Travel

Renault 4

A pick-up truck bounced along our track the other day, loaded with big scrolls of cork, which must have come from these trees. You can see they are newly harvested because the trunks are still ochre in colour

A pick-up truck bounced along our track, laden with big scrolls of cork, which must have come from these trees. Their ochre trunks reveal they’ve just been harvested; they will soon blacken

Last of the little apricots, going into a clafoutis

Last of the little apricots, going into a clafoutis

Apricot tree number 2 is about to start giving up its fruit. These are bigger fruit, not quite so divine as the first tree's . . .

Apricot tree number 2 is about to start giving up its fruit. These are bigger, more loosely textured, not quite so heavenly as the first tree’s fruit . . .

Estrela decided that I should not be alone all day. She turned up by herself - which she has never done before, and spent a couple of afternoons in the back garden. There was not a peep from her, just the occasional rustle of the gravel and tinkle of her bell

Estrela turned up by herself – which she has never done before – and spent a couple of afternoons in the back garden. There was not a peep from her, just the occasional rustle of the gravel and tinkle of her bell. I think she knew Husband had gone away and felt that I should not be on my own

Wild flowers are largely over for the year but cultivated flowers are blooming - these are in Tavira

Wild flowers are largely over for the year but cultivated flowers are blooming – these are in Tavira

Rolie in Tavira, behaving himself

Rolie in Tavira, behaving himself

 

Rolie gave up on me this week. I was in the petrol station in our local village and had just added 10 euros’ worth of top-grade fuel to his tank when he decided not to start up again. Not a hint. Barely a click. I pushed him to the side of the forecourt with the help of the pump lady. I phoned Costa but no luck: the answering message said the number was no longer in use. I walked to the workshop in the Cooperativa at the other end of the village where he has been rebuilding an old Mini and asked his portly friend if Costa was there. No, he wasn’t, and the friend wasn’t sure when he’d be there again, maybe the next day or the day after, maybe not.

Oh well. Time for a coffee and cake, and to check some Portuguese vocabulary using the mobile phone. The walk home from the village is only forty-five minutes, and it’s beautiful. I had done it the day before, both ways. Nightingales sang along the route, and an unidentified plant was expelling its seeds with a tiny hush followed by a tak as the empty, dry seedpod hit the ground. I had been offered a boleia (lift) on the way out but turned it down, explaining I liked to walk. I didn’t mind the prospect of the walk again, except that today I wasn’t properly clad. I was too hot in my jeans, and my new yellow shoes would take a battering in the dust. I had no towel to dry my feet with after going through the river.

In the café an English-speaker with an American accent and a laptop was on Skype to his partner, a woman with an English accent. It was impossible not to overhear so I listened in. It was a discussion about the advantages of living here, with the man trying to persuade the woman. As I got up to go I passed the Skyping man and I figured he wouldn’t mind an interruption. I caught his eye and told him they should definitely move here. He smiled and returned to his conversation: ‘Did you hear that?’

In my head I had practised the Portuguese for ‘Is it OK if I leave the car here? I’ll be back when I can.’ I didn’t know when that would be since I couldn’t get hold of Costa and Husband was away in Germany for a week. I was going to be house-bound at the end of the world, unable to go anywhere unless on foot. I’d miss a few appointments.

I reached the garage again.

‘Is it OK if I leave the car here?’

‘Of course.’

‘—’ I didn’t get any more words out because I heard my own name being called from the other side of the forecourt. I looked across.

It was Costa.

‘Hello, how are you? I saw the Renault. Have you tried to call me? The old number does not work. I have a new one. I give it to you. I’ve been in France. I saw your ’usband the other day. We passed each other on the road. What’s this sticker? [It was my Nem um Furo anti-oil protest sticker.] How is the car? Is there a problem?’

It seems that Costa, in addition to offering the best after-sales service on the planet, can now be reached by thought-wave alone. He talked me through how to restart the car when both car and weather are too hot. He coaxed Rolie back to life, attended to a few things under the bonnet, made sure he started a second time, then a third, and handed the keys back to me.

As I was driving away, I waved to Costa, who looked very pleased. Not half so pleased as I was!

Oil

What’s the future for Rolie? It might be possible to convert him to an electric car, though my hopes are not high. So one day he’ll go for scrap or become a curiosity. I’d like to think the whole of the oil industry was heading the same way and at the same speed, though I fear Rolie will be out the door first.

