Monthly Archive: January 2015

Week 36: Almond blossom

Almond tree (and plastic bags)

Almond tree (and plastic bags)

almond 3

Blossom

Blossom

The almond has blossomed. Here and there, dotted across the landscape, trees are announcing themselves as almond with fingertip offerings of pale pink flowers. The one I photographed is quite fully clad; it’s at a lovely local restaurant a few hundred metres higher up than us, which has views of the sea. I guess this almond is purely ornamental. We are in the serra, the mountain, and this isn’t proper almond territory. Our defining trees are the carob, the arbutus (whose fruit, the medronho, our car salesmen liked so much), and the holm and cork oaks. The farmed almonds, the trees with as yet fewer flowers than this, are found a couple of kilometres further south.

The restaurant owner told me that almond is known as Neve do Algarve, snow of the Algarve, which is a very pretty idea. An elaborate myth tells how the almond was planted here by a Moorish prince to give his homesick Nordic bride the impression of snow, and I don’t know if that’s a truly old story or a more recent spinning. It is certainly true that the almond is not native here, although it is naturalised. Its origins are in Western Asia, so it’s not native to Northern Africa either.

Tavira door

Tavira door

Registration

It was time we registered at Tavira town hall as residents. We collected as much paperwork as we thought might help the process: passports, deeds to the house, bank statements, utility bills, marriage certificate. Husband carried the document bag to the town hall and we climbed the stone stairs lined with blue tiles. We came to a large open office with a long wooden counter.

A woman jumped up from her desk and came to the counter to assist us. We told her our aim and she asked for the one document we didn’t have, and hadn’t heard of: the Atestado de Residência, the certificate of residence. (I had thought that was what we were here for. But no. To register as residents we have to first prove we are residents. Makes sense.) She gave us a form to fill in and we left.

To obtain the atestado we went to our nearest junta de freguesia, parish council. We handed over our passports, which were photocopied, and we were given more forms to fill in. Our forms had to be counter-signed by Portuguese residents of the same parish. We relied, as ever, upon Maria and Eleuterio. Maria rolled her eyes at the amount of detail they were asked to supply to the junta de freguesia. She also told us something we hadn’t suspected: only she is from the Algarve. Her husband comes from another part of Portugal, and when he came here he had to go through a similar registration process himself. I know she didn’t mind us asking for help with the forms, but I think the Portuguese are more irritated by bureaucracy than we are. For us, it has a novelty factor. And it’s part of living here, and living here is what we love.

A couple of days later Maria and Eleuterio, accompanied as usual by Lordy and Estrela, kindly delivered the filled-in forms to us. We took the forms to the parish council and the next day we collected our embossed and signed atestados, the fourteenth and fifteenth such documents issued this year. That’s interesting – a lot of new people for a small area. On Thursday we’ll go back to the town hall and find out what happens next. (The owls are noisy tonight. I look forward to the time when the nights are warm enough to sit out; the dark is so beautiful here.)

Estrela with dry bread in her mouth, which meant she couldn't steal shoes as she likes to do

Estrela with dry bread in her mouth, which meant she couldn’t steal shoes, as she likes to do

Estrela gives the bread to Lordy

Estrela gives the bread to Lordy

Lordy's private feast

Lordy’s private feast

Week 35: The river is back

River in spate

River in spate

Rain

Rain

 

The river is really back. Now I know that its reappearance some weeks ago was a taster for the real event. After a few days of rain the river came down in a brown torrent and filled the wide basin. The river in spate like this would not have suited Horse’s perambulations at all. I’m once again glad he went home. I am also even more convinced he knew exactly what he was doing. He could probably have told me when it would get cold, and then rain, had I been able to ask him. Clever, clever Horse.

I’m sure everyone is happy to see the rain; we certainly are. Constant blue skies all through December and into January were not right, people said. The almond trees haven’t come into blossom, as they should have by this time. Now our well should fill up and nature might right itself a little. We still have plenty of sunshine amid the rain.

Breakfast for three on a sunny morning

Breakfast for three on a sunny morning . . .

. . . with a visit from Lordy . . .

with a visit from Lordy . . .

and Estrela

and Estrela

 

We had a ‘working’ guest this week who, among other things, did this beautiful paintwork. (Thank you, Neil.) We are responsible for the colour scheme, however. The colours were much stronger than portrayed on the tub and the Ikea/Swedish flag effect was unforeseen. Once we’ve got our pictures up, we hope the unwitting (and wrongly placed) patriotism will be mitigated.

