Monthly Archive: December 2014

Week 32: Horse

Boxing Day bread

Boxing Day bread array

The mystery horse on the path down to the river from in front of our house

A mystery horse on the path down to the river from in front of our house

 

On 21 December, a horse moved into our spot in the valley. I’ve never had anything to do with horses and I was a little wary of him; he seemed unperturbed by me. I assumed an owner was near by.

The next day, and the day after, the horse was still there with no owner in sight. Puzzling. He didn’t look very young; perhaps he was no longer required. Had he been abandoned? I was no longer wary but concerned for him. I’d approached him and he’d come towards me. He seemed so mild and gentle for such a massive creature. I reasoned he couldn’t have been abandoned. Not only did he look well cared for, his mane nicely trimmed, but also it would be impossible to cast off a horse without anyone knowing about it. In every fold of these valleys there is a house, and the people – certainly the Portuguese, and probably the foreigners as well – know everything that goes on.

‘I see you’ve bought a horse,’ said Eleuterio.

It was Christmas Eve and he had come to give us gifts: his own olive oil in an old bourbon bottle and a loaf of Maria’s freshly made bread, still warm. I was so touched I could hardly speak. I can say little enough in Portuguese as it is. Husband explained about the horse mystery and Eleuterio began to puzzle it out.

Gifts from Eleuterio and Maria on Christmas Eve

Gifts from Eleuterio and Maria on Christmas Eve

He returned later with a bucket of beautiful deep-orange oranges, having established that we didn’t already have a glut of our own. We have plenty of grapefruit and lemons, but few oranges. Then he and Husband went to work on the pump at the well by the river: Husband provided the new materials, Eleuterio the expertise and labour. (More on pumps and water issues to come.)

Later still on Christmas Eve we heard a tinkle from one of the two tiny ceramic bells that hang from the pomegranate trees in front as our concession towards seasonal decoration. Eleuterio again, and he had worked it out: the son and daughter-in-law of the Sensibles had lived here for a while and she had had a horse. She sold it; the man who bought it couldn’t afford the upkeep so he’d brought it back and quietly dropped it off, mistaking who we were.

We went to sleep on Christmas Eve wondering what on earth you do with a horse. I woke up on Christmas Day thinking: horses like carrots. I went down the path towards the river and looked for Horse. When I found him, I called him over; he came, huge head hanging low. I was too scared at first to feed him the carrots directly, but I got braver. He took the food infinitely gingerly from my hand. I began to understand how people can love horses.

Horse coming to me for food for the first time

Christmas Day: Horse coming to me for food for the first time

Back in the house, we heard the sound of people coming up our road. It’s a dead end and no one comes here unless to see us (or our holidaying neighbours, when they are here; we haven’t met them yet) or because they’ve taken a wrong turn. The three English people apologised for disturbing us on Christmas Day, then:

‘Have you by any chance seen a horse?’

So we learnt on Christmas Day that a horse called – unbelievably – Jingle had, four days earlier, shed his horse collar, jumped the fence and run off. He lived two kilometres away. Judging by the timing, he had come straight here. And why not? This is such a lovely spot, with pasture to graze and water to drink. Clever Horse.

They’d been looking for him ever since and now, at last, had found him. I felt sad, but there was nothing for it.

Except that when we came back from Christmas lunch, Horse was still here. The owner had given us his number and I phoned him; they hadn’t been able to capture him.

By Boxing Day we were out of carrots and apples. I went down to the river anyway to see Horse. He heard me coming and emerged from the morning mist over the river, backlit by the rising sun.

Boxing Day morning. 'What, no carrots?'

Boxing Day morning. ‘What, no carrots?’

We were out for the day, things to do, not least getting in horse-catering supplies, and as soon as we got back I went to see him, this time with morsels to feed him.

Getting back with food for Horse on Boxing Day evening

Getting back with carrots for Horse on Boxing Day evening

And so it has been every day since then. I feed Horse morsels, and I worry about him. Is he all right? Is he hungry? Is he lonely? Has he decided to go somewhere else? One day the hunt came by and Horse shot off. I was abject. Two hours later he was back. The next day some rather aggressive dogs chased him off. An hour later he was back, unruffled. I mostly call him ‘Horse’ and he answers to that. Now, if I walk down to the river he comes to say hello even if I haven’t got a bag of carrot pieces – though I often have. I also talk to his owner, who visits him twice a day, bringing hay and horse pellets, trying to pick the right moment to get the horse collar back on and take him home.

I promised to write about the important issues of water and fuel but at the moment I am preoccupied with Horse. I hope for a happy ending, which will ultimately be Horse back where he belongs – just not quite yet, please.

