Monthly Archive: October 2015

Week 75: Going to church

Medronho (Arbutus unedo; strawberry tree), with fruit and flowerbuds at the same time

Medronheiro (Arbutus unedo; strawberry tree), with fruit and flowerbuds at the same time

Loquat in flower

Loquat in flower

A Great Grey Shrike* appeared at the top of a spindly oak in our garden this week, rather puffed-up and self-important, its black eyeband suggesting a tonsure so that it looked like a medieval monk surveying the monastic lands from on high. Its acolyte, a tiny – by comparison – Blue Tit, capered from branch to branch below, hoping for favour. The shrike had an apricot tinge to its belly feathers, identifying it as the Iberian sub-species (called Lanius excubitor meridionalis) and enhancing its well-fed look. In the carob trees on the other side of the garden two Blackcaps appeared, a male with the black cap its name predicts and a female with a red-brown cap. They, too, have a rather clerical appearance, with their plain colours and their neat zucchetti skullcaps.

Could it be that I have spent too long recently thinking about churches? …

… Because I have been finding out as much as I can about our beautiful local town of Tavira, starting with its abundant religious buildings: nineteen churches/chapels in the town itself and two chapels of pilgrimage just outside. The town flourished from the late medieval period until about the middle of the eighteenth century. It was the richest and most populous town of the Algarve, serving as a jumping-off point for Portugal’s expansion into North Africa. The churches represent power as often as they do piety: established to celebrate a victory in Morocco, or to provide physical and spiritual relief to returning adventurers, or to showcase a family’s or brotherhood’s wealth. They are absorbing windows into the past, as well as still in some cases being places of worship. In Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Plain and Baroque styles, from the gorgeous to the hideous, each one is fascinating.

Tavira's beautiful 'Roman' (actually medieval) bridge

Tavira’s beautiful ‘Roman’ (actually medieval) bridge

The Chapel of Santa Ana, one of the oldest in Tavira – and a yellow Renault 4

The Chapel of Santa Ana, established in the thirteenth or fourteenth century (and a yellow Renault 4)

Seventeenth-century tiles inside the tiny Chapel of Our Lady of Consolation, which once gave succour to the town's prisoners

Seventeenth-century tiles inside the tiny Chapel of Our Lady of Consolation, which once provided succour to the town’s prisoners

Rua D. Paio Peres Correia, a street named after the Master of the Order of Santiago, who took the town from the North African Muslims in 1242

Rua D. Paio Peres Correia, a street named after the Master of the Order of Santiago, who took the town from the North African Muslims in 1242

The typical Algarvean chimney is white, with a lacework design, and reminiscent of Moorish style. In Tavira, the traditional chimneys are four-sided, like these, and not round - though you see many examples of both kinds

The typical Algarvean chimney is white, with a lacework design, reminiscent of Moorish style. In Tavira, the traditional chimneys are four-sided, like these, rather than round (though you do see both kinds in the town)

Another Tavira chimney, near to the castle wall

Another Tavira chimney, near the castle wall

A four-sided chimney in our valley (which is in the district of Tavira)

A four-sided chimney in our valley (which is in the district of Tavira)

Anniversary

On 25 October we celebrated our first anniversary. It was a year since we had driven over the Spanish border in an over-full black Polo and arrived in Portugal to begin our lives here. It was a month later that we completed the purchase of our house and moved into this spot in the valley (giving us another anniversary to celebrate in four weeks’ time). We haven’t regretted the move for a moment. As I write, Husband is singing while he works, preparing his biggest batch of loaves so far, while I sit amid growing piles of books and leaflets for study.

 

*I decided, after some internal struggle, to use the proper nomenclature for birds: i.e. giving their species names in capitals. This makes it clear that our little owl, while being a little owl, is also a Little Owl – and who, by the way, after some silence over the late summer is now, happily for us, back in full throat at the close of every day and during the night.

