I’m very happy to be writing the blog again. Technical problems caused a two-week break in transmission. (No help from the site hosts, who in fact made the problem worse. Resolved in the end by a family member. Thanks, Simon!) Being forcibly offline taught me something: that I can’t relinquish this blog easily. By coincidence, the technical problem arose at exactly the time when I would have stopped writing if I had stuck to my second promise: to keep it up only for a full Algarve year. Our first anniversary of living here was on 21 November. It is not given to us individually to know when our days on earth will end, and I have realised that nor is it given to me to know when this blog will end. It has a life of its own.
Also, I’m stopping counting the weeks. I only started that because of the first promise, when I began the blog in London, which was to write once a week for a year and cover the whole process of selling up and moving and settling in to a new place. (I got to Week 52 and found I couldn’t give up then.)
So, to catch up. A couple of weeks ago we drove north into the Alentejo plains. It’s an extraordinary place of big skies and dazzling light. You feel like you are standing on a giant upturned bowl inside a blue glass dome. It was an appropriate setting for the big birds we saw there: Cranes and Great Bustards. (Around a week later we would be at the other end of the Crane migration route in eastern Germany, as part of a trip to see friends and family.) And it was home to big, fat, jazzily striped spiders like this one, which it turns out is very common hereabouts.
We visited Mértola on the way back to the Algarve. Like Tavira, our beautiful local city, and many other Portuguese towns, it dates from long before the founding of the nation of Portugal in 1143. Despite being some distance inland, Mértola was a trading port used by Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Knights of the Order of Santiago and on into recent times by copper traders, thanks to the navigability of the Guadiana river. A typical Portuguese city layout is of narrow winding streets and many small squares, with commercial activities on the riverside and administration and authority (be it religious or other) on the hill: Mértola fits this model, and so does Tavira.
I’m in the process of exploring and learning everything I can about Tavira for reasons I will explain in a future blog. It was largely as a ploy to get inside one of Tavira’s many churches – the big wooden doors usually remain resolutely shut – that on Saturday 14 November I went to see a Fado singer at the Igreja de São Francisco on Zacarias Guerreiro square.
It was the day after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Husband didn’t feel up to the sadness of Fado, though as Portuguese writer and poet Pessoa explained in a magazine article he wrote in 1929: ‘Fado is neither happy nor sad … [it] is the weariness of the strong soul.’ And, like I said, I was mostly just keen to see inside the church. The concert was part of the Música nas Igrejas (Music in Churches) cycle of Tavira’s music academy.
What a joy it was. The fadista, Sara Gonçalves, filled the crumbling, neglected Baroque interior with her fine voice. A couple of songs even had sing-along choruses. It was a truly uplifting experience.
The solar panels were installed on the hillside a good few weeks ago, and the battery of batteries, converters and transformers arranged in the control shed soon after, and ever since I’ve been quiet on the subject. That’s because it didn’t work at first. We would run the house on solar power and as soon as one of the big electrical beasts came into operation, like the dishwasher or the oven, the whole system would trip and we’d be powerless, lightless, waterless and phoneless. Get it back on and it would trip again. It seems that to begin with, the distribution around the various circuits wasn’t set up optimally. It took another couple of visits from the two experts, a lot of head-scratching and a fair amount of cussing, but now, finally, it works. We’re on solar power! It’s a really good feeling.