Bulls and Jerry
Has it been a whole year since I last blogged about being at a Portuguese bullfight?
Well, I guess we have some catching up to do. I know I promised to blog about pickles and stuff, and trust me, I'll get to that. Just so you know, theres a jar of sauerkraut, various vegetable pickles, and pickled eggs waiting for you in the fridge. The olives – well, we've hit a small roadblock with those, but we're proceeding along, slowly but surely.
In the meantime, let's talk Catholics, shall we?
Growing up, I knew two kids from Catholic families: James Pack and Emmy O'Connell. Emmy's name was short for "M.E.", or Mary Elizabeth, a good Irish Catholic name if there ever was one.
To a kid growing up in the evangelical South, Catholics were as strange and exotic to me as Jews, Asians, and the hippies next door who asked to eat the baby bamboo shoots growing around our house. For one thing, they had very large families, which was only unusual in that they didn't also have a broken refrigerator in front yard and a porch full of stray dogs.
Second, for Christians, they had all kinds of extra little rituals and prayers that, unlike us Lutherans, didn't involve stepping downstairs for a cup of coffee when the Pastor started his sermon. Compared to them, Stacy Kurtz and Hugh Feinberg were so WASPish they could've practically shit broccoli cassaroles at the word "potluck".
I bring this up only because it's one of these strange Catholic rituals that today provides Bruce, Seth, Zack, yours truly, and the rest our Bay Area posse with plenty of gratuitous bull-on-human violence – otherwise known as the Our Lady of Fatima Festa.
Although, we're not travelling 84 miles to get blessed and pray. If we end up praying at all, it'll be that we get to Thornton on time since the accident up ahead has backed up traffic all the way from Tracy to the Altamont Pass. Rather we're going to this little Delta town to get our grub on, drink a little whiskey and wine*, and watch some crazy Portagees jump into a ring with one pissed-off bull.
*excluding me, of course.
This is the third to last bullfight/Festa of the season, and also one of the largest. As we arrive in the small town of Thornton (non-Festa population: 2,702), cars, people, and RVs are everywhere. So are Portuguese flags. To be honest, I was a little surprised at how big this event was. Compared to the bullfights I'd been to in Escalon, Stevinson, and Newman, this took the cake – or torta actually. Of course, those events were less religious, at night, and in smaller arenas.
To say the place was crowded is like saying Pope Benedict XVI kinda just knew some dudes in the Nazi Party. It's a madhouse and packed like a can of Portuguese sardines (of which I prefer those packed in olive oil with their skins on).
After catching up with some of our friends who were there waiting for us, we immediately decided to buy tickets ($20 a pop) and then find some chow. It wasn't long until we found the booth that sold food tickets.
The crudely drawn menu was simple, although a little confusing to those of us who don't speak the language. No bother, with such a limited menu, how could one go wrong?
As it turns out, most of the menu selections were specialties of the Azores, such as the Polvo (Guisado) – a slow-cooked, rich and meaty, octopus stew made with Portuguese red wine – and the Torresmos, a marinated roast pork made sometimes with a combination of spare ribs and chops.
The menu reads:
$10.00 – Pratos (plates of): Peixes (fried fish), Torresmos (roast pork), Linguica con feijao (sausage with beans), polvo (octopus stew)
$3.00 - Linguica sandwich
$2.00 - Hot Dog
$1.00 - Coffee or Donuts
$2.00 – Tremoco (lupini beans)
Unfortunately they were out of the torresmos when I stepped to the window, although our group tried everything else, including everyone's favorite for the day, the octopus stew.
The stew was thick, rich, and flavorful with a fresh seafood flavor with a noticeable tomato base. It seemed to have just enough spice to it, but not so much that it overpowered the seafood. The color of the wine gave this dish a beautful, slightly purplish hue that accompanied the other ingredients nicely.
The peixes, or fish, was a breaded and fried, bone-in, oily whitefish covered in a spicy onion confit. It was joined by two traditional accompaniments: a light and airy, freshly-baked roll and two jacketless potatoes boiled in chicken stock.
This dish was filling, and the one I chose. Having lost 25 pound now by cutting out bread and white potatoes, I could appreciate the carbs being served with this side of protein. It's energy food and, as I later learned from a truck's rear window sticker parked near the port-a-johns, Port-a-Gee dairymen often require carb-laden meals such as this in order to do what they do to make a living.