It sometimes feels as if the oilmen have our warming planet in a stranglehold grip. The only thing to do is to try to prise off each finger one by one. If you get one finger to let go, another tightens, so you just have to keep trying. The grip might be rigor mortis, but it is all the tighter for that.

So far Portugal has been fairly free of the deathly grip, but not for much longer. The Algarve, a place drenched in the free and exploitable – and clean and renewable – energy of the sun, to name but one alternative source, has been handed over to the oil companies to drill and frack. They took us for mugs, but the protests have been loud and strong, and the oilmen have got rattled. One industry response has been for those who hold the concessions off the west coast of the Algarve, Galp/ENI, to keep quiet about drill dates until the last possible minute, reducing the time for consultation and dissent. So it’s been only for a matter of days now that people have known they plan to start offshore drilling as early as 1 July 2016. If 4000 people sign this petition before midnight on 21 June, then the matter will be raised for discussion at the Assembleia de República. (You need a Portuguese fiscal number or a European passport ID number to sign.) Off the southern Algarve coast, the concession holders Repsol-Partex have brought their drill dates forward from October to September. They also requested authorisation to use Loulé municipal helipad as base for their drilling ship’s medevac helicopter. The town mayor, who like the other Algarve mayors has expressed his commitment to stopping the oilmen, showed what he’s made of. He said no.

This is a horned dung beetle - I think. He's an ex-beetle, in fact, and I found him by the garage. He's about 3cm long

This is a horned dung beetle. It’s an ex-beetle, in fact; I found it by the garage. It’s about 3cm long. Its position in this post so soon after the mention of oilmen is not meant to prejudice the beetle in any way

Rolie's proud sticker

Rolie’s proud sticker

Week 58: Heat

Sunshine like blades of a knife in baking Seville.

Sunshine like knife-blades in baking Seville

In our absence, Tavira had a festival, and we missed it.

In our absence, Tavira had a festival and we missed it

Sparrow clutch number 2. The fledglings left the nest while I was away (again).

Sparrow clutch number 2. The fledglings left the nest while we were away (again)

 

We have everything here for the perfect holiday – except the absence of responsibilities. So we went away to Spain for a few days to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We stayed in the Subbéticas, in Andalucía, in a lovely small B&B that we’ve stayed in before (Casa Olea), and which I’m sure we’ll stay in again. The landscape here is high and wide open under big skies, unlike our cosy corner of the Algarve. Every hillside for miles around and on into far distances is combed with lines of olive trees: regular grey-green dots on an undulating fawn background. It’s as though an army sergeant-major went to art school and tried his hand at pointillism.

This results in a lot of olive oil, much of which was until recently exported, often to Italy, to be bottled and sold with an Italian label – though the small print will have declared the oil to be the produce of several countries – because Italy has always had foodie kudos that Spain lacks. But the area, Priego de Córdoba, has had its own DO since 1999, and now increasingly markets and sells its own oils with their distinctive flavours.

Among the many things we love about Casa Olea is Ruby the dog, a stray who adopted the owners. She’s a quiet, longish-haired, honey-coloured dog, whose joy is to go out with the guests. She greets the prospect of a walk with a wild run towards your legs, throwing her front paws wide in a gesture that lands somewhere between a dog-hug and a genuflection. The twist of her torso at the last second ensures she doesn’t make bodily contact, but then she comes back and presses her flank against your shins to show you her affection is real and not a tease.

We are still waiting to be adopted by a stray or given a puppy. Good try by Horse, but he knew we couldn’t have him long-term, and so did we.

Heat

We met our friends Hazel and David in Seville in extreme heat (more than 40°C) and brought them back to our home in Portugal, where we woke up on their first day to be greeted – blissfully and unexpectedly – by overcast skies. It had clearly been extremely hot in our absence. For one thing, a little-loved, neglected plant on our front veranda had given up the ghost. The plant pot had housed two garden candles, left by the previous owners, and they had softened and curled over on themselves. So soon after enervating Seville, this welcome dull day allowed us to spend an easy afternoon at the beach, swimming in the jade sea. After just a few days away, we had missed our home, and we loved being back. The considerable differences between Spain and Portugal continue to fascinate us; to lump the two countries together is a mistake.

Week 23: First days

Leaving the ferry behind in Bilbao and driving off down south

Disembarking in Bilbao and driving off down south

The day’s crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao was unexpectedly enjoyable. Our deluxe cabin – yes, we pushed the boat out – had plenty of space and two forward-facing windows. We arrived in Bilbao on a beautiful morning, the sun scattering silver flakes over a glossy sea.

