Day 4: Ribeiro Telles Clan

I spent Saturday and Sunday at the home of Manuel Ribeiro Telles Bastos. First let me give a little background into the 42 last names that most Portuguese people have. It is a combination of the mother and father’s surnames. In this case, Manuel’s mother is Ribeiro Telles (one last name) and Bastos is his father’s surname. It can get pretty convoluted if your parents have long last names.

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The Ribeiro Telles family is 4 generations of bullfighters, a very long tradition. The great grandfather has passed but, the grandfather, David Ribeiro Telles, is still alive. His sons are bullfighters and now the 4th generation of bullfighters is carried on by Manuel, his cousin Joao, and another cousin Antonio who is a bandarileiro. I met both of them when they came to California for a bloodless bullfight.

David Ribeiro Telles is called Mestre David, meaning master. He is considered a master just as Luis Valença and Nuno Oliveira. He is one of the masters of the classical art of bullfighting.

Saturday I came to watch Antonio, 3rd generation, practice for his bullfight on Sunday. Antonio is well respected as a bullfighter as well. He learned riding not only from his father, David, but also he spent a year training with Nuno Oliveira. So the man has skills. I watched Antonio warm up each of his horses and then practice with the tourinha- a bull on wheels powered by a bandarilheiro (the guys in the bullring that assist the cavaleiro).

He practiced with each horse, some requiring some tweaks and perfecting. He did just some simple work with the tourinha. Didn’t over work anything. If the training isn’t there now, it isn’t going to be there the next day either! These were all seasoned bullfighting horses anyway. When standing next to one of them, it’s like being next to a ninja or a samurai. You can feel the power radiating off of them, but they are peaceful and quiet. Not anxious or nervy. That is a common characteristic of the Ribeiro Telles horses…they are calm, which I like.

Once he was done, I was invited to join the family for lunch. In traditional Portuguese fashion, representatives from all generations and all corners of the family were there. Aunts, cousins, brothers, mothers, nieces, and the grandfather. It was lively in the kitchen, food being prepared, conversations going. Some Portuguese women are loud… You might think you’re being yelled at, but no. It’s just her making a point. Emphatically. They were all very warm and friendly. Everyone probably wished I spoke more Portuguese. And most said they don’t speak English, but when pressed, some can speak a bit of it.

It’s awkward not being able to communicate your point and so sometimes this leads to a lot of silence, neither side knowing what to say…Literally. But also in attendance was Antonio, Manuel’s cousin. Antonio speaks enough English. So the poor guy was basically my translator the whole day with many people saying (I assume- because it was in Portuguese), “Tell her…. Ask her…” It was very nice that they wanted to converse despite the language barrier. And the feeling was mutual. Antonio’s mother was there, and she understood a little English, and with my tiny bits of Portuguese and Spanish, we did ok. I told her how her son and his cousins had a grand old time when they were in California, trying to get me to say the most complicated words, with lots of swallowed vowels and phlegm. One evening, during their visit, we were at someone’s house and she had made a traditional Portuguese fish dish called bacalhau (bah-cahl-louw—with the end sounding kind of like wow, but with an “L”). The boys kept asking me to say it, over and over. So by the end of the night, not only could I say that word…but it was the only word I could remember. So we all laughed knowing I wouldn’t starve during my trip because I can always ask for bacalhau!!!!

It was a lively lunch with lots of conversation, none of which I caught on to. But that’s ok. Despite not knowing most of the words, I could still pick up on the general topic sometimes and definitely when a joke was told. Laughing is laughing everywhere in the world. It would be funnier if I knew what was going on, sure, but I still enjoyed myself.

I also had dinner with the Ribeiro Telles clan. (It’s a big family- David had 12 children…..) We went to Antonio’s new facility. It was just on the other side of their family land, a large stretch of property near Coruche. The facility has an indoor picadero with stables enclosed along the outside and a full size bullring. It’s brand new, all white with red trim. It’s gorgeous. The horses live better than I do! Dinner is a long affair with a couple of courses, dessert, and lots of wine. The food was excellent. And I tried rabbit…yes rabbit. Bugs Bunny in a bowl. A pot, actually. They put the WHOLE rabbit in! Head and all… sans fur of course. I did not try head of rabbit, just the regular parts. It was good, I have to admit.

Again with Antonio (4th generation Antonio—I think there are only 10 males names across all of Portugal) as my translator, I could partake in some of the funnier stories being told. Conversation lasted late into the night.

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