The Estela’s fair is one of those popular events that currently only competes in popularity with Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the portuguese president. It is a few kilometers from the Nacional Street 13, at the northern end of the Póvoa de Varzim’s county, with benches on one side and the other, more interior alleys where authentic canvas tunnels are erected.
You just can not find what does not exist - there is the freshness of vegetables, fruit, potatoes, onions, more clothes, footwear, sports props, toys.
Everything is even (almost) everything. In the middle of this bazaar, there is a greyhound track on a private lot, built by the owner of the land about 20 years ago.
Estela's track received the encased race of Mindelo (Vila do Conde), which this Sunday would be used to raise funds for the Red Cross, but this was canceled due to pressure from SOS Animal.
Arriving in that Estela’ zone (Contriz’s place) in fair weekend day can be a martyrdom - intense traffic in EN13 - or a balm.
If you go through the streets and alleys of the land closer to the sea, you will regale yourself with the greenhouses that supply most of the food: spicy meloas, refreshing tomatoes, detoxifying and tasty cabbage, a rainbow of colors and tempting flavors that are the result the merging of the land fields with the sand of the dunes.
There are also fanciful and suggestive cornfields, especially if you have seen Woody Allen's Match Point and the very romantic scene between the characters of Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
In the middle of that refreshing piece of rurality, another ancient symbol of that place draws attention to some curious and dozens of devotees: greyhound racing.
This Sunday’s race was the penultimate in the calendar of the North Greyhounds Association, which in September (after the last stage) do the math for the points that each dog added throughout the season and check the regional champion and the others cleared for the national championship three categories: puppies (from one year to 20 months); national (born in Portugal) and international (from outside the country).
The national championship will be on a north track (perhaps in Mindelo - which did not host this race because Vila do Conde’s City Hall thinned the eucalyptuses and left the track mistreated) and includes the best of the championships of the Center Greyhounds Association (headquartered in Bombarral, Leiria), the South Greyhounds Galgueira (Castro Verde) and the Cuba Greyhounds Association (Cuba, at Alentejo, has the only public runway, inaugurated in 2015).
The current champion is Bluey (from the breeder Filipe Martins, from Guimarães), brother of the mighty Ninja (3 years), outstanding leader of the regional championship in the nationals category and which yesterday crossed the 200 meters under 11 seconds (10.99). Humans were able to run the same distance in record times of 19,19s (Usain Bolt, 2009) and 21,34s (Florence Griffith-Joyner, 1988) - worldwide - and in 20,01s (Obikwelu, 2006) and 22,88s (Lucrécia Jardim, 1996) - national ceilings.
These four-legged athletes, with 70 to 80 centimeters high and about 30 pounds in weight, live for about five years for speed. The average life expectancy is about 14 years - and here are the hardest arguments of SOS Animal, the PAN and the Bloco de Esquerda, political parties, which were defeated in the Portuguese Republic Assembly in the vote on their proposal to ban greyhound races. Mistreatment with electric shocks, doping substances (cocaine, viagra, etc.) and abandonment or slaughter of those who retire from the run races.
"Electric shocks? But if I gave an electric shock to my greyhound he would flee and I would never look him up again", says Vítor Costa, vice president of North Greyhounds Association (AGLN), organizer of the regional championship.
“I've been in this races 50 years. My grandfather and my deceased father also rode the races. In the 50s, in 1956, 1957, on the Famalicão-Vila do Conde road, which going through Vilarinho de Cambas, Fradelos and Parada, from where I am a natural, there was a track in the sand, because there was no tar at that time, and it was a entertainment at hunting off season, for those who had greyhounds. A man even made a homemade machine with the wheel of a bicycle that pulled the skin", remember the 70 year old man who studied for priest in the Braga’s seminaries and made a career as a Religion and Morals teacher at Vila do Conde and Póvoa de Varzim schools until retirement.
The dispute of associations or political parties anti greyhounds races contrasts with the popularity of rural autarchies: Amares, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Ponte de Lima and Alijó received evidence of these, including the races in the fishing and hunting fairs. "We have a contract with the City Hall and it pays the inscriptions and prizes, or we ask for a few amount and we'll handle everything," he explains.
The Estela’s track was built by Alberto Faria, who could not be present at this event. "It was the best money spent of my life. There, I was able to raise my children around the greyhounds without experiencing other less healthy things. It was a joy, because greyhounds love children and children are fascinated by them", says the president of the Contriz Greyhounds Club.
This club organizes the only timed races in Portugal, in which the track is used throughout its length (280 meters, record 15.1s), in a championship with 12 events and a final one on 4th August, which is no more than that a social event to deliver the award to the best dog and the dog with more presence.