Horse under an alfarroba (carob) tree. He shelters under these trees at night

Horse under an alfarroba (carob) tree. He shelters under these trees at night

Week 31: Boas festas

Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo

Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo

Tavira

Tavira

Flaviano's emporium

Flaviano’s emporium

 

We had another visit from a telecoms engineer, this time wanting to check that everything was OK with the installation; also to tell us that three telegraph posts will at some point have to be replaced because of woodpeckers. We asked him about how to pay – we hadn’t had a bill yet. ‘Oh, one day it will come,’ he said. ‘As we like to say here in Portugal, when it comes to paying and dying, the later the better.’ Since then we have had a bill, and mysteriously it is in credit.

All is well at our other centre of communications: Flaviano’s shop. We picked up a nice fat bundle of post and were treated to his singing, dancing Father Christmas model. I caught some of it on my phone. The background chuckle, which should belong to Santa, is Flaviano’s.

Father Christmas dancing

Used-car salesmen

Husband bought a second-hand four-wheel-drive car a few weeks ago, a silver Suzuki jeep. He loves it. It had one tiny problem, however: it needed a spare key, which was ordered by the salesman from the relevant supplier but never arrived. Husband chased up and the salesman, Marcelino, was full of apologies. The only way to get the new key, it seemed – because it involved a microchip in the steering column – was to take the car to the key supplier. Marcelino offered to do this for us, and so two used-car salesmen were among our visitors this week. They arrived in the dark and needed some help to find us, here no fim do mundo, at the end of the world. ‘You want to hide, don’t you?’ they said. They returned with the Suzuki the next day, and this time, seeing our valley in the daylight, they were enchanted, I could tell. They were two boys on an outing and they loved it. It must be very different here to the built-up area they live in by the coast.

Some half an hour after they’d left our place, we got in the jeep to run some errands and caught up with them. We couldn’t understand how it had taken them so long to drive up out of the valley. We saw them pull into a layby and, thinking they’d done so because we were behind them, we stopped alongside: in the road, as the custom is here. The pair of them looked up in surprise. They had handfuls of perfect, tiny, red medronho fruit and were eating them with guilty relish. That Portuguese people can find our place so special was very pleasing to me.

Medronho tree

Medronho tree

Birds

Our friend Mike, who is vastly knowledgeable about birds, emailed me after the last blog and confirmed what I wasn’t sure of, that the redstart I wrote about is a black redstart (for any bird-lovers out there). He also told me something I hadn’t known about the azure-winged magpie, so exotic in its colours and so commonplace here. (Husband counted thirty-two in one noisy, twittering flock a couple of days ago.) It seems the bird has two points of distribution, one on the Iberian Peninsula and one in China, but nothing between. Are they two outposts of a once continuous range, or were birds brought over from China by Portuguese sailors and merchants in the sixteenth or seventeenth century? Recent fossil evidence from Gibraltan caves has begun to suggest a natural distribution and an ice-age separation but isn’t conclusive.

All is calm in azure-winged land. In town (Tavira), there is no sign of pre-Christmas panic-shopping. Here at the end of the world, just in time for Christmas, we have mastered the water (filling up the cistern from the well) and gas supply: more on that next week.

Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas. Boas festas.

bread

A levain

 

Week 30: Back home

View from the study. On the left, the small bowl the redstart drinks from

Midday view from the study. On the left, the small bowl the redstart drinks from

Our olives, laid down by Husband

Our olives, laid down by Husband

By ‘back home’ I mean ‘back in Portugal’. We spent the last week with family in Germany. It was lovely, though I had to spend too long in the glare of my laptop. Sometimes the portability of work feels like less of a good thing. This was my first time to leave Frankfurt airport and fly south to go ‘home’ instead of flying Londonwards. It does feel like home here, and we are happy to be back.

It’s 17.43 as I type, and we’ve been out to see our owl (Athene noctua). It arrived silently today, but after it had flown off again we distinctly heard its call and the answering call of another owl.

Another well-loved bird is the redstart. From my study I have a view over the front terrace, and I keep a small bowl filled with water there. It was empty when we got home from Germany, so I refilled it. The redstart soon came by and bobbed a couple of curtsies in my direction, as it always does, then drank. It rather cheekily made its way into the house a couple of weeks ago, forcing aside the netting on a window to get in. When I found it, it looked terrified, unable to get out again and hurling itself repeatedly against the mesh, dropping lots of poo on the windowsill in fear. I let it out; it seemed to recover quickly from its fright.

Having been away, I have little to tell this week. We had a storm last night, cold little gusts making their way into the house. We woke up today to clouds in the sky for the first time. Azure-winged magpies were fluttering their beautiful fawn and blue colours across the garden, as though the wind had torn through a fancy department store, ripped fine silk scarves and thrown them to the breezes.

Staying warm

Staying warm

 

Week 29: ‘Nothing but blue skies’

‘Blue skies smiling at me’

‘Blue skies smiling at me’

Bounty

Bounty

A levain - my favourite bread

A levain – my favourite bread

I won’t go on about this. I’ll just mention it quickly and move on. For the past week we have had blue skies all day, every day. And since there’s so little air traffic, there are no vapour trails to spoil the colour either.

