Week 45: Simple pleasures
Most weeks this blog writes itself, which is lucky. Over the course of the week impressions coalesce, an idea forms, and when I sit down to write, the piece emerges almost complete from some unconsidered part of my mind. But not this week. This week there is such a clamour of impressions and thoughts that I don’t know where to start.
The week started cold. We lit the fire at nights, and a couple of times in the morning, too, to take the chill off breakfast. Now a fire is a laughable notion. Our lives have moved outside. The evenings are warm enough to sit out, wrapped in a warm breeze, stars alight in the deep-dark sky. (I have longed for this time.) The beach, empty and windy when we visited a week ago, is today full of people enjoying the heat, with sun-loungers and umbrellas spread out for hire. The sand glints and the sea is silver-bright. Hoopoes sit by the roadsides that lead to the beach, then fly up and display their 1930s-dressing-room glamour in peach and black-and-white feathers.
I’m learning to temper my impatience to know what everything is, though I was pleased to identify the curry scent along the tamarisk-lined walk to the beach as a plant: helichrysum. In the garden the scene changes daily: new leaves in vivid green; fattening clusters of carob pods; ever more blossom in shades of pink and white; increasing numbers of flowers, both garden – white iris has taken over one corner – and meadow. The vegetable beds are producing radishes and sugar peas, the first of our own crops.
The red-rumped swallows swoop in and out but still have not taken over the nest. House sparrows, on the other hand, are paying it intermittent but rapt attention. I noticed a yellow smear on the ground nearby, then bits of pinky-beige-speckled eggshell. The internet helped me out on this one: a house sparrow egg. An unfortunate loss on the part of the sparrows, squatters unaccustomed to a mud nest, or sabotage by the swallows, who, though they seemingly don’t want the nest, don’t want any other bird to have it either? Impossible for me to know.
And then a few days ago I spent a fruitless hour driving in circles around a large golfing and leisure resort, a Truman Show kind of setting. I never found the place I was aiming for, and I had to give up and go home. My internal compass (frankly, never that good) decalibrated itself totally in the midst of all the bright green grass, white mansions, polished pavements and clearly delineated but undifferentiated roundabouts. Another side to the Algarve; I prefer my lifestyle a little less luxurious.
From all this clamour emerges a small obsession with the fig tree. Ours, only weeks ago a bundle of smart but dead-looking sticks, is now covered in leaves and fruits. Leaves and fruits: how does that happen? The budding botanist is baffled. Alan Davidson, brilliant twentieth-century polymath and foodie, does not help. In Fruit he writes: ‘The fig is botanically not a single fruit but almost 1,500 tiny fruits, which are normally what are thought of as the seeds.’ I see. He goes on: ‘. . . its fruits [are] fixed to the inside of a vase-shaped structure, termed syconium. Earlier, at the flower stage, the syconium is the same shape but much smaller. The syconium contains both male and female flowers.’ I am no nearer to understanding this one. Clearly the only thing to do is to wait and see what happens on the tree.