The Ikea-effect awaiting cover-up from our paintings

The Ikea-effect awaiting cover-up from our paintings

 

Guests are also great for ideas and discussion, and it was during this week that Husband decided against using our ‘spare house’ as his bakehouse.

A spare house? Yes, we have three properties here. Two terraced houses, which we’ve knocked together into one, with a single garage on the side. Then, on the other side, a third house, a separate, well-built construction with windows, about 49 metres square internally. It has a garage door rather than a house door, and is currently designated as being for industrial rather than residential usage.

Because our one house was once two, we have two kitchens. We were originally going to turn the second kitchen into a third guestroom but it gradually became clear that, at least in the short-term, it would make the perfect bakery. Plenty of space; water and three-phase electricity already in place. And two guestrooms should be enough.

An architect we’ve been talking to has just come back to us with her findings from the local town hall. We needed to know whether we lived on agricultural reserve (RAN) or ecological reserve (REN). This would determine the limit of the non-permeable land cover we are allowed. It’s more generous on RAN land than REN land, though it isn’t actually generous on either. The answer came back: RAN. This gives us a little bit of scope for change. And we have the pleasant conundrum of what to do with the spare house.

Inside the spare house

Inside the spare house

Levain, on Husband's great-grandmother Wilhelmine's home-woven cloth made from her own flax about a hundred years ago

Levain, on Husband’s great-grandmother Wilhelmine’s home-woven cloth made from her own flax about a century ago; also in use on the breakfast table, above and below

Lordy and Estrela

Lordy and Estrela

Week 34: Carob

The beach in January: Praia do Barril

The beach in January: Praia do Barril

The anchor graveyard at Praia do Barril

The anchor graveyard at Praia do Barril

Where I actually spend most of my time

Where I actually spend most of my time

 

The latest in the ‘learning something new’ department: composting. Horse left us a great many presents, and to begin with I forked the stuff straight into the earth. Then I discovered this was wrong. You have to compost it first. So we bought a composting bin, an annoying, unwieldy contraption but, I decided, better than creating a carpet-covered heap. At least if my compost doesn’t work, or festers, or gets fly-blown, it’s a contained disaster. I followed the rules, and in went Horse’s gifts along with the required layers of dry stuff, peelings, eggshells, etc. We’ll see what happens.

While I was forking my way through all this horseshit, I noticed a great many, rather pretty – despite their setting – shiny brown seeds. After a while, I got it: carob seeds. How Horse had truffled out the dried old bean pods! No wonder he liked to shelter under the carob trees. Clever Horse.

Carob bean pods

Carob bean pods

Carob tree trunk (compost bin just visible right background)

Carob tree trunk (the compost bin just visible on the right in the background)

I had already been falling in love with the carob. It’s a pretty tree, with spreading, sheltering branches. We have several on our land.* Right next to the house is the beautiful one whose tree trunk you can see here. Even in January bright green new leaves are appearing among the older, duller leaves. ‘Carob’ has associations with the dreadful, chocolate-substitute health-food products of a good few years back but here, where it’s a valuable crop – relatively, that is, given that most farmers get next to nothing for their produce – it is made into sumptuous chocolaty cakes and puddings that don’t need to pretend to be substitutes for anything. We like a spread you can buy made from almond and carob; very good on Husband’s bread.

Alfarroba (carob) tree

Alfarroba (carob) tree

The tree’s Portuguese name is alfarroba. Its German name is Johannisbrot: John’s bread, after John the Baptist. Among the carob’s many other names is the ‘locust (bean) tree’. It would seem that when John spent time in the wilderness eating locusts and honey, he was actually eating carob and honey. For those of us who’d rather eat chocolate than locusts – surely most of us – the story of his time in the wilderness begins to take on a different shade.

Next discovery: incredibly, the ‘carat’, that measure of gold and diamonds and other precious stuff, comes from ‘carob’. Those perfect little seeds, as seen among Horse’s leavings, are so uniform in size and shape that they were once used as tiny units of measure. They are the work of nature, so they will not be perfectly identical, but in earlier times they were good enough.