Segovia's famous aqueduct

Segovia’s famous aqueduct

We then travelled slowly through Spain, driving four to five hours a day, staying the first night in Segovia and the second night in Mérida. Spanish main roads are wide and largely empty and make for fuel-efficient driving, though an economy of fuel must be the only good economy these roads represent. We, at least, were grateful for them. The third day we drove through the Sierra Aracena, which was beautiful and lush, then crossed the bridge over the Rio Guadiana into Portugal – we were home.

About to arrive in Portugal. In the distance you can just about make out the bridge over the Rio Guadiana, the river border between this part of Spain and Portugal

About to arrive. In the distance you can just about make out the bridge over the Guadiana, the river border between this part of Spain and Portugal

I especially liked that we arrived in the Algarve on what would have been my father’s birthday. The only tiny blot on the landscape was a niggling small cold I had, just a few sniffles and a bit of fuzzy brain. I expected to throw it off immediately.

We’re hiring First Friends’ chalet for the next four weeks while we get ready to move into our new home. As we arrived, they helped us unpack. The contents of our small car filled every surface inside the chalet and the veranda outside as well. It looked like the exploded view for a puzzle you would never attempt to complete. But then we shouldn’t have to do it again. We’re not far from our new home now. After a lovely evening, we had an early night, then the problem with my lungs began. It seemed a monster had taken up residence in my chest. It came accompanied by a full pulmonary orchestra of rattles, wheezes, whistles and clangs. For the next 24 hours, it was as much as I could do to breathe. Neither of us slept. Husband went off on his own on Sunday to see the house and greet the Sensibles; a visit we had long ago scheduled in.

This became unexpected blot number 2. Husband returned downcast. The Sensibles wanted to know if they could postpone their leaving. The estate agent, they said, had given them to believe that this might be possible, by up to two weeks.

Oh no. No, no, no. We would have nowhere to stay by then, and a pantechnicon’s worth of possessions would arrive and have nowhere to go.

Monday 27 October

Twenty-four hours after the pulmonary orchestra started up, it left. Only a desultory flautist remained. A decent night’s sleep was possible despite the occasional mournful piping. By the following day, the flautist had left too. We had a 9.30 meeting with our estate agent. Words would have to be spoken.

We met over a bica at our regular café. (Yes, we have a regular café!) After greetings had been exchanged but before we’d raised our complaint, the estate agent’s phone rang. The conversation was long, heated and in Portuguese, but Husband understood it pretty well, and I got the gist. It was Mr Sensible who’d called, and the estate agent’s side of the conversation could be summed up like this: ‘Senhor, I do not know what planet you are on but nowhere here on Earth could you sell a house, take the money and then carry on living there. It simply doesn’t happen.’ It seemed effective, if somewhat harsh.

The estate agent then took us to Tavira to organise a whole bunch of important things. I should mention that although the pulmonary flautist had departed, he had left behind a small and rather upset dog. The dog mostly whined and growled, but occasionally had a fit of barking. This did not escape the agent’s notice, who added to the tour of Tavira a clinic where I could get help.

Our agent, we discovered, has a remarkable ability to do a lot in a small amount of time. She circumvented queues by catching someone’s eye, posing a quick question and getting either the answer she needed or an appointment later on at a fixed time. We discovered the best place to park, the photocopy shop, the telecoms company, the bank, the local lawyer, and more. She achieved quite a lot of this by talking everyone to death in whatever language was required. For us, this is an English she has streamlined by abandoning articles and prepositions, and for whose word order she has scant regard. Her finest moment came when she stopped and made a phone call in the street. A window on the first floor just above her head opened and an arm came out. I identified the arm as probably belonging to the lawyer I’d glimpsed earlier in the day. The agent reached up with a sheaf of newly photocopied papers, the hand took them and withdrew, and she flashed us a grin of pure satisfaction as we went on our way. How clever was that?

Also pretty clever was the appointment she set up with Mr Vinegar at the bank – quite literally his name; he wasn’t acidic at all. Instead he was another in our line-up of pleasant, efficient, charming Portuguese professionals. There must be some rotters out there; we just haven’t met them. It was a long meeting – by this time our agent had moved on – but at the end of two hours we had opened our bank account. We already had fiscal numbers (rather like NI numbers) from our lawyer, and with two forms of ID apiece the rest was relatively easy.

