Human chain (again)

The pool. We use it only mornings and evenings, during the day the sun is too powerful. These coincide with the passage of the bee-eaters over our heads

The pool. We use it only mornings and evenings; during the day the sun is too powerful. These times happily coincide with the passage of the bee-eaters over our heads

This is Quercus coccifera, the kermes oak, which I see at the top of the hill when I go for an early morning walk

Quercus coccifera, the kermes oak, which I see at the top of the hill when I go for an early morning walk

The alfarrobeiras are heavy with sweet-smelling, chocolaty pods, which clatter to the ground freely and often. This is a harvest I'm hoping to leave to our neighbouring farmer, Eleuterio

The alfarrobeiras are heavy with sweet-smelling, chocolaty pods, which clatter to the ground freely and often. This is a harvest I’m hoping to leave to our neighbouring farmer, Eleuterio, to collect

Turning some of the glut of peaches into chutney, which filled the kitchen one evening with the smell of vinegar

Turning some of the glut of peaches into chutney, and filling the kitchen with the smell of vinegar


Occasionally a tiny piece of heavy machinery will hum past your ear and land on a nearby tree with great firmness as though suctioned into place by a force within the bark. It is a cicada on the move. It is a stout insect with a wide, squared-off head that has a large eye on each corner, and lacy, overlong wings. The males’ collective noise – it is only the males – seems to make the air pulsate. They do it, I have read, by vibrating a membrane on the abdomen. I haven’t been able to get close enough to see this in action, if it is visible at all.

For most of the year we experience silence and birdsong. The months of high heat and slow movement are filled with this plangent, plaintive sound. It is the inescapable sound of summer.

The Red-rumped Swallows do not yet have hatchlings, but they must have eggs, for they are being furtive and shifty. The confident industry of nest-building was a different mode for them. Now, if I look up at their nest as I leave the front door, I might just see a shiny blue crown at the neck of the tunnel, which will quickly withdraw. I wait, then it re-emerges, big round eyes checking me out, then disappears once more into the safety of the nest. If I stay put for a few more seconds, it realises it has to disregard me and fly off anyway. Sometimes in the evenings we hear them in their mudhouse, madly tuning their tiny analogue radio. They still can’t find that elusive channel.

I feel rather like I’m emerging from a tunnel of my own making, out of a mound of manuscripts. Clear blue space awaits me, several weeks without the ping of the email, a staycation here in this beautiful spot, starting at the end of this week.

But the oil and gas threat never goes away. There are reprieves: promises of judicial action to undo the unethical contracts, drilling start dates delayed, government debates that suggest a degree of awareness at least. While I was buried in manuscripts, Husband, when not similarly buried under a mound of bread dough, was out on the anti-oil beat. The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, visited a nearby town of Loulé and was met by protestors. He shrugged off their concerns with a rather puzzling comparison between finding oil in the Algarve and flying to the moon. It isn’t possible to analyse this gnomic comment with any degree of success, so I’ve given up trying. The facts remain that deep-sea oil drilling – of an ‘exploratory nature’ – is due to start off the western coast of the Algarve on 3 August, while oil company Repsol have been rubbing their hands with glee for several years in the knowledge of a vast gas field containing half a trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas off the coast nearer to us, related to a similar field in the bay of Cádiz.

Last week Portugal’s environment minister came to Tavira to enjoy a sunny afternoon in the company of the town mayor. Together they were to open the new boat departure area for Ilha de Tavira (namely, a concreted-over stretch on the mouth of the river). Neither of them was expecting to be met by an anti-oil protest. It is amazing how effective six people can be when they show up at the right time and position themselves and their banners behind politicians on a photo shoot.

What else is to be done? How about all getting together and holding hands on the beach to form a human chain? Yes! Anything is better than nothing, and this turned out to be very good with hundreds of participants, perhaps a thousand if you include the many beachgoers on the hugely popular Ilha de Tavira who were persuaded to hold hands for a while in between running to the sea and back. A couple of press reports can be seen here and here. Typically of such events, estimates of numbers involved vary widely . . .

I was back from London in time for the beach protest. As I arrived at the beach site where protestors were gathering, someone from Tavira em Transição spotted me – this is a citizens’ movement I am part of – and asked me to take hold of the bamboo pole supporting one side of a large protest banner so she could run off and do other stuff. Husband and our two Lisbon friends had gone elsewhere in the line. The other side of this banner was held by someone I didn’t know, but who was fabulously vocal in the anti-oil chants and gave good interviews to the press. I held on to my bamboo pole from then on, and didn’t let go until it was time to roll the banner up and put it away at the end. I politely declined to be interviewed when a TV reporter came to me with his red microphone; I put this down to my lack of Portuguese, but it’s also got a lot to do with the fact that I don’t much like talking. Holding on to a banner: it’s a great role for an introvert at a manif. Just shove me in that direction and I’ll be there, hanging on, for as long as it takes.


  1. BeckyB

    Oh your pool looks so inviting as do your descriptions of summer. So pleased it went well at weekend, really hope those with the power to stop the exploration do something positive soon.

  2. Hazel

    Well, if the peach chutney turns out half as well as the exquisite apricot jam did (which I’m 100% sure it will), I’ll be over soonest to help you eat it! It looks yummy. Sounds as though the swallows will soon be on a non-stop infant-feeding mission. Pix, please! xx

  3. fatma

    OMG, that picture of those peaches is quite tantalising! My mouth is almost watering simply at the sight…..But forgive my ignorance, what are ‘alfarrobeiras’?

    When in Rome, do as the Romans do – respect to the banner holder extraordinaire!

    1. Edith (Post author)

      So nice to see you back, Fatma! I’ve missed you and your perceptive comments. Alfarrobeiras are carob trees; alfarroba is the carob. In Portugal, you must always look out for cakes made from alfarroba; they are very good. xx

  4. Husband

    There is also this article in English about last Sunday’s human chain:

  5. Lionel

    ONLY mornings and evenings?! You need to loosen up, dears …. oh, the delight of returning hot from shopping, lunch, gardening, even editing or baking or political protesting, and flinging off one’s clothes and leaping into one’s pool (even if it is boring blue rather than divine turquoise!) Now life doesn’t get much better than THAT, I’d say?

    We must meet soon, that is if I can tear myself away from the pool (and my new yellow sausage!)

    (Put this down to too much sun and heat and an excess of ecstacy?!) After too good a lunch?

  6. Patricia Roberts

    Love the discription of the cicada ,also news about the swallows,but oh dear such gloomy news about the fracking,you have tried your best but to no avail ,it would see a miracle is required.

  7. ana

    Oh! We must have crossed paths! I was there to cheer for my boyfriend in a beach race, and ended up joining the protest while waiting for him to cross the finish line.

    So… hi! I’m Ana. I’ve been following your journey since before I started my own move to Algarve last year. It’s nice here, isn’t it? 🙂

    1. Edith (Post author)

      Hello Ana. I’m delighted to ‘meet’ you. If you join another protest event – please do! – I’m usually there and wearing a pink trilby. Come and say hi. And, yes, it’s wonderful here. We’ve never been happier.


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