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.
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.