There’s one thing in common in many places at theÂ North of Portugal and Spain: the strong traditions around masks and those who wear it. Each of these celebrations has its own symbolism and calendar, often are fitted around Winter Solstice or Shrovetide, andÂ the origins are very similar and go as far as pagan, pre-christian, mostly Celtic origins. These are rituals whereÂ anonymity makes possible what’sÂ notÂ tolerated in the rest of the year, the rich and the poor can switch places, issuesÂ that have been kept inside throughout the year can be now said or evenÂ avenged and settled under the cloak a costume or a mask worn by the “caretos” (the masked figures common to many). And what makes Lazarim known is theÂ intricate and elaborate alder masks, crafted wooden pieces that, in its traditional form, take the shape of gentlemen, ladies and the most popular ofÂ all:Â demons.
Lazarim isÂ tucked in a small valley near Lamego,Â to reach it you get a chance to pass to the top of the Montemuro mountains, one of the highest places ofÂ Portugal that holds that harsh beauty that aÂ mountain range can give you. In a brief stop there’s even theÂ chance to beholdÂ the curvy road downhill, in a distance the human presenceÂ becomes more frequent, leading the way to the destination. Driving downhill the village slowly appears, first with the more isolated settlements, even the empty football field, to then appear suddenly after a curve, protected and hidden at the bottom of a valley. The masks are obvious and ubiquitous once getting there, not only because this was Carnival time (or Entrudo, Portuguese for Shrovetide, the more traditional and common name), but also because it’s hard not to miss the iconic “mask demons” in posters in bus stops, in small engravings in stone fountains. It makes perfect sense to have the newly built Iberian Mask Centre here.
“Carnival has born with us”, Amândio Lourenço told me in one of the few times weÂ met in the street, when we chatted about the village and the masks, in between the tales of his lates hunting trip, and he knows what he’s talking: he’s one of the responsible for keeping the tradition alive and adapted it to the late XX century. Like the other Shrovetide traditions, its pagan nature combined with authority defyingÂ rituals meant it wasn’t a tradition fondly acceptedÂ by the very conservative and catholic-driven regime of the mid XX century. “Often the organizers were summoned to goÂ to court at Lamego, when that happened the whole village would appear!”, he added before we part ways.
With the Carnation revolution, the defiant side of this tradition, that actually fueled it for decades, was gone,Â and with that traditionÂ has evolved. The traditional masks, the public shaming and the stew cooked in the main square on Shrove Tuesday (which I missed…)Â were joined by new elements: now groups of caretos from other regions join the party, as the different Iberian mask traditions form tighter bonds; and an anual contest among all the maskÂ craftsmen was created and it has built some real competition between them. Some new designs appeared, built with newer tools and with motifsÂ related to theÂ public figures and current affairs (which may fit elsewhere but are strange in a timeless tradition like Lazarim Shrovetide), but others kept the traditional. I was able to find that while walking downhill, along the the road that turned into main street, when I reachedÂ Adão‘s workshop. There Eduardo, his son, workedÂ on a solidÂ block of wood, carving it piece by piece, with a very rough picture of a demon starting to become visible. “You don’t putÂ a Â mask on a piece of wood, the mask is already inside itÂ and you just need to find a way to reveal it” he said while hitting that block with a chisel, a very poetic way to way to tell that when you need to work with the wood to get a finished mask, try to force something else and it will fail.
The wanderings on the narrows streets of stone wallsÂ were becoming closer to the time of the Shrove Sunday parade,Â which was obvious with the last minute rehearsalsÂ or the crowd starting to gather in the main street, but there was still time for a glass of jeropigaÂ inside a dark wine cellarÂ (aren’t those always dark?),Â just before going to meet the caretosÂ running down Lazarim.
You can also checkÂ the all of my photos from LazarimÂ and the rest of myÂ shots ofÂ Portugal’s Beira Alta region