You won’t find any scantily clad ladies parading the cobbled streets of Lazarim for carnival. This tiny village in northern Portugal draws the crowds for its more traditional pre-Lenten celebrations (entrudo in Portuguese), which it claims are the “most genuine in Portugal”. The Caretos of Podence might have something to say about that and I’m not about to step in between them. Suffice it to say that they are extraordinary and deeply rooted in local culture.
My main reason for going was to see the wonderful handcarved wooden masks worn by Lazarim Caretos (those disguised as the devil). Whether their festivities are better than any other villages is debatable but the quality of the craftsmanship that goes into their costumes is unrivalled.
Mask-makers spend countless hours transforming a section of solid tree trunk into a wondrous mask. Each tries to outdo their peers with imaginative designs and I am left in awe. Not just of the skill involved but I imagine they weigh a ton so must be hard work to wear. That doesn’t deter the little ones – I saw one child sporting a wooden Mickey Mouse mask.
While Lazarim’s masks have wood in common, the costumes are more varied. Some are fashioned from sackcloth, others from woven grasses, cane or material. The complete disguise gives the wearer the anonymity required to get up to all manner of misdeeds and pranks. Acts that they would never normally get away with, at least not back in the days when people lived in fear of censure and reprisals from religious and civil authorities.
The careto procession on the Tuesday, accompanied by a marching drum band, paves the way for the comadre and compadre to take their place on a balcony overlooking the main square. Their voices are those of a young (single) man and woman from the village, solemnly dressed as befits their role. It’s their job to read out a litany of transgressions made by fellow singletons in the village, the more risqué the better.
From what I was able to understand, much of the accusations were based on Facebook statuses and involved much belittling and good natured mocking. Those named and shamed, and those who know them, found it all highly entertaining. However, if you don’t understand Portuguese or know any of the people involved, this part of the proceedings will soon be lost on you. It goes on for quite a while so take the opportunity to go for a stroll around the village and grab a drink or visit the Iberian Mask Centre (see below).
Burning effigies and grumpy cows
After the wrong-doings have been revealed to all and sundry, it’s time to burn the effigies of the godparents. I missed this so I can’t say how exciting, or otherwise, it might be but there are fireworks involved. As we were walking back to the car, I spotted a couple of well-dressed but fed up cows waiting in the wings but I’m not sure of their role in the proceedings.
Cauldrons of stew
Before the main parade began, I followed a few of the caretos to a small square and watched as they congregated in preparation. In the middle of the square, a collection of black cooking pots stood around a blazing fire. Although I didn’t stick around for a bowlful, these contained feijoada, a hearty bean and meat stew, and caldo de farinha, a filling broth made with corn flour, cabbage and pork sausages – all destined to be dished up to the participants and crowds that evening, along with a generous helping of musical entertainment.
Iberian Mask Centre
The brand spanking new Centro Interprativo da Máscara Ibérica wasn’t there last year but from the photos I’ve seen, seems a worthy addition to the village. Lazarim is by no means the only village with ancient carnival traditions, striking masks and colourful costumes. Inside the Iberian Mask Centre, you’ll find a map of other regions and villages that have similar festivities along with examples of their costumes.
You can also see the process involved in carving Lazarim’s wooden masks and may even get to watch artisans at work. I don’t think there’s much information in English, if any, but as it’s mostly visual, this shouldn’t put you off visiting. It has a café, too, and probably the best public bathroom facilities in the village.
Note: If you’re especially interested in Iberian masks and costumes, there’s another great museum in Bragança.
And a great event to watch out for in Lisbon is the annual Iberian Mask Festival, held in early May.
The activities start on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday and range from parades, high jinks and a photography walk with the Caretos (you need to sign up for this). Tuesday is the main day with a masked parade though the streets, the reading of the testimonies, burning of the effigies and pots of bean stew.
Tip: Don’t bother trying to park in the village if you go on Shrove Tuesday – the roads are closed so you’re best off parking on the hill leading down to it.
Tip: Make sure you’re dressed for the weather, which is likely to be cold. There’s a lot of standing around and waiting going on.
Tip: The procession itself goes through a short narrow street between two squares. Try to get a spot near the junction of the main square and this street so you can see the caretos.
If you can’t make it to Lazarim, or are trying to decide whether or not it’s worth the trip, check out this video:
BEFORE YOU GO...
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