Week 77: St Martin’s Summer
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.
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.