The life of the valley

We went for a walk and found Camilla, the dog I looked after a little while ago, playing Grandmother's Footsteps with us

On a walk we turned to find Camilla, the dog I looked after a little while ago, playing Grandmother’s Footsteps with us

Misty Sunday morning

Misty Sunday morning

The sun breaking through. I apologised to visiting family from Sweden for the overcast weather, but they were thrilled just to see daylight

The sun breaking through. I apologised to family visiting from Sweden for the cloudy weather, but they seemed thrilled just to see daylight

Our valley might look like the end of the world but it has many stories to tell. Only a couple of decades ago there was just one car here, a beaten-up one at that. Donkeys would have done the work of taking people and produce into the local village. Now there are Land Rovers and jeeps, family cars and, of course, a Renault 4 (Rolie, who is mine). We have a neighbour who keeps sheep, who has probably lived in the valley his entire life. We have tried hard to engage with him but he’s not too impressed by us. This week I saw him smile for the first time. I slowed Rolie down to a crawl so as not to alarm his sheep on the dirt road. The big beasts didn’t look too bothered either way, but two tiny, white, nervous faces looked up from just below the level of the road on the river-side of the track: lambs. My face melted and my expression was caught by the old man. That was when he smiled.

I am fascinated by other Renault 4 drivers, though usually too shy to openly demonstrate solidarity. Husband doesn’t have the same reserve. Recently we drove past a yellow R4 that we usually see parked outside an equally yellow house on the winding route into the town of São Brás de Alportel. So happy we were to see the vehicle in use that Husband – unusually, he was at the wheel of my car – beeped the horn to say hello. By chance the next day, alone in Rolie, I saw the car again. The driver’s hat was barely higher than the steering wheel. As we drew level, an old, crabbed hand was lifted in greeting.

Wheat

Not long ago, wheat was grown here in the valley. People harvested their own crop and a portable mill arrived by truck in the season to grind it for them; like all country people they understood crop rotation and knew what the land was capable of. The women made bread in wood-fired ovens and it tasted like heaven, I’m told. But cereal-growing didn’t last: two, opposing forces killed it off. A drive of Salazar’s, Portugal’s ascetic, etiolated twentieth-century dictator, to turn the Eastern Algarve into Portugal’s bread basket led to wide-scale land clearing for intensive cereal production that gave little consideration to the reality of the soil. The earth here is perfect for olive, carob, almond, medronho, fig, cork oak, and for subsistence vegetable farming. The drive failed. After only a few years of year-round production the land was exhausted; it has since reverted to more appropriate use. Somewhere along the line cheap flour imports became the model instead, and that put paid to people growing wheat for their own sustenance. Why work so hard when you could buy the stuff so cheaply, even if it didn’t taste as good or have anything like the same nutritional content?

This might have been a field of wheat at one time

This might have been a field of wheat at one time

The path to the river

The way to the river

An abandoned watermill exists at the end of our footpath to the river. I can’t imagine there was ever water enough for a millrace, so perhaps this was part of Salazar’s failed vision too, but I don’t know. It’s a puzzle. The millstone, which doesn’t look well used, lies decoratively but uselessly outside our garage and we and our visitors occasionally reverse cars into it. For us it is a reminder that not everything goes well, even in our little paradise.

I found this line in a photographic book about the Algarve by a Dr Marjay, published in 1968, in what would have been Salazar’s thirty-sixth, and last, year as Prime Minister: ‘Living in the heart of this perennial spring the people of Algarve hardly feel the bitterness of life.’ A glib sentence like that would surely have had the approval of Salazar, whose regime openly cultivated a ‘conservative, paternalist and, bless God, “backward”’ country. Salazar didn’t have time for people’s innate wisdom and need for self-determination. (I’m grateful to Becky of Hidden Delights of the Algarve for The Algarve book tip; the words of Salazar are from a letter he wrote in 1962 and are quoted in Barry Hatton’s very readable The Portuguese.)

The rosemary bush in our burgeoning garden; I love this herb

The rosemary bush in our burgeoning garden; I love this herb

This is Christmas for us: the medronho with its fruit baubles and its flower bells

This is Christmas for us: the medronho with its fruit baubles and its flower bells

Lordy came to visit. He did not want to look at the camera, but he sat with his leg pressed against my shin in a companionable way. Estrela came too, and Eleuterio confirmed what was evident: she is pregnant, and we are in line for a puppy or two

Lordy came to visit. He did not want to look at the camera, but he sat with his leg pressed against my shin in a companionable way. Estrela came too, and Eleuterio confirmed what was evident: she is pregnant, and we are in line for a puppy or two

 

12 Comments

  1. Patricia Roberts

    Good reading as usual, learning so much about life in Portugal now and in the past. Al and family loved your home. Joy to you both for Christmas.

    Reply
  2. Fiona

    Gorgeous photos of the misty landscape.

    Reply
  3. Ruth

    “we are in line for a puppy or two”…that will make for more good stories & descriptions no doubt. When are they due to be born?

    Happi New Year to both of you x

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Hi Ruth, we’re not sure of timing yet, and we’re quite apprehensive about the responsibility too. Much to learn! Edith x

      Reply
  4. Hazel

    Am all excited about the puppies!!! Heavenly (appropriately, with all the pix of the sky) photos again — those skies look like paintings, and the rosemary is so alert and vigorous, with such lovely big flowers (unlike the north London version). xx

    Reply
  5. Becky

    How exciting about the puppies – good luck when they do arrive!
    And so so pleased you have found the book interesting. We have a few photocopies of relevant sections from the others we have, perhaps we can meet for coffee next week when you pop into Olhao for the flour, or do lunch again but this time in Tavira or at ours?

    Reply
  6. Janet M

    Lovely pictures.

    Reply
  7. fatma

    Oh how exciting! Will you be having an Estrella puppy??? This is, surely, the opportunity you have been waiting for??

    Reply
  8. fatma

    Ahh, reading the other comments I see I didn’t quite grasp the import of your written word…..You are actually decided, you will be having a puppy…..or two. How wonderful!

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Hi Fatma, actually we’re undecided about the puppy/ies, even such a joy as a mini-Estrela. It seems like such a big responsibility to take on. Wish us luck to make the right decision! xx

      Reply
  9. fatma

    You have it. Much much luck!!

    Reply
  10. Patricia Roberts

    Lovely views misty violet. Backdrop and then the delicious bread such a perfect life you have there ,bird.song,and visits from the your friends dogs.

    Reply

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