The river is very talkative these days. We’ve had so much rain that it babbles loudly. We can hear it from the front terrace, adding a new track to the bird sounds that accompany sunny breakfasts. Only two such breakfasts have been possible in this week of cloud cover. The well is liquid again and allowed us a second cisterna top-up of the month; this is the water tank under the front terrace, which supplies water to the house. A mathematical error in its building means that it is unusually capacious – 30,000 litres instead of the intended 15,000 – and we have managed to get it about three-quarters full, which is good.
Winter is a beautiful time in the Algarve. I love the cool brightness of it, the lushness of the hills, the crystal water that gushes from our well, the quietude in local towns; I love the fact that daytime is always temperate, if not warm, while night-time calls out for a fire to be lit.
I’ve been exploring Tavira some more. The town was at the height of its success in the sixteenth century. Dom Manuel I was on the throne until 1521, and known as ‘the Fortunate’ for the wealth that came in through the spices and gold of India and Africa. His name was subsequently given to the predominant architectural style of the era, Manueline, also known as Portuguese late Gothic. The armillary sphere, a navigational device represented by a globe or half-globe encircled by bands, is a key Manueline symbol. No surprise there, with the astonishing success of Portuguese navigators and the riches pouring into the coffers of the Fortunate king. Other marine ornamentation – shells, pearls, rope, seaweed – also found their way into frothing, elaborate designs, but my personal favourites are the simpler examples of the style, ones which arguably show the calming influence of the Renaissance.
At this time, the Gothic pointed arch has been replaced by a rounded arch, often containing counter curves, like this one in Rua da Liberdade:
And here is another, the original doorway of a sixteenth-century inn, and now, as you can see, part of a chemist’s:
And here is what remains of another . . .
with, if you zoom in closely . . .
a tiny, highly simplified, upside-down head – the discovery of which absolutely made my day. It’s on the house said to have been built in 1541 by André Pilarte, stonemason and Renaissance designer of the Misericórdia church.
So we went to the Sessão Pública de Esclarecimento, where representatives of various oil companies plus, my favourite fool, Paulo Carmona of the ENMC oil quango gave, after much public pressure, a series of talks to demystify what the process of oil prospecting and exploitation was all about. This is the cabinet of fools:
The oil company representatives seemed to think they were there to give a geology lecture to a bunch of schoolchildren, or else to bring the good news to the benighted, and might have been surprised to be met with 250 stroppy, well-informed and angry members of the public. The presentation of the Italian rep, from ENI (Agip), was the worst, and ended with this spectacularly patronising picture:
whereupon he was almost laughed out of the lecture hall. However, it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all. These people have never heard of climate change, never heard of renewable energy, never heard of a global movement away from fossil fuel. Because if they did, they’d have to cease to exist. They’d have to uninvent themselves. We’re stuck with them. I’ll do everything I can to stop them despoiling this beautiful part of the world and to protect it for the future, but I know there’s not much I can do. So here’s the deal. I’m just going to enjoy the hell out of being in this beautiful place while we still have it – OK?