Peace

I spent most of last week alone in the house at the end of the world while Husband was in Germany. I felt completely safe. One day, I saw an old woman I’d never seen before. She was small and slightly bent and wore dark clothes and a headscarf topped by a tallish hat. She waved her stick at me and asked me a few questions. I picked up the words ‘house’ and ‘cyclists’ – packs of cyclists occasionally tear through here – but understood very little else and just had to smile at her foolishly. Then she said my house was nice, and asked me if I had any company at home. I said I had (although at that time I did not). She gave me a roguish look and said something else. This not-understood something else was very nearly accompanied by a nudge-nudge. Her elbow came out towards me and though she thought better of digging it into my side, the amusement in her eyes was very clear. Then she went down the path to the river, still talking, and waving her stick at me to say goodbye.

* When I say ‘our land’ I feel rather like the flea that claims ownership of the dog.

Week 33: Fire and water

Évora is a well-preserved medieval Portuguese town and a World Heritage Site. This picture doesn’t do it justice, I just liked the way the fading sunlight caught a single building

Évora is a well-preserved medieval Portuguese town and a World Heritage Site. This picture doesn’t do it justice, I just liked the way the fading sunlight caught a single building

I liked the light here too. Arraiolos, in Évora district, where rugs have been made since the Middle Ages

I liked the sky here. Arraiolos, in Évora district, where rugs have been made for centuries and traditional designs can still be bought

 

On New Year’s Day we drove with friends north into Alentejo to visit Évora. The main reason for visiting, besides its being a beautiful place, was that Husband’s friend had as a young traveller many years ago wound up here and stayed put for months, making and selling bread to get by. There’s a whole story there – for another time. The next day we came home, our friends having taken the train to Lisbon. I went immediately to see Horse. I’d given him extra apples and carrots the previous day to see him through.

Horse wasn’t there. He’d gone back to his stable. He’d walked back, of his own accord, while I was away. Someone saw him pass by, texted the owners, and they opened the paddock for him. He’s a creature who knows his own mind, is Horse. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about him any more but I do miss him. Maybe he will need another holiday one day and come back.

Horse

Horse

Fire

An aspect of our original dream that hasn’t exactly come true is that of finding of an old Algarvian bread oven to restore and bake in. This oven isn’t old, but it’s functional, and with our visitors we tried it out for the first time. The most romantic part about it was using two wonderful, and genuinely old, pieces of handmade equipment – a peel, and a thing for shoving embers around, which might have a name but I don’t know it – which First Friends found for us in an long-abandoned ruin.

Our outside oven

Our outside oven

oven2

The oven heated up well enough to bake two loaves perfectly (and two imperfectly). Good, and good fun. We probably should have left the embers in for longer, but they did warm us up a treat in the wheelbarrow as the sun set.

Embers

Embers

The oven won’t do for serious breadmaking. Husband is right now in Germany where he will visit a specialist company to choose a well-engineered, stone-lined oven which will produce reliable, even, consistent heat and bake enough loaves for a small concern like he is setting up.

Water

We have a well in our garden, which provides water for the house. We also have the use of Eleuterio’s well by the river, which provides water for the garden. Our own well feeds a 30,000-litre cisterna under the front veranda. We have since discovered that what most people have is a small cisterna with a valve that automatically operates a pump when the level drops and refills itself. We have a massive cisterna, which needs refilling infrequently, but has to be operated by combination of instinct and hard work. After a month of living here, we thought we’d better check the level.

Not easy. The metal-lined lid had rusted in place since it was last opened. It took hours of ingenuity, spread over several days and interspersed with consultations far and wide, just to get the lid off.

cisterna

Almost empty

Almost empty

Getting water to the cisterna from the well involved a lot of hose, a pump, a valve and some kind of an air-lock screw – I don’t know what I’m talking about, Husband did all this – each operated separately and by hand. The first water that emerges is rather brown, so that goes into the garden. As soon as clear water flows, the hose has to be dragged to the cisterna – I do know what I’m talking about, I did this – and it was rather like trying to land a shark or some other powerful, wriggling thing that doesn’t want to be caught. We got the cisterna half full, gave the well a rest for a week or so, then did it all again and filled the tank to the top. I do wonder if the Sensibles were as sensible as I thought them.

Bom ano novo

And finally a very happy new year to you. Thank you so much for reading the blog – and, to those of you who have, for  commenting.

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