In Aid of Romance

I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that the people of Porto celebrate Festa de São João in late June each year.

There are a number of traditions associated with this celebration, including meals centred around grilled sardines, midnight fireworks, fun with plastic hammers (more on that later), the launching of hot air balloons into the sky, and more.

One such tradition is the exchange of basil plants, which a number of vendors sell complete with four-line poems, many of them – I understand – romantic in nature.

What of roses, you ask? Well, in Porto, and for this particular festival, basil is the scent and plant of choice.

Not fond of exchanging plants with your sweetheart? Not to worry; there are other old traditions involving leeks or garlic flowers which, if I have it right, implied luck or fertility.

We saw plenty of garlic flowers and leeks during the celebration, but one contemporary approach is to be sure to also have a plastic hammer – one that squeaks when used – with which to playfully bop others over the head. It’s not difficult to secure one; vendors begin selling them long before the sun sets. Then, all evening long, people playfully tap fellow partiers of all ages over the head with the plastic mallets.

While this particular vendor didn’t have any of the traditional four-line poems tucked into her plants, a couple selling basil plants from their truck were carefully tucking a poem on a stick into each pot. This vendor had a prime spot, though, and was focused on securing the business of some of the many people mingling in the background.

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