The post

We collect our post from a shop up on the top road, from an old man called Flaviano. It’s not just a shop, it’s also a bar, a cement-mixing workshop, and, in a cavern in the back, a kind of neglected sorting office. Flaviano is a fairly recent widower and it might be that when his wife was alive he looked rather smarter. As it is, he wears the same baggy trousers with uneven turn-ups every day I see him. But who cares? He still has a zest for life and a taste for a joke. He is usually leaning on his bar/shop counter, chatting with his cronies. He serves cold port for about 50 pence a shot, and Husband and I like to stop for a drink from time to time to keep in with him and to relish the contents of his shop. He stocks almost everything, from bars of soap to jars of chickpeas and fly swats. Most of these items sit singly on the shelves, with space between that is much feted by spiders.

It was just after our olive-harvesting efforts that we dropped in on Flaviano and I looked with new eyes at the yellow comb-like things hanging next to the fly swats. These were combs for harvesting olives, no doubt about it. I extracted one on its rusty wire from the encompassing spiders’ webs. This led to some chatter among the old men. Did we realise what it was for? Did we also realise it was too late for the olive press, which had closed for the season, and that the olives were now virtually over anyway? We did, and I wanted it anyway. Flaviano, who has very few teeth, took off his hat – demonstrating that he has even less hair than teeth – to mime an alternative use for the comb in the meantime. He has a face that is transformed by laughter.

From the cavern at the back we have so far retrieved much post, so the system seems to be working all right, for letters and cards at least (packages are another story – we do not know where they end up). When I say we have retrieved much post, I should say that it has been ours. Although really you could help yourself to anyone’s.

The olive comb. We have since bought a long wooden handle for it, and I shall scratch down the last few olives, the ones we missed, when I get the chance

The olive comb. We have since bought a long wooden handle for it, and I shall scratch down the last few olives, the ones we missed, when I get the chance

Little owl

Every day at about 17.35 we hear the mournful lament of a little owl. We go outside to try to get a good view of it on its habitual post. Against the darkening skies, it is never possible to see its full beauty – though it is, indisputably, beautiful. It mewls its complaint for a few moments and then flies off. It is one of the many wonderful birds here.

Week 28: Connected

Estrela. She’s uncertain of herself unless she has Lordy at her side

Estrela. She’s uncertain of herself unless she has Lordy at her side

The river is back

The river is back

The point at which, one day, we decided to turn the car round and not ford the river after all

The point at which we decided to turn the car round and not ford the river that day

Telecoms engineers were to come again on Saturday. The new appointment was prefaced by several mobile phone calls and text messages, and the engineers turned up very promptly at nine in the morning. They looked like another uncle–nephew combination, but as they were less forthcoming with familial information and world-views than the previous pair, we didn’t find out. ‘The connection isn’t complete. We need more cable to be installed. We’ll come back later.’

Fair enough. We decided to go for coffee and pastry, and to check emails. The road up from our valley – the long way round, when not fording the river – is a 2-kilometre dirt track. Until this day, we’d never passed anyone coming the other way. Today, we saw a truck up ahead. We pulled aside and waited for them to bounce past. They had two telegraph poles in the back. This looked promising.

On the top road, we saw our two engineers coming back. In the Portuguese style, both vehicles stopped dead in the road to discuss the matter. We had plenty of time to go for a coffee, they said. They didn’t need to get back into our house for an hour or so.

More and more promising.

A bica, a sticky pastry and many emails later, we went home. On the way back down the dirt track we saw the truck we’d seen earlier, and a man up a telegraph pole fixing a cable. Excitedly, I took a photo, then we drove by – over part of our cable, which was lying in the track – and carried on down. The linemen were not far behind us. In no time at all, our landline and wifi were operational. This small miracle was delivered very calmly by the engineers and the linemen, who did not apparently think it was miraculous at all. Our internet connection is slow, but I’m still very happy. And in the end we didn’t have to ask our agent to work on our behalf either. It all just happened.

‘I am a lineman for the county’

‘I am a lineman for the county’

They left with the same number of telegraph poles they arrived with, so I guess we had the complete set already

They left with the same number of telegraph poles they arrived with, so I guess we had the complete set already

Olive harvest

We have one olive tree dropping fruit. The other olive trees don’t have fruit. I don’t know if they are taking a year off, or fruited earlier, or don’t fruit at all. Eleutherio isn’t interested in the olives, so we decided to harvest them ourselves. I started picking them by hand in a manner probably reminiscent of Margot Leadbetter mucking in on The Good Life. I got to about two dozen olives when Husband declared me to be too much of a townie, and came to the rescue with plastic sheeting and big sticks to knock the fruit down with.

The easier way

The easier way

The harvest

The harvest

The nicest olives picked out, ready for brining (not enough for oil-pressing)

The nicest olives picked out, ready for brining (not enough for oil-pressing)

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