Other folks had the linguica served with Portagee beans and a roll. Eating linguica at a Portuguese event should be considered as mandatory as checking the bottoms of your shoes after walking through a field full of cattle.
I tried the linguica and thought it was fine. After all, I consider myself an expert by now. Bruce wasn't so happy with it. He said it had a little too much gristle for his taste. But despite the occasional piece of inedible gristle, I thought the flavor was good and spicy.
The beans were the real winner on this prato. For Bruce's Dad's birthday party, he made traditional Boston baked beans while his Portuguese sister-in-law made her family's Portagee beans. Guess which ones went first?
By a long shot?
I've got to get a recipe for these and share it with you.
Other than the baked beans, there was the traditional Portuguese snack food, tremoco, aka lupini beans.
You and I know them as lupini beans because, as it happens, the Italians like them too, and as everyone in the Mediterranean knows, if the Italians like them, everyone hears about it, simply because they yell so much. I imagine that there is a chicken vs. egg debate amongst the Portuguese and the Italians about who liked lupini beans first, and that often this is settled by a race downhill chasing a goat while wearing a block of cheese on one's head.
It's a good thing too, since if it was settled in the bullfighting ring, the Portagees would win time and time again.
The ring at Thornton was larger and better maintained than some of the others I've been to, and good thing, since there were people squished together everywhere you looked. There were the matadors, the forcados, the cavaleiros, the full brass band, the beauty queens, and several tons of bulls all gathered in this one small location.
Some of the best sportsmanship I've ever seen was shown in this ring that day and many, many hats were thrown into the ring for the brave forcados and bullfighters. I saw guys get pummelled, stepped on, and thrown into the air by a mean, lean, fighting bull machine.
In a word: exciting.
Crazy motherfuckers that they are, but exciting nevertheless.
In one of the most surreal moments of my life, and definitely in the life of the 60ish year old guy from LA whom I spoke to afterwards and who drove up for the event, Jerry Springer made a surprise guest appearance in the ring.
I kid you not.
Apparently, he's learning the Paso Doble (a Spanish dance) and his producers wanted to film him at a real bullfight (tune in this Tuesday).
Since Spaniards don't arrange bullfighting events in California, and Dancing with the Stars's producers are too cheap to buy a plane ticket to Spain, they came to the Portuguese bullfight – and if I was Portuguese, I'd be just a little pissed off.
I mean, what the fuck? Salazar dies before Franco, yet Spain gets all the photo-ops. Spain doesn't even have Tremoco!! Yet everytime someone wants to do a Dancing with the Stars segment on the Paso Doble they have to go bother the Portagees in California!
What are we? Bac-o-bits? The Office (American version)?
It's a good thing I was pissed about it, since no one else was. When the production assistant announced to the crowd that by staying we agreed to waive our right not to be filmed, the sound of "what the fuck just happened to my civil liberties?" was instead replaced with "Jer-ry, Jer-ry".
I know this is a small town, but Geez. It's just Jerry Springer – you know, the guy who wrote the check to the hooker when he was mayor of Cincinnati? Folks were acting like it was a miracle from Our Lady of Fatima herself (although, it was little uncanny that Springer showed up on this day of all days).
OK, I admit it. I stayed.
And, to his credit, it was filmed after the bullfight was over. Besides, I actually like Jerry Springer, especially after I heard this.
And other than Seth, he was probably the only leftwing Jew within 30 miles of the Temple Israel's Adopt-A-Highway sign. Apparently this didn't go unnoticed, as one of the holy warriors from the Blue Army of Our Lady's local sleeper cell brought out the big guns.
A little advice: holy water doesn't work against the undead. You have to chop off their heads.
As the night progressed, Mass was held in front of the ring, between the community center and the church. One by one, people approached the altar of Our Lady to receive blessings and pray for their loved ones, most of whom were over at the community center getting their picture taken with Jerry.
Thus, pictures taken, food eaten, real bulls fought, fake bulls fought, Jerry and us leave the sleepy little town of Thorton, reminding it that it would see us next year, if we're lucky, and to take care of itself.
And each other.
PS For more photos, check out my Flickr page. You won't be sorry!!