It can take ages to see something in front of your nose. First our neighbours from Lisbon told us that our house had replaced a rather fine old one, somewhat dilapidated but not a total wreck and in fact the best of the three houses here. The other two were renovated using the existing stone structures; ours was rebuilt from scratch in concrete. Then a neighbour from over the river came to our garden and pointed out that the edges of the lower garden steps are cantarias: the typical stone window and door frames of Portugal. And the reason why one is dated 1941 – I had never been able to answer this question before when guests asked it – is clearly that it came from the original house: it would have topped the main door. I looked again at the steps and at the walls holding up the garden terraces and I finally realised that we are looking at the redistributed remains of the old house. I felt an agony of regret.
When during the recent, extremely heavy rain the hillside sprang leaks, I began to realise why the Sensibles had rebuilt the house, siting it further away from the slope. And when the flowing water routed itself around the house and down to the river, I began to be glad that they had done so, and to appreciate what we have. We made the sensible choice, I must remember, not the romantic one.
I promised news of the oil plans for the Algarve. It is not as good news as we activists first thought. Great excitement was generated by a national newspaper headline on 14 December (Diário de Notícias), announcing that the government was halting the exploration of oil in the Algarve. It turned out to be more complicated than that. Sousa Cintra’s compromised contracts for onshore exploitation covering almost half of the Algarve are to be rescinded, not having been correctly awarded in the first place – as is by now well known – and as usual the very next day the man himself threatened a legal fightback and declared everything to have been above board. As for the offshore contracts, the process for stopping those of Repsol-Partex was to be advanced, based on their not having yet done the promised drilling. So the government is sticking to their line about needing the oil companies to do their drilling in order to reveal what the nation’s subsoils contain, and since Repsol-Partex hadn’t done so in the agreed timeframe – and I’d love to think it was the protestors who hindered them – then the government has the excuse to start procedures to annul the contracts. And if I’ve understood this correctly – which is by no means certain – then the government is playing a clever, face-saving game, in which they have the chance to get rid of these irksome contracts without having to back down on the reason they said the contracts were useful to the country in the first place. And what’s more, they should be damn grateful to the activists for their part in it. There has also been news that the ENMC (national fuel entity) is to be broken up, and the grinning villain (my description!) Paulo Carmona is out of job. However, like a zombie he seems to keep popping up.
I went for a walk up the hill and came across one of the red-legged partridges whose territory this is. Mutually startled, we stopped and stared at one another. The bird has – besides its red legs – a red bill and red-ringed eyes, with a dark crescent of feathers running from the base of the bill through each eye to meet at the neck, below which it disperses into an elegant pattern of black and white. The throat is white. It was in the movement of the throat more than anything easily audible that I realised the bird was making a disconcerted sound, a tiny whisper of its usual Chuck-chuck-chuckah-chuckaaah! We eventually broke eye contact. The bird ran off and I carried on walking up the hill.
On New Year’s Day we woke up not long after 8 a.m. – despite a well-oiled and hugely enjoyable evening the night before, ending with fireworks in Tavira – and sat in the wooden chairs on the front veranda to watch the sun come up over the Meditation Hill. We have much to be happy and excited about this coming year. Wishing you a happy new year, with all good wishes.