They came to us on a warm, amber-coloured autumn afternoon, back in the mid-eighties.
There was a campaign going on, with caring people working hard to make other caring but unknowing people conscious of the alarmingly declining numbers of wild “burros” – those small, but extremely hardy members of the asinine species, that have been successfully domesticated and used as “beasts of burden” for millennia, by different civilizations – in this part of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, the said domestication, which had included systematic cross-breeding – not only of this with other varieties of donkeys, but also of donkeys and horses, for production of the hybrids known as mules and hinnies – had almost entirely deprived the “burro” of its original characteristics, while simultaneously and gradually removing it from its “wild” status.
So, the aim of this campaign - primarily promoted by devoted individuals and non-profit associations for wild-life preservation, who, in time, however, oh miracle of miracles, had actually managed to gather some official support from the government - was to return the “burro” to its purity as a specific breed and, as much as possible, to its originally wild condition. This goal was to be attained through different actions, involving both private and public entities; the latter, namely represented by the administration of one of our National Parks and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, would contribute both with the allocation of an area in the above mentioned Park to a small herd of “burros” - which would, in time, and under the supervision of qualified veterinarians and zoologists, hopefully grow and thrive in the wild – and with small financial subsidies (an equivalent to 75 dollars per year per animal) to any of the formerly mentioned private entities who would be willing to welcome some “burros” in their estates, in full agreement with the following main rules – the “burros” were not to be used in any kind of farm or pack work or for any kind of recreational purposes, and there was to be no cross-breeding whatsoever.
We heard about this noble campaign from one of the veterinary surgeons who assisted our horses, and, soon enough, we were more than willing to cooperate, so, a few phone calls and some application forms later, we received the very exhilarating news that we were to become the custodians of two young and healthy purebred “burros” – a jack and a jenny! And so this was how they came to us, on that warm, amber coloured autumn afternoon. We named them, respectively, “Jeromino” and “Gusta” (short for “Augusta”), and, with this illustrious couple, an era of exciting experiences and of many unusual, touching, amazing, and also amusing and right down hilarious episodes, was inaugurated in “Quinta da Lage”!
It is one of those hilarious episodes that I’m happy to share with you today:
“Jeromino” and “Gusta” had been with us for almost a year when the time for yet another wine-grape harvest arrived. As usual, a seasonal workforce was hired to help our regular team, and, among those temporary workers, there were quite a few who had been coming to our farm for many years - men and women of that healthy, robust type, whose liveliness, enthusiasm, and bright eyes seem to contradict the evidence, in entire maps of wrinkles deeply etched upon their marvellous faces, of their already rather long journeys through life.
In those days, most of these magnificent older specimens of what seems to be, at the present time, a breed on the verge of extinction, still dressed in traditional outfits – which would include, for the women, skirts that reached their calves, but which were cut, width wise, in such a manner that the least possible cloth was used (a remainder of harder times, when cloth was not a cheap “commodity”, and the need to economize in just about everything was a constant in those people’s existences). So, such skirts were, of course, rather tube-like, and it never failed to amaze me how those ladies who wore them would nevertheless manage to move so swiftly, as they went about all the bending, straightening up, grape-bunch cutting, box-carrying, and tractor climbing that integrated their harvesting chores!
Anyway, on a certain afternoon of that year, as the harvesters were working in a particular vineyard that was rather distant from the winery and other farm buildings, including the toilet facilities, one of the ladies was suddenly overcome by a most urgent need, and therefore, aware that she could never possibly make it to the bathroom in time, she crept, as inconspicuously as possible, toward the convenient shelter provided by a nearby pear orchard – in which the trees, planted and pruned according to a system whose technical designation I cannot recall, formed long and lush hedge-like rows.
Meanwhile, clever and extremely curious creatures that “burros” are, our long-eared friends “Jeromino” and “Gusta”, who had been left to graze in a near paddock that morning, had actually found a way to duck under the fence, and had quietly strayed, unseen, into the pear-orchard, where our dear old lady, tubular skirt pulled up around her waist and underwear down, as she squatted upon the grass, proceeded to relieve herself, quite confident that, among such leafy, fruit-laden, thick “walls”, she was perfectly protected from any indiscretions. What she didn’t know, was that there is no such thing as a discreet donkey, and that two of them were, alas, standing right behind her, unashamedly staring at her exposed and defenceless… rear!
Soon enough, though, they were literally breathing on her… er… neck – and the poor lady was startled out of her wits, so violently that, although she did hastily yank her underwear back up, she never thought of actually pulling her tight skirt down… while she scampered down the long grass corridors between the rows of pear-trees, yelling at the top of her lungs, her arms in the air, and the donkeys merrily trotting after her!
Such was, dear friends, the riotous scene unfolding before the unbelieving eyes of our heroine’s co-workers - whom, thoroughly alarmed by her screams of anguish, had run “en masse” from the vineyard. Any intentions they may have had of actually helping their unfortunate colleague out of what, as they now realized, was not a dangerous situation, but a very awkward one nonetheless, were totally submerged under a collective wave of the most uncontrollable, uproarious mirth. Even later, when they calmed down enough to appreciate the distress the old lady was in, and some of the other women set out to help her, while a couple of the men guided the donkeys back to their paddock, there was still quite a bit of irrepressible guffawing going on.
And it never really stopped entirely, for, when their work was over for the day, and the harvesters returned to the farm’s main complex, where they usually enjoyed an early evening meal and rested for a while before returning to their homes, everybody gathered around the old lady in the courtyard by the winery, cheerfully commenting on the incident – and good-naturedly teasing her, to help her make light of what, in the intense embarrassment that had replaced her initial fright, she felt had been… a totally grotesque situation.
So, gradually, the sweet old lady began to feel less discomfited, and soon she was even playfully scolding herself for having been so silly… when, brought by a then very young José Carlos – our current and wonderful head-groom – “Gusta” and “Jeromino”, who were usually stabled for the night, walked into the yard – and, probably excited by the sight of so many people, started to bray at full volume. “Hey, Auntie”, the very irreverent young boy exclaimed, “It sure seems like your admirers are happy to see you again!” which, of course, made everybody laugh even more…
… But the true crowning glory of this whole incredibly comical episode was the moment when, in a display of the most remarkable sense of humour, our dear leading lady promptly retorted: “I’m sure they are, son… and, “ya” know, I’m happy to see them, too! After all, at my age, I’m darn grateful that my drooping ass is admired by anyone at all”!
© 2007 Alexandra* ~ OneLight*®
Notice: The image illustrating this true story is from “Stock Photos”, and will soon be replaced with a photo of the original asses… I mean… the “burro” protagonists! :0)