Medronho, the drama of the Monchique mountains that even resists fire, is now a book

A book, which, like the strawberry tree that motivates it, has "49 to 52º % Vol. Alc."

“This non-bourgeois drama takes place in this mountain: two families equidistant in land and wealth, enemies in medronho, driven by a terrible fire, continue to exercise hatred and practice rancor. It was the fire that amplified the old discord». These words, written by Sandro William Junqueira, are by Filomena Capote, incarnated by actress Rita Rodrigues, in the show «Medronho – A Noite das Facas Longas, Tudo na noite», which premiered on March 31, 2017, at the Lagar distillery, in Alferce.

«The medronho makes everyone alike, rich and poor, makes men walk on all fours like dogs and doesn't fear anyone. Attacks fat and thin, defeats warriors and catches cowards. The arbutus defeats all men. It enters their throat like a word in reverse, it dries up their esophagus, burning everything in its path and as it descends into the guts, it rises to the head». This is Afonso Cruz who writes for the show «Medronho – Mulheres da Serra #3, Cover me with your eyes closed», which premiered on March 22, 2018, at Casa do Medronho, in Marmelete, with interpretation of Marta Weevil.

These are just two excerpts from texts written by Sandro William Junqueira and Afonso Cruz for the cycle of shows «Medronho», promoted over three seasons by the Lavrar o Mar project, in the municipality of Monchique, and integrated in the 365Algarve programming.

The words of the two writers have now been edited in the book «Medronho – Theater in the Alto da Serra de Monchique and in the Destilarias», a careful edition produced by the Algarve company (from Aljezur) 1000olhos, with photography by João Mariano, who accompanied him step by step all representations. The edition was paid for by the Municipality of Monchique.

The book was released last Friday, the 21st, in Monte da Lameira, between Monchique and Alferce, which, less than a year ago, was largely devastated by the terrible fire of August 2018, leaving miraculously almost intact the already century-old farmhouses.

For the launch, in the large building where the distillery works and which staged the performances, the space, although large, was small. In that huge room, lit only by the light of oil lamps, at nightfall, there were more than 70 people and there were even people who stood up, to have the privilege of receiving one of the copies of the book, obtaining autographs from the two authors and talk to them.

In such a way that Sandro William Junqueira joked: «I'm going to launch my books here, because in Lisbon there are never so many people».


Sandro William Junqueira and Afonso Cruz

"This book is the result of three years of work", began by saying Giacomo Scalisi, artistic director of the cycle "Medronho". "Last night I had the book in my hands and when I read it, the words had the voice of those actors", he recalled, underlining the work of the group that, over three seasons, embodied the characters of the "non-bourgeois drama". from that species of Romeo and Juliet of the Monchique mountains, over the Capote and the Monteiro, the so-called “two families equidistant in land and wealth, enemies in medronho”.

«Many people had never entered a distillery», before these representations of «Medronho». "We ended up creating a very loyal audience, which has accompanied us throughout these years."

The book presents all the texts that were embodied by actors Estêvão Antunes, Leonor Cabral, João de Brito, Rita Rodrigues, Pedro Frias, Marta Gorgulho, Conceição Gonçalves, António Fonseca and Neusa Dias. All these words were also translated into English, as the work is bilingual. And that translation was “a titanic work”, because they are “difficult texts”, as pointed out by Giacomo Scalisi.

«The mountain range [of Monchique] is a very particular place, where there is this alchemical ritual that is very old, very strong. And that's what we tried to get for these shows, but without denaturing the alchemical ritual of the medronho, without creating a voyeurism», explained the artistic director.

"It was December, a sunny Saturday afternoon, when Giacomo called me." This is how Sandro William Junqueira remembers the invitation made to him to write for this project. Then, "I looked into this territory, I met wonderful people, it was a great learning experience, which made me leave here richer," he added.

«I remember our first visit here, in all the distilleries we drink a medronho…». "I don't know how you remember that!" commented Afonso Cruz, making the auditorium laugh.

“Then the fire happened. Coming back here later was very hard, talking to Márcio, to Zé Paulo…»

Afonso Cruz agreed: “the second wave was more complicated, because of the tragedy of the fire. People were very angry, which is natural».

«Some people say that fiction is an escape from the cruelty of life. I don't agree with anything. We actually spend most of the day fictionalizing, imagining. There must be some reason for this, because more people die in books than in life», began by saying Afonso Cruz.

“What happened to the fire was the truth. When things start to burn, the truth saves us, and to save ourselves we have to imagine, to fictionalize, what can happen. To survive the tragedy and survive the truth».

Afonso Cruz also admitted to having surrendered "to the fascinating world of the distillation of medronho". However, for the writer, «more than knowing how to do it, it is much better to drink it, and it is even better to write about it».


