Week 67: Scents
The thing about writing a weekly, real-time blog is that at any time you can be tripped up. Such as saying, as I did last week, that the intense heat of high summer had left, and that it might be months before we had any precipitation. No sooner had I spoken than the intense heat came back, followed by a thunderstorm and a heavenly downpour. It was brief, but enough to raise a fresh red-clay scent from the parched earth around us.
Gummy Cistus ladanifer still clothes the hills behind our house. Though it has paled and shrunk in the summer heat, it has not entirely lost its resinous scent or its stickiness of leaf. It’s a year-round aroma, it would seem; stronger or weaker but always there. Other smells are shorter-lived. Smoke that filled the valley several weeks ago turned out to be from a fire in the town of Vilamoura some 40 kilometres away, oddly funnelled up our valley by the patterns of wind movement that day. It had us scared for a few moments before it got blown away again. A few days after that we woke up to a warm, sugary smell: the roasting of alfarroba (carob) in a nearby mill, carried over on the breeze. The dark brown carob pods are collected in the month of August. At a mill the seeds get extracted and it is the pods that are roasted and ground to make carob flour for cakes and bread. It’s a worthwhile crop for people here: even a modest-looking tree produces a sackful or two.
The heat and thunderstorm were a temporary burst. Now the nights are undeniably cooling and we wake up to dewy mornings and a spicy vegetal scent that I cannot precisely identify; it takes me back to mornings in southern India, and reminds me of turmeric, but I don’t know what it is, nor whether it will last more than a few days.
One set of our neighbours has gone, the others are about to leave; we’re sad to see them go. The heady rush of high summer is over. Autumn is here.
Between Husband’s baking schedule and my work diary we had few occasions to experience the beach in high summer, but we made good on the last day of August, taking the boat from Santa Luzia and the short boardwalk across a Helichrysum-clad, curry-scented barrier island to the sandy beach. We like to take the first boat of the day to experience the beach while it is quiet and the clam-diggers outnumber the sunbathers.
The clam-diggers move like wading birds along the shore. They loosen the saturated sand with paddle movements of their feet, then – instead of a beak – pull up the little telline clams using a long-handled sieve. Being by the sea is such a perfect experience: the susurration of the waves, the scent of the salty air, the silver flakes of the sunlight dancing on the water. We might have missed lots of the festivals of summer; we might be about to miss our neighbours, but I welcome the month of September. It’s one of my favourite months of the year, and I think it will be beautiful here in the Algarve. I hope we can find more time to spend by the sea.