Big Carnival in small Terceira

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Ostatnia aktualizacja: 2020-04-22. Autor: Milena

Carnival in Terceira – a big carnival on a small island

Carnival (in Portuguese: Carnaval) is one of the events that the islanders are waiting for all year. And the moment it’s over – they cure a cold and wait for the next one. And next. And next. It is a tradition that is definitely worth looking at. I will lead you through it with my eyes.

„You have to go to the carnival” – I hear.

But how do I have to? Carnival is just a carnival, every occasion to celebrate is good and I don’t feel like celebrating right now. And how is it – that the carnival lasts from Saturday to Tuesday? And that Tuesday (Shrovetide) is supposedly a day off just because there is a party? And some public institutions also have a day off Monday? What the hell?

But fine.

I’m putting on a leather dress, I’m drawing a black spider’s web around my eyes and I’m going out.

I hear later that my outfit was more suited to Halloween than to carnival. That it is gloomy at Halloween and wild and colourful at carnival. But that’s okay, I’m going to check what’s all the fuss about. Before leaving the bar of a friend, I still see a boy in a pink ballet skirt and pink tulle wings. I’m going out.

I’m going to Rua de São João. And there’s a real party there.

Rua de São João is one of the streets leading from the main street Rua da Sé to the marina in Angra. During the carnival (just like during Sanjoaninas) it becomes the party center of the island. Everyone who loves costume parties gets here. Especially on the last Saturday and… Monday of the carnival. Yes, Monday – eventually, Tuesday is a day off and you can sleep.

Creating a fancy, original costume is a challenge that many people gladly take on. They try, buy, order, sew, knit, cut, glue, paint… The more expressively and colourfully, the better.

On the streets you can see witches, pirates, frogs, knights, trees, and even Frida Kahlo.

„That’s why in the stores they had all these Spiderman and maids costumes, and masks, and hats in all sorts of colours and shapes,” I’m thinking. And I’m watching groups of laughing people who party as if it was the best party of their lives. Who knows, maybe it is. The next best one will be on Monday. Another one – during the Sanjoaninas. And then again the carnival.

I’m walking and looking at people. I am not in a fun mood at the end of February 2017, the beginning of my stay on the island, when I don’t know what and how, I feel how different I am. There is a crowd on the street, but somehow I can’t get lost in this crowd. I come back home feeling that this is a fantastic tradition, but not mine. Maybe someday I’ll get to her, maybe not. But it’s definitely an event worth seeing.

Bailinhos, though, conquer my heart.

Everyone around is also talking about bailinhos. And everyone is surprised that I do not know what it is. Well, this is a typical Terceira tradition, so it’s no surprise I don’t know it. But I get to know it quickly.

Bailinhos are theater, music and dance groups, composed mainly of amateurs, which are created especially for the carnival period (last weekend, from Saturday to Tuesday). Original scenarios, music, choreographic arrangements, specially sewn costumes in all colours of the rainbow, long weekend and evening rehearsals… All this in order to drive for four days from one cultural center to another and comment on contemporary social and political reality from the stage. Both local, understandable only to the inhabitants of the island or even a commune, and worldwide.

Sometimes there are professionals in the groups, but usually bailinhos are people who have their other work and occupancies – and only for the carnival period they put on a colourful costume and enter the stage. Some invariably every year for two decades. Or longer. Because it’s an addictive activity.

Before this happens, however, bailinhos will have long weeks of preparation. Carnival is such an important event that even test dates in schools are sometimes postponed because of it!

My first contact with bailinhos consists mainly of questions starting with „But how is it possible?”

But how is it possible that there is no schedule? But how is it possible that no one knows when the next group will come? And who will be the next group? But how is it possible that you have no idea how long it will last? But how is it possible that you have food and drink, and blankets? Are you really going to sit here from the afternoon until the very morning??

During the first experience with bailinhos, I didn’t understand not only a word from the stage, but I also didn’t understand the whole cultural context. In small and larger cultural centers, people come as soon as possible, take their seats, put on a blanket and sit in fact from the afternoon until the dawn. They watch one performance after another, comment, compare to what the same group showed last year. They wonder which bailinhos are the most interesting this year, evaluate the set and costumes, wait impatiently for their neighbour, daughter or fish seller to appear on the stage.


They go to the bar to eat bifana and treat each other with biscuits.

Yes, there is a bar next to each cultural center during the carnival, where you can buy a bifana (a roll with a cutlet I mentioned several times, the absolute hit of each event), beer and other drinks and snacks. Besides, everyone is usually well stocked with chips, biscuits and orangeade. Carnival is not the time for healthy eating. Unfortunately, this trend has not arrived on the island yet.

But many bacteria and viruses arrive to the carnival.

It is not surprising that after all-night parties in the streets and sitting until morning in the halls full of people a large part of participants later walk and cough, sneeze and hunch with cold. Some people, in order to avoid illness, choose to watch bailinhos performances in a comfortable armchair in their own home. Yes, some performances are broadcast live by local TV. It is not the same as participating in this great social event live, but it is always an option for those who put their comfort and health over live emotions. Or they just can’t leave the house.

But back to my „But how is it possible?” – everything that I was not able to understand when I first came across bailinhos became completely normal the next year. I hummed to carnival songs that I would hear over and over on the radio, sat with friends on a hard bench in a cultural center, laughed at local jokes, clapped loudly to the rhythm of lively music and commented on extremely beautiful hats. But I spared myself candies. Tomatoes waiting for me at home appealed to me much more.

Well, carnival is also food: filhoses fritas (known as malassadas on São Miguel) and filhoses do forno.

They are not as good as tomatoes, but this is what the carnival is about. Both types of sweets are traditionally prepared and consumed only during the carnival. These are typical local delicacies that Google’s translator once translated to me as „children”. In Portuguese, „children” is „filhos”, apparently „filhoses” sounded similar to Google. The translation was about what the Azorean people were eating during the carnival …

Filhoses fritas look a bit like large angel wings, and taste similar to donuts. These are deep-fried dough slices, sprinkled with a lot of sugar.

In Portugal everything has to be sweet. That is why I am surprised how well filhoses do forno are doing here. It’s probably the least sweet of Portuguese treats. Outside, we have an unsweet dough baked in the oven, inside – a lemon filling with a pudding consistency. One portion of such a dessert is enough for the whole evening, although there are people who can eat up five of them.

Andreia z Biscoitos z filhoses do forno

The carnival is a festival of the whole island.

As I mentioned – this is an event that most people wait for all year. They prepare themselves, put on their fancy costumes („dressed up”, „in costume” means „fantasiado” in Portuguese) and freeze on the streets and in the community centers, waiting for the next bailinhos performances. Meeting more friends. Laughing out loud and enjoying life. On Tuesday, they sleep off sleepless nights – and begin to wait for the next carnival. Apparently life is also about having something to wait for, right? See you next time!

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