Giacomo Scalisi

At the table, there were also some of the actors who gave voice and body to the characters in this Monchique Romeo and Juliet. There was João de Brito, who participated in the first edition, at Adega do Lagarto, as well as Rita Rodrigues. «I'm an actress, but I've been living in the Algarve for eight years, in the countryside, and that's why it was very good for me to have Lavrar o Mar».

Rita, who was Filomena Capote, Julieta Monchiquense, recalled: “I fell in love with the text. And I thought: I have to make this text mine. That's what I tried, on the way between Monchique and Barão de S. Miguel», from the rehearsals back home.

Leonor Cabral, who participated in the first and second editions, in Alferce and in Marmelete, confessed that she hated aguardente…«and when I was here I drank a lot of strawberries». But “the most incredible thing was discovering that arbutus is a drink to be shared. The medronho has everything that is good, magical, mysterious and even bad, here in the mountains».

Conceição Gonçalves presented herself as «Algarvian and faithful spectator of the first edition». “A year later, Giacomo invited me to join them and write the text by Afonso Cruz. No, I can't decorate anymore! I, who had walked away from the theater, told him no. But Giacomo had the sense to tell me: you'll answer me later».

And the answer turned out to be positive: «it was a very big challenge». Conceição Gonçalves says that, «in addition to meeting these women», he keeps in his memory «the distiller's hands, which are parchment. It was all life that was imprinted on those hands».

João Mariano has been the photographer in charge of recording, in images, the moments lived in the distilleries and in other spaces where the «Medronho» project passed. For him, it was “a very great privilege to have been able to accompany this project” and to have been able to photograph it, “in very difficult conditions”, in distilleries lit only by the dim light of oil lamps and candles or in the rain. But the resulting work, which can be seen now in the book, does justice to the immense quality of what happened in those representations.

«This project is a revisit of my 1997 project, “Alambiques & Alquimistas”», recalled João Mariano, whose company 1000olhos was responsible for the design of the book. "We have a point of honor to work for the region." And they do it very well.

José Paulo, owner of Monte da Lameira, stressed, for his part, that being the stage for some of the shows «is another milestone in the history of this mountain», where arbutus has been produced for over a century. «The first note I discovered is from 1893, from the sale of almude and a half of medronho brandy, for 7 reis and 60 cents». The house “has built around 100 years”.

«From then on, Lameira has always been a reference» in the production of arbutus brandy. In fact, the farm had recently been the scene of an innovation, the planting of cloned arbutus trees. But last August's fire dealt a heavy blow to production, burning everything down. But José Paulo did not lower his arms: «the burnt strawberry trees are all clean. In two, three years, we will be starting over».

It is this resilience, this ability to look the beast in the eye and start over, that passes through the texts of Sandro William Junqueira and Afonso Cruz, now published in a book. “These trees have gone through hell. And now they are resurrected. There in the back. Can you see? The black raised by the simple effort of the herb. It's simple. Nature does things because it can. Then life always finds a way. Black and black and black and then everything turns green (…) When everything turns green the birds will come back».


“These trees have gone through hell. And now they are resurrected»

Rui André, mayor of Monchique, an entity that has supported the «Lavrar o Mar» project since the beginning, «even before there was the money from 365Algarve», and which now pays for the book's edition, thanked Giacomo Scalisi and Madalena Victorino the fact that they have made their land “a cultural destination at the national level, which was unthinkable a few years ago”.

The mayor stressed that "these territories have to be lived all year round" and the shows by Lavrar o Mar are what they promote, especially because they involve the community, "the elderly and the youngest".

Turning to the two writers, Rui André said: «everything they wrote has, happily and unfortunately, little fiction». The saw is just like that. «In the time of the fires, the old people died much more, not because they lost their lives, their physical lives, but everything they built. If they were spared by the flames, it was only to witness the destruction of everything they transformed their flesh into, the fruit of their labor», wrote Afonso Cruz and said by Marta Gorgulho, in Marmelete, in March of this year, after the big fire.

And this book is “fiction, but also a historical document”.

“This is the end of one cycle, but it is also the beginning of another. Giacomo and Madalena are already boiling with ideas!”, announced Rui André. And it will be. Next October, it will soon be seen what the fourth cycle of Lavrar o Mar will bring to the Monchique mountains and Aljezur.

As Anabela Afonso, program curator for 365Algarve pointed out, «Giacomo and Madalena always manage to surprise us with the work they do». After the shows, now it's the book that shows it well. A book that, as Madalena Victorino said, «is the fixation of what you lived and that is now so well translated here».

The book «Medronho – Theater in Alto da Serra de Monchique and in the Distilleries» can now be purchased at the Municipality of Monchique and also at the 1000olhos store, the Aljezur SW Portugal store (next to the Aljezurense municipal market), for 15 euros.


Photos: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação and till the sea