"I made the track in my land about twenty years ago. At that time, they asked me 25 thousand euros for a computer program to time the races. No way. Speaking to friends, one said he was going to create a program. It took time to fine-tune and synchronize images with the timing. But he got it. The computer is connected to the starting boxes and everything is filmed. we check the time with the slow motion images to calculate the times to the hundredth", he explained to DN.
By the middle of the timed championship, the AGLN uses the track for four of the 15 speed races, in which six greyhounds (or less if not enough) participate in elimination rounds until the final.
For this, say the breeders, it takes a high emotional, physical and financial investment. Between ration (60 euros per bag: "there are cheaper, but less good and no one wants the malnourished dogs", says Vítor Costa), some pasta and meat, sometimes take care of the kennels to be impeccable, take care of the dogs, (take the dogs to run, walk, brush, clean his nails, give him bath, deworming) do not arrive a hundred euros per month. Plus the vet consultations, which are around 80 euros.
"There are those who come with the trailers, and I have nothing against it, they are perfectly safe". I bought a van, a Fiat Scudo to the Dogalmar, the main creator of Great Dane in Portugal. It has insulation, fan and temperature control in the cabin, where they fit three or four greyhounds", says the breeder Ricardo Rodrigues, 25 years old.
"I and my girlfriend have two cars, but this van is a way to transport the greyhounds in excellent condition", continues the young man from Ribeirão (Famalicão).
And he reacts to the criticisms that jump in social networks and in communiques of SOS Animal. "I have already asked for proof that they are greyhounds from Portugal. Everyone has an immovable tattoo that identifies the creator. They never sent me proof. Those are images of Spanish greyhounds. Ours are English Greyhounds", he says.
The difference for the connoisseurs is obvious: "ours" are slimmer and faster, the Spanish more massive and given to the resistance.
Sofia Campos, 21, has been in greyhounds since birth: "The first greyhound my father bought was 20 years ago", she says, not far from home: Terroso, Póvoa de Varzim.
On a particularly happy day. At lunch time, of two and a half hours (between noon and 2:00 p.m.), she brushed Ophelia with her shiny and glistening hair.
"It's been 2 years today". Ophelia, docile, just did not like the Sofia force her to show the tattoos inside the two ears, with the numbers and letters that identify the dog and the breeder, for the DN to photograph.
"SOS made a ridiculous video of images of Macao and place them as it was in Portugal. I've never seen anyone from the PAN show pictures of dogs being abused or abandoned in Portugal”, says the proud breeder, who still has Santarém ("a dog from a friend”) which is competing in Estela.
"And they live with two retirees dogs, a Ervilha (the Pea) and the Hard Rock, with 6 years. And still with a serra-da-estrela (a portuguese breed), who just wants to be with them, and they with her", she says.
But the sparkle in her eyes is called Ophelia: "Sometimes my father wants to take her for a walk when it's raining. I do not even move. Raining, she will not go, and they love physical activity".
(...) In all races, the breeders must present the greyhound letter and documents, which include association registration (identification tattoos are done at 6 months years old), which inscribes all the information in the log book: year of birth and initials of the breeder.
"And they have to be registered before they open their eyes, then they can not be registered, so they can not compete", he adds.
There is also the chip registration implanted in the neck of the dog, which is controlled by the veterinarian, the animal health certificate and the licenses that are requested to the City Hall in each race.
For each race, and for greyhound, a registration fee is paid (usually ten euros - 20 in the national championship), with the prizes being usually one hundred euros - there will be an extraordinary prize of 500 euros for the regional champions, in this year.
Between attacks and counterattacks, there is the suspicion of some breeders, both on the runway of Estela and in the management of information publicly.
"There's a camera there, will not it be?", rigidly questioned a man, early in the morning on the Contriz track.
"He was talking about PAN", laughs Vítor Costa.
Already the draw that determines which track the greyhound would run in the first race of the day (the starting position on the six tracks is always drawn), another man questioned the photojournalist near the starting boxes.
But once identified and presented, the reporters were greeted as a family.
A rural, middle-class, working-class family that is entertained by the athletic abilities of four-legged athletes.
Among pork lobster, bean stew, wine, beer (or the barbecues and picnic prog as a few people opted instead of the meal in the bar of the runway of Estela) and that for 7-8€ gave food to about 50 breeders and families, from 8 to 80 years old.
text by António Pedro Pereira (Diário de Notícias newspaper)
Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal
© 2019 Igor Martins (Global Imagens Agency)