Home | Short Stories | Nº 110 – The Sports Hall Alliance.

Nº 110 – The Sports Hall Alliance.

Saturday 16th October 2021.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King? This week, everywhere across the country saw the inauguration of the new „little kings“ and the elected representatives of the county and city councils. Hurray! In Monchique things aren’t much different from Bragança, over 600 km away or Torres Vedras, in the heart of Portugal. Between them you have 308 districts and 3,091 municipalities. The local elections democracy of the year 2021 (to 2025) has its specific ceremonies just as the monarchy had its own before 1910.

Let´s cut to the chase. So we grabbed a bite to eat in a restaurant before the start, because a democratic ceremony of this kind without an orchestra or a buffet spread can be a bit tiring sometimes. Today there’ll be no talk about forest fires, my wife said. A political event on a Saturday night at 9pm is always something special, not just because there is nothing to eat or drink. Nor can you be overly relaxed or step out of line. Which is why many young people probably preferred going to see the new James Bond at the Portimão cinema. They shouldn’t have. Now if the Tomada de Posse had been a dance event, a ball with plenty of pimba music, in Monchique, with its just under 5,000 inhabitants, you could always count on a few hundred guests who would be happy to welcome a new king waving a few flags. If there had at least been some cold platters and a glass of bubbly, a glass of beer or at least a café with medronho, like at the Feira dos Enchidos… Because if there was something special to celebrate with music and a little less ceremony, everyone would enjoy swinging by to greet the new „elected king“ with a Cheers! celebrating four more years in democracy.

The inauguration of a new „Presidente da Câmara Municipal“ would most certainly have deserved a proper setting with music, song and something proper “to stuff your face“. For celebrating democracy is important if it is really precious to everybody concerned. In Monchique this time, the Tomada de Posse, the enthronization and the oath of the elected political representatives took place in a sports hall rather than a palace. Under the conditions of a fading pandemic it was not deemed suitable to celebrate in the far too small assembly room of the Town Hall as was the custom back in the day. There is (as yet) no large assembly room in Monchique and the Casa do Povo lets in the rain, its windows broken. This is where the new guy will have an obvious and immediate area of intervention for setting to work. The outgoing „little king“ held a short farewell speech. Any forest fires, or any responsibility for them did not get a mention. The silent victims will thank him for that, as will my wife.

The last time I was allowed to take part in a ceremony like this – as one of the very few foreigners who are journalists and have permission to be present, a few ladies and gentlemen had to be taken out onto the street, as the oxygen in the air of the small town hall room was becoming scarce. No one had the courage to open the windows wide to allow in some fresh air to dispel the fug of the 27 years his predecessor had spent in office. Now Town Hall has moved to showing the Tomada de Posse in a kind of sports hall, on a handball court on the upper floor of the fire brigade building, and to broadcasting it on the YouTube channel: modern democracy light. The handball court sits the elected representatives and the guests of honour from the fire brigade, the police and the military on uncomfortable chairs, while the common „voting cattle“ on benches are allowed to watch from the stands.

And in Monchique technology really only serves to develop very special snags. Dealing with microphones and the mixing desk for the two loudspeakers don’t (yet) count amongst the tasks of the amateurs with a diploma contracted for the purpose. Go on, take the time to watch the Tomada de Posse on YouTube. Then you might just agree with me. You can’t hear anything above a faint murmuring. You won’t hear anything for the microphones were simply set to a very quiet mode. The Master of Ceremonies in Monchique is the chair of the county council. His name is Carlos. Usually he mumbles a little and speaks far too fast. On the stands he was inaudible, and not much better on YouTube. You have to clamp one of your ears to the laptop loudspeakers and make your imagination work overtime ... Really, things can only get better in Monchique.


The “new king” is now a socialist by the name of Paulo Alves. Congratulations. When he held his speech he was (still) reading it off a bit of paper. His predecessor of the PSD was no different 12 years ago and only actually learnt to speak off the cuff during his time in office. At least the loudspeakers started working all of a sudden. Let’s go, we have a lot of work ahead of us, was what I was able to still make out …

As we know, the difference between humans and animals is that we humans have the conscience to clearly realise that life could soon be over for us should politics not create a legal framework for avoiding forest fires. Some know about them and choose to ignore the fact, the others become sick or mad and die. This is the way it goes with the forest fires and our dear life. On this particular evening we chose to ignore what we know and left the sports hall after sitting through 95 long minutes of hot air. There was still a bit of applause when we descended the stairs and stepped into the street… and into darkness.

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations : Dina Adão, João Medronho, Kathleen Becker
Fotos: Uwe Heitkamp

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