Our lunch spot by the sea on beautiful day this week (at Fábrica do Costa)

Lunch by the sea on a beautiful day this week (at Fábrica do Costa)

Our local Climate March, taking place in Tavira on Sunday 29 November

Local climate activists. A march takes place in Tavira on Sunday 29 November, in line with others all over the world

Week 74: Rolie

For some weeks now, my Renault 4 has been misbehaving. This has entailed many meet-ups with Costa, my multi-tasking, extrovert R4 man, a Portuguese with a French accent and an outsider’s view of his own country. We meet at the Cooperativa, where he has a workspace arrangement with a mechanic, the same one who sorted out the R4 when I pranged the back end on the millstone outside our house (Weeks 49 and 50). The car issue at the beginning of this week – indicators that stopped working – was resolved in a matter of moments by Costa, his head under the steering-wheel column, a spanner in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. While fixing the lights, he delivered a non-stop commentary on the job in hand, on procrastination in sunny, southern countries (‘They say “Monday”, but you should ask, “Which Monday?”!’) and on some age-related concerns with his back that were hindering his positioning half in and half out of the car, all the while taking calls on the mobile, and grinning whenever his face was angled outwards so as to be visible.

The preceding problem had been an electrical one that caused the car to cut out. It would usually start again after a few moments, but this wasn’t much fun on the road in traffic. On my way to the Cooperativa that time Rolie had given up the ghost and I had been forced to leave him on the side of the road and walk the rest of the way. Costa came with me back to the car, laughing while perorating on the fact that he eats too much, that I give directions just like someone from the Alentejo (‘Oh, it’s just around the corner, no, not this corner, the next one …’), and that my ‘baby’ – babee, with the accent on the second syllable – was ‘a bad baby’. He got the engine going again and drove off. It took a substantial rewiring to sort out that problem, and it was the fixing thereof that had knocked out the indicator function. There had also been the rattling gear stick – now cushioned by a new rubber washer – and a flat tyre, a slow release caused by a tiny stone between the rubber and the rim.

The Cooperativa, with its huge, under-used (or unused) concrete silos and its Social Realist signage featuring a man and a woman in stout boots and with raised fists marching off into the future carrying a sheaf of wheat, offers space for many activities. While Costa fixes the indicators, a forklift truck manoeuvres sacks of sweetly pungent, freshly dried figs into a store-room. Wine barrels bob in water-filled plastic boxes under the water tank. The mechanic, a bear of a man – whose lateness caused the discourse on southern procrastination, though in the end he wasn’t really that late at all – arrives cleaning his sunglasses on his T-shirt, casually exposing his considerable belly, and joins in the conversation with the man under the steering wheel. Other people, to whom my car must be pretty familiar by now, come and go. Strange agricultural smells assail the nose. Mysteries unfold there. I don’t know the half of it.

Rain

Rain

Wet dog. Estrela, who so often comes to visit

Wet dog. Estrela, who so often comes to visit

These will be our first oranges of the year. I don't know what kind they are; they are an interesting drop shape

These will be our first oranges of the year. I don’t know what kind they are; they are an interesting drop shape

We will have many mandarins this year

We will have many mandarins this year

Grapefruit: the right colour already, but they need to grow a lot bigger

Grapefruit: the right colour already, but they need to grow a lot bigger

Rain

The real story this week has been rain. For days now it has done nothing but pour. Columns of rain have marched up and down the valley, thundering on the roof and hanging in sheets from the gutters. Surely the river will be back earlier this year. We expect it almost any day now.

Each time the noise of the rain stops, birds start up. Small birds are passing through in flocks and singly: wagtails, buntings and warblers; other birds are returning for winter. I opened the garage-type door to our ‘spare’ house one day this week for a yoga session, only for a bird to startle and fly straight into a window then land, stunned, on the floor. Thirty seconds later, it recovered itself and flew out of the still-open door. It was the redstart, my winter companion of last year when we had newly arrived in the valley at the end of the world. I’m so happy to see it back.

As I write I am deafened by the latest downpour and yet, incredibly, the internet is still functioning, allowing me to make this post. Equally incredibly, one day this week was hot and sunny enough for sunbathing at the beach. Our favoured beach at the height of summer is no longer easily reachable since the boat has stopped running, so we returned to our beach of autumn and winter: Barril, where the anchor graveyard is.

