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The Burning of the Ribbons: A Crime Writer's Glee

Stephen Johnson

By Stephen Johnson

The Burning of the Ribbons Photo by Stephen JohnsonI wanted to share something cheerful in my first blog entry for Clan Destine Press – given the state of the world – and it was my laptop screensaver that provided the inspiration. It opened on a photo taken in 2017 during the European motorhome grand tour that produced my debut crime novel Tugga’s Mob.

It revealed a joyous street scene in Portugal; students from the University of Porto were celebrating the end of the academic year in the Queima das Fitas; burning of the ribbons. There are a couple of unique aspects that always make me smile when I see the photos.

Firstly, the celebrations are held before the exams. Yep, at time when most would be cramming for final assessments, the Portuguese enjoy a week of concerts and other traditional festivities, such as drinking. The highlight is a hilarious parade through the city. Each department has absurdly themed floats, but the real stars are the graduates. They’re dressed in black and wear a top-hot and carry a cane in the colours of their faculty.

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Many of the hats were extremely battered. I wondered if it was tradition for graduates to pass them on to the next class, had the hats been around since the first parades in the 1940s? The answer was more amusing. Whenever the parade stalled, the graduates knelt, offered their canes to friends and then almost lost their heads!

In a gesture of good luck, the canes are used to deliver three taps to the hat—as demonstrated by the women in the photo. The men were more enthusiastic, and the crowd loved their exuberance. It’s a wonder some gents could stand after the pounding their “friends” delivered. At least the mystery was solved; the hats were one-event wear.

As a tourist, I enjoyed the spectacle as much as the locals. The crime writer in me gleefully banked that unusual experience for the future. What a great way to dispose of a rival if I get to set a thriller or crime novel in Portugal.

‘Oops—I hit him a little too hard!’

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