One of the charming things about Mr Vinegar is that he uses the word ‘imagine’ rather like we might use ‘if’. When I’ve learnt some Portuguese, I might discover this is a faux ami; or it might turn out to be a delightful quirk of his own. Every possibility was presented in this way. ‘Imagine you want a credit card as well as a debit card.’ ‘Imagine you want a savings account to earn interest.’ ‘Imagine you want to take out more than 200 euros in a single day.’ Yes, just imagine! Not only did we have a flesh-and-blood bank manager, whom we were invited to call with any query or request, but he made banking seem almost thrilling. Imagine!

I love it here.

 

PS As I was typing this blog entry, the Sensibles came to visit us at the chalet. Husband has gone off to see his baking guru in Scotland, Andrew Whitley, to take a course entitled Baking for a Living. So I heard, in German this time, their side of the story. They want nothing more than to hand over the house to us and leave on Saturday 15 November, driving home with a trailer and reaching Germany on the Sunday, when there are no lorries on the roads. The completion of a property transaction, however, has to be on a weekday. So could the completion be on the nearest possible weekday beforehand, and could they and their trailer-load remain at the house until the Saturday? The ‘two weeks’ idea came from a set of crossed wires, they explained, now straightened out. I checked with Husband, just landed in a cold and wet UK. This sounds all right to us.

Husband's first loaves made in the Algarve

Husband’s first loaves made in the Algarve

Week 22: Valediction

Precision packing by husband

Precision packing by Husband

We said goodbye to Lincolnshire. We didn’t have to say goodbye to Mum; we had already waved her off the day before on her own journey to North Carolina to see my youngest sister. Our small car – no roof rack, no trailer – took a lot of packing. In the same way that work expands to fill the time available to it, our possessions have expanded to fill the space available to them. This is a total of three months’ worth of no-fixed-abode living, with a portable office and a portable bakery among our requirements. The car reached ‘full’ as we got the last thing in.

Ah, not quite. We realised we hadn’t packed the crutches. They are awkward, unbending, uncompromising things. So we left them behind.

Then we had three wonderful days in London as the guests of friends. We squeezed a lot into a little time. A lot of imbibing and a great many goodbyes. Or perhaps I should say, ‘Até logo.’ (Entry-level Portuguese.)

The weather was unseasonably warm in London even to our last day. This morning I got on to the tube in late summer: mild air, pleasant sunshine. I got out of the tube in autumn: wet streets, grey skies, a chill in the air. It seemed a tiny, story-book storm had broken out over the city while I’d been underground and it had changed the season. It was the outer reaches of a hurricane, according to the meteorologists, and although a few flights and ferries across the UK have been cancelled, it doesn’t seem that we will be affected. But we will know for sure tomorrow when we arrive in Portsmouth, from our current stop-off with friends in West Sussex, to catch the ferry to northern Spain.

Change-of-address cards fresh from the printer

Change-of-address cards fresh from the printer

Week 20: Barcelona break

A small holiday: to Barcelona, a city Husband has been to countless times but which I had never visited. We stayed with friends, who have had their own recent experience of incapacity – in their case involving a ladder and an ankle rather than a moped and a knee – and so were perfectly understanding of our mobility problems and gave practical and moral support. They borrowed a wheelchair for us for the length of our stay. We wouldn’t have been able to manage without it, for although the repaired knee is now being run in, it is far from being fully up to speed and we certainly didn’t want to risk knackering it all over again.

So many things to learn, and so few of them the things I thought I’d be learning at this stage. For example, I have so far had almost zero time to practise any Portuguese. On the other hand, I do now know how to handle a wheelchair on city streets. I learned that it’s better to approach uneven surfaces at a slight angle. If a ramp from pavement to street looks like it ends in a rut, then better go down it backwards. This I discovered after one heart-stopping moment when the front wheels caught in a small dip and Husband was about to be pitched forward face first in a way that would have been embarrassing for us both. Somehow balance was regained just in time.

I know the streets of Barcelona quite well now.

I had to adjust an expectation too. I thought that being anywhere on the Iberian peninsula would have echoes of our future life to it, but Barcelona couldn’t be further from the Algarve if it tried. It is a town that barely wants to acknowledge Spain; Portugal might as well be on the moon. I loved Barcelona, just not in the way I thought I would. But it’s a magical city I know I will want to visit again.

 

A Scottish inhabitant, or a Catalan demonstration of shared desires?

A Scottish inhabitant, or Catalan support of shared desires?

Miró; possible ancestor of Artbot.

Miró

Palau de la Música Catalana

Palau de la Música Catalana

Staircase

Staircase

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