Taken on a hot, sunny day at the beach this week

Taken on a hot, sunny day at the beach this week

The anchor graveyard at Barril. At first, I didn't know whether this was an art installation or a dumping ground. It turns out to be neither. The anchors were for holding net frames for tuna capture and slaughter. They were stacked up here at the end of each season, ready for the next year. But then, in the mid-1960s, the next year didn't come - the decades of abundant, cascading tuna fish were over. Since then dunes have grown up around the anchors. All this is a story for another time

The anchor graveyard at Barril. At first, I didn’t know whether this was an art installation or a dumping ground. It turns out to be neither. The anchors were for holding net frames for tuna capture and slaughter. They were stacked up here at the end of each season, ready for the next year. But then, in the mid-1960s, the next year didn’t come – the decades of abundant, cascading tuna fish were over. Since then dunes have grown up around the anchors. All this is a story for another time

Weeks 72-3: Water

Solar panels in place; not yet fully connected up, however

Solar panels in place; not yet fully connected up, however

Autumn breakfast table

Autumn breakfast table

Early morning mist along the valley

Early morning mist along the valley

Sunrise

Sunrise

Midday cloud

Midday cloud

When I’m in England, I can hardly believe this place in the Algarve exists. And then I return, and here it is. I loved my week in England, but relished all the more the peace and silence of this place.

I came home a few days ago to be greeted by rain – such a blessing. Lots of it, too: the very fine and long-lasting kind that gives everything a gentle but thorough soaking. From a meteorological map it appeared to be the tail-end of a hurricane, Joaquin, that had caused my sister to hunker down on the coast in North Carolina, straight across the water from us. Joaquin just missed them, thankfully, then came spinning over to Portugal, losing its damaging power along the way, and eventually drenching the Algarve with long-awaited rain. The riverbed turned several shades darker, the hills became instantly greener, the air filled with the scents of spice and pine, and water rose up in our well. Today, for the first time in four months, we got the pump running and had our own, fresh, clear water gushing from the well into the cisterna under the front veranda: sometimes water seems like a miracle.

Our pond, holding on

Our pond, holding on

The riverbed, moist enough for little mushrooms

The riverbed, moist enough for little mushrooms

Pondlife

Our pond has survived the drought. (I call it our pond but it is no more ours than the sky above it. But we get all the pleasure from it.) Its water is fresh enough that it must be being replenished by an underground source. Its frogs, turtles and fish are thriving, albeit in reduced quarters. Usually when I walk along the riverbed I head towards the sea, some inexplicable force pulling me the way the water goes, perhaps. Today I took a midday walk in the other direction. With autumn, walks in the middle of the day are possible again. The sun shone, breezes blew, and almost no water was to be seen along the course of the river until I rounded a bend and came across a deep pond rather like our own. On my clattering approach – impossible to walk silently over a rocky riverbed – about two dozen sunbathing turtles slid noiselessly into the water, like the habitués of an illegal drug den. As I waited by the water’s edge, peering into the depths, an occasional head would surface, check the scene, then disappear rapidly on discovering that I, the raider, was still there. It’s an even deeper pond than ours, clearly fed by its own underground source, and feeding someone else in turn: a pipe in the pond, and a pump on the hillside, meant it was somebody’s water supply. Satisfied that I’d found something new, that even a short distance from our house there is much to surprise, I turned round at Turtle Dive and went back.

Turtle Dive: habitués in hiding

Turtle Dive: habitués in hiding

Olives and figs

We will have no olives of our own this year. Our tree, acting according to its own nature, is taking this year off. It should bear fruit again next year. Only cultivated trees, pruned, fertilised and culled, produce fruit every year. Our long-expected second fig harvest never materialised either. The fruit reappeared (see Weeks 56-7), but gradually over the hot, dry summer it shrivelled and died, no more than a snack for a few hungry birds, if that. The same happened to other wild fig trees in the valley, I noticed: their leaves yellowed, their fruit was stunted. We had enough water to keep the tree going, but not enough to bring its fruit to maturity. Maybe next year will be different.

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