Natal

Santa Luzia on Christmas Eve, where we went to eat fish for lunch

Santa Luzia on Christmas Eve, where we went to eat fish for lunch

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Last year I didn't know what this was. It's oxalis, or Bermuda buttercup, a invasive plant but a beautiful one too, which furls its yellow flowers at night and opens them to the sun in the morning; seen on the Christmas Day walk

Last year I didn’t know what this was. It’s oxalis, or Bermuda buttercup, an invasive plant but an attractive one, which furls its yellow flowers at night and opens them to the sun in the morning; photographed on our Christmas Day walk

The rising sun after a night of heavy rain caused steam to rise from this cork tree

Cork tree steaming in the rising sun after a recent night of heavy rain

 

Christmas Day was winter-sunny and bright. Spotless starlings gathered on the telegraph wire in front of the house to whistle their high, ascending calls, like in-drawn breaths. The seasonal light favoured the azure-winged magpies in the valley, lowlighting their air-force-blue feathers to great advantage. We walked eastwards into the neighbouring valley, deeply cut with a tiny stream that feeds desultorily into our river. Within twenty minutes we had left all civilisation behind: not a single person to be seen, nor a house, though a few ruins and one well, deep with water. Several black, skeletal trees told the story of fire, no doubt the terrible one of 2012. How close it had come.

The extraordinary peace of Christmas Day was exchanged for something more lively on Boxing Day as friends arrived from Germany. Our jeep journeys henceforth have included two pre-teens, who relish fording the river and skittering over the stones of the smaller dirt tracks, something the hire car cannot do. One such stone was our undoing: as easily as though it were an axe, it ripped a tyre right open. It seemed best to abandon the jeep for the time being – it was too dark to contemplate tyre changes – while we walked the rest of the way in the gathering gloom, hoping the two fathers in the hire car, now sure to reach home before us, would not be anxious. Lucky that Husband keeps a torch in the car.

That walk home in the near dark might well turn out to be the highlight of the holiday. The air was luxurious: soft, scented with Cistus ladanifer and lavender. One pre-teen managed to stop her foot landing on a moving beast just in time. We shone the torch beam on it: a lustrous black and yellow Fire Salamander, so magical to see. Its rubber-shiny black skin was reminiscent of a brand-new tyre, as though it came out to mock our man-made ills with its god-given gifts.

Presépio de Natal

The bombeiros (firefighters) of Tavira have created a spectacular nativity scene at their station. Occupying the space of two fire engines, it tells the story of the nativity within a colourful, global background. Anachronisms, geographical implausibilities and out-of-scale figures fill the holy scene with both wonder and humour, and in some places, I suspect, are evidence of indulgence towards children whose toys had been redeployed. My particular favourites were an Alpine village on the hill and a tiny robot turning a carcass-laden spit. Love, patience and attention to detail had been poured into this grand work. The day we saw it was Christmas Eve, so the crib in the manger was still empty; we need to go back and see the new-born in place.

The carpenter's

The carpenter’s

The manger on Christmas Eve

The manger on Christmas Eve

 

Horse

Christmas would not be complete without Horse. It was this time last year that the mystery horse turned up in our valley and stayed for the best part of two weeks, occupying pretty much my every waking thought as I puzzled over whose he might be, was he all right, had he been abandoned, did we have enough carrots in, and so on. Now I know his owners, know where he lives, occasionally pass by his place and have been known to take a few carefully chopped up carrots and apples his way. At the end of November, when we were in Germany, we heard from the owner that Horse had escaped again; had we seen him? He returned within a matter of hours. (I like to think Horse came to see if we were around and, finding us away, gave up and went home.) Since then, his opportunities for escape have been firmly cut off by extra-secure fencing. Not that he suffers; this horse lives the life of Riley, making people love him and refusing to do much in return apart from supplying large amounts of s**t. Dear Horse.

Horse

Took the pre-teens to see Horse. He says, ‘Bom ano novo.’

6 Comments

  1. Clare

    Bom ano novo to you two too! Here’s hoping 2016 is a great one. I am still puzzling over where 2015 went, over in a flash.

    Reply
  2. Hazel

    Great to have a reminder of Horse — especially without the flies that dogged him in the summer. Loved the peace that emanates from this week’s edition! Gotta go and get my eyebrows torn off now. xx

    Reply
  3. L.

    Thought you might like to know – the local name for the Oxalis is “Boa Noites”, which is of course what they do after basking all day in the sun; they then refuse to get up again unless the following day is sunny! Lovely double version too, worth cultivating, but they have defied my attempts at naturalising here – stubborn as well as lazy!

    Reply
  4. Becky

    The South Africans eat Bermuda Buttercup, apparently lovely greens!

    Wishing you a very Happy New Year, and thanks for the tip about the Tavira Presepio, will try and see it next week.

    Reply
  5. Patricia Roberts

    Love the Nativity scene,altogether your Christmas sounds so lovely,good year to you.

    Reply
  6. fatma

    Lovely to know Horse is still on the scene. And those nativity scenes are to be admired. It’s interesting and welcome to hear, as is often the case, how an everyday mishap often transpires as good fortune rather than bad – the walk home in the night after the slashed sounds magical. Happy and happily thrilling New Year to you

    Reply

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