Monthly Archive: November 2015

Week 77: St Martin’s Summer

Early morning river

Early morning river

Sweet-smelling loquat blossom

Sweet-smelling loquat blossom

Cat and cactus; my neighbour is back, and I will miss feeding the animals

Cat and cactus; my neighbour is back, and I will miss feeding the animals

Other cat, on a sack of alfarroba - I will miss him too

Other cat, on a sack of alfarroba

My companion of the last ten days, coming to our terrace in the hope of a bread snack (which she got)

My companion of the last ten days, coming to our veranda looking for a bread snack (which she got)

 

Quite a lot of the entertainment round here takes place in Flaviano’s shop, that multi-purpose venue with the year-round singing Father Christmas. Sometimes that entertainment is me. This week I was met in the covered exterior of the shop by a seated group of three: Flaviano himself, the camionista whose drunkenness was the cause of disapproval a few weeks ago, and the round lady on her old office chair, her favourite because it’s padded and she can swing from side to side on it. I was wearing an ankle-length jersey dress. The round lady, wearing trousers, looked me up and down and said, ‘Nice dress but you can’t do this in it!’, then leaned back and scissored her legs up in the air. An impressive display for an elderly and stout person. So I stood on one leg and lifted the other straight up to the side, a sort of a half-scissor, to demonstrate that I had plenty of stretch in the fabric of my dress. Nods of satisfaction all round. As I walked by the round lady, she held out her hand for mine. Apologizing, she squeezed my hand: ‘You’re OK, aren’t you? I don’t really mean to make such fun of you.’ Teasing is a form of acceptance, isn’t it?

My Portuguese is still very limited. In the towns, especially a place like Tavira, much visited by foreigners, most people speak English. In general the Portuguese are willing to speak English and very good at it too, and it’s too easy to let them. Here in the campo, however, it’s a different matter. Here the language is deep Algarvian, and it’s sink or swim for me. I have to rely on body language, and hope no one asks me a direct question that needs an answer beyond how I am that day. So it’s perfectly possible that something else altogether was going on in Flaviano’s, but I don’t think so. Sometimes you don’t need words.

I rather like going around in a fog of incomprehension. It stops you taking life too seriously.

One day this week a flock of birds about a hundred strong flew down the valley, sunlight shining on their wings. Binoculars were needed for a better look: woodpigeons. They are either northern European birds migrating south to the Mediterranean for winter – a sensible move – or local flocks on a feeding frenzy, their numbers swelled by the surviving August-born young, filling their crops with acorns for later digestion. They landed fleetingly on the oak trees in our part of the valley and moments later were gone, moving on downriver. Always something new to see here.

New output of tin loaves

New output of tin loaves

Round loaves

Round loaves (and empty tins)

O Verão de São Martinho

I was wrong – and not for the first time – when I said that the Algarvian ‘spring’ in October was likely to reverse sharply into winter. Blazing sunny weather has returned and lunches can be eaten outside again. I hadn’t taken into account Saint Martin’s Summer. St Martin’s Day – 11 November – is celebrated in northern and southern Europe, but with a few interesting differences. (In the UK we pretty much ignore it, having lost touch with the traditional agricultural calendar, and having eclipsed St Martin’s Day with Remembrance Day.) Take Germany. Here St Martin is lauded for cutting his coat in two and giving half to a freezing beggar so that each of them might have some warmth. In Portugal St Martin is celebrated for giving half his to coat to one beggar, then the other half to another beggar, after which the good weather returns and bathes the coat-less man in sunshine. How pragmatic are our religious beliefs! Summer returning to northern Europe in mid-November really would be a miracle. Here, it actually happens, and people celebrate with roasted chestnuts and agua-pé (‘foot water’): young wine from recently trodden grapes, fortified with aguardente.

Last two logs: we need to get new supplies in ready for winter

Last two logs

Half an hour later

An hour later – now we’re ready for winter

 

Week 76: The river is back

I'm looking after a neighbour's dogs and cats. This one is always leaping with joy so I can only catch her mid-leap

I’m looking after a neighbour’s dogs and cats. This one is always leaping for joy so she’s difficult to photograph

She was pretty excited by the river, too, but also scared. She stayed in the shallow parts and whimpered if I waded too far

She was pretty excited by the river, but also scared. She stayed in the shallow parts and whimpered if I waded in too far

Much of October felt like a second spring. Showers were plentiful – such a relief, after all our anxieties about the aridity. Patches of bright green appeared on the hillsides. Tiny white snowdrop-like flowers emerged: Leucojum autumnale, the autumn Snowflake. Blue-winged Grasshoppers flew up from the riverbed and the paths around at approaching footfall; as good as invisible on the ground, it is only the flash of blue wing when they take flight that lets you know they are there. In our garden, it was possible to sit out in the warm sun and be surrounded by birdsong. At the front veranda, the sparrows flew in looking for the mud nest, as though ready for another brood. But the nest is gone. We took it down to get ready for painting the walls, and a smelly, wormy thing it was too.

But this is a spring in reverse, a spring heading for winter. On Sunday 1 November we woke up to thunder and heavy rain, and read of an extreme weather alert for the Algarve, especially between the hours of noon and 3 p.m.: up to 20mm of rain per hour, and gusts of wind at 80 kph. Here in our house at the end of the world the outlines of the hills dissolved and the sky vanished. The rain came down in torrents but we were safe and dry inside, and cosy with the fire lit. Flaviano and the nice round lady at our shop/letter-collection centre were very happy about the rain when Husband saw them two days later. People in local towns didn’t fare so well, especially the tourist developments on the coast, where streets ran with water and bars and shops and houses got flooded. The emergency services have been praised for their interventions. An Albufeira SOS page has been set up on Facebook: self-help for the families and businesses affected by the flooding. One visitor to the page lamented in Portuguese: It’s just sad that we are in Portugal but everything on this page is in English. I know nothing of Albufeira and its ilk; I’ve never been there. It is another side to the Algarve than the one we know. I am sorry for the people there, while I can’t help wondering what part the planners and developers played in creating the conditions for storm and heavy rain to turn into flood.

Monday saw more and more rain. It was intermittent, as though the sky takes a huge in-breath, then spews out rain until it needs to draw breath again. Husband had been out shopping. He was happy to arrive back in a dry spell. He got out of the car, picked up the shopping, then, in walking the few yards to the front veranda, got drenched. I opened the door to see him dripping wet, a surprised look on his face.

The river, having started as a trickle on Sunday, was in full flow by Monday. Its reappearance is a month earlier than last year.

The riverbed on Sunday after the storm - the river at this point is a trickle just behind me

The riverbed on Sunday straight after the storm – the river at this point is a trickle just behind me

The river on Monday: at last the fish from the pond get to go somewhere

The river on Monday: at last the fish from the pond get to go somewhere

The river on Tuesday, still flowing well

The river on Tuesday, still flowing well

Husband

Other news, besides his being caught in a sudden surprise downpour: he’s baking more bread than ever, and is also standing in as projectionist for Tavira’s Cine-Clube for a couple of weeks. In summer the club puts on the wonderful outdoor film festival I mentioned before (see Weeks 61 and 64), and the rest of the year maintains a weekly showing in the town’s cinema, a down-at-heel, atmospheric place, which could do with a few more visitors.

Cinema lobby

Cinema lobby

Two lots of antique projectors, and between them, hidden from sight at this angle, the modern, computer-driven version

Two lots of antique projectors, and between them, hidden from sight at this angle, the modern, computer-driven version

Bread

Bread

 

 

 

 

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