Week 68: Away
Autumn has arrived. This means cover is required in bed at night, but the days are still sunny and warm. Our birds have flown away: the bee-eaters, the orioles and the swallows have gone south or, at least, if they haven’t left yet, they are gathering elsewhere for their collective departure. It’s quiet without them. I await the return of the redstart and the robin, and wonder if we will start to hear from our little owl again.
The bread from our new oven is delicious: a crunchy, brittle crust and a firm and nutty crumb. With nothing on it but butter or oil, it’s perfection.
It’s been a busy week for us both. We’ve been getting ready to go away for a few days: to London. I managed to carve out just enough time to gather the last of the prickly pear before they fell, and I tried my hand at cactus jam. I couldn’t find pectin in the shops so I turned the unpromising apples from our tree – small, hard and green – into a homemade version of the stuff. I boiled 750g chopped green apple in water with the juice of half a lemon, pressed the pulp through muslin, and thereby extracted what was supposed to be an abundance of pectin. I wasn’t confident in it, so I added the whole lot to my 43 scorched, peeled, whizzed and strained prickly pear fruit, and gave the mixture a good rolling boil. The result is two large jars (500g a piece) of cactus ‘jam’ which appears not to have set at all. But it will be heavenly on ice cream or yogurt, and at least nature’s sweet gifts didn’t go to waste.
On the plane over, a Portuguese woman and an English woman in the row behind me fell into polite – though loud – conversation. The Portuguese woman is a carer in London; she gets paid for nine hours a day, then the rest of the work she does in a day goes unpaid. She doesn’t mind this because the lady she cares for is lovely, she said, but she misses the sunshine. Each time she arrives in London she calls her mother and cries because the grey skies ‘break her up into pieces’. I miss our home but I haven’t cried on the phone to my mum yet.
Straight from the plane, we visited an old haunt in Covent Garden, an Italian restaurant run by brothers from Le Marche. In our absence, one brother has returned home. ‘It’s the sun,’ said the remaining brother. ‘You wake up in a different humour. Anyway, I don’t want to grow old here.’ He understood why we’d moved to Portugal. He liked the people very much, he said, describing them as ‘humble’. (I’ve heard this word used a lot for the Portuguese people. It’s interesting, and not inaccurate.)
Portugal has recently increased the number of refugees it is prepared to take. I can’t be exact because numbers vary according to source and date, but it’s a fairly small number – it’s a small and relatively poor country. Some are due to arrive in the Algarve in October. I don’t think the refugees themselves will get any choice where they go, I don’t know how they are selected or how they will get here, but I do know there’s a Welcome Refugees group already set up in the Algarve as of this week. I guess this destination isn’t at the top of a refugee’s list. The economic powerhouses, such as Germany, are the places to start a new life when you’ve got nothing left and have to rebuild from the bottom up. But at the very least, if you have come from Syria, the climate and vegetation of the Algarve will not be too alien.