, I started to wonder if perhaps I might be able to understand some day, what it is about Fado that means so much to them and indeed all Portuguese. They were singing about their way of life, and the things which mattered most to them, and about which they cared passionately. Gone were the cares of the day, the worries about the economy and all those external factors that knaw away at our wellbeing. The more they sang, the more expressive they became, none more so than the guitarist, who had to be reined in on occasion, and reminded that this was not a solo performance!
And eventually, it was, with great regret, that we had to call it a day. The food was exhausted, the wine was exhausted and so were the people.
People who started out being strangers, and parted, the greatest of friends.
This most enjoyable of evenings was spent at Quinta do Archino.