Spent a couple of weeks in the Algarve. Liked what I saw of Portugal. Got back a week ago. Stayed in Alvor, what was once a small fishing village and is now a small but not overwhelming tourist town. Had a great time – brilliant beaches, vino verde, et al – but never mind that. Here, in no particular order, are a few things that struck me (click on the pictures, and click again to enlarge):
- On the main roundabout in or out of Faro Airport this wonderful set of figures by sculptor Teresa Sofia Paulino. It’s called Os Observadores, or The plane watchers. Nice idea, beautifully executed. (Not sure calling it ‘The plane spotters’ really does it justice, Val.) Didn’t have a chance to take a photograph myself but it would have been hard to do justice to them all in one shot; the image used here is the cover photo of the sculptor’s Facebook page. Her website (click here) has a homepage of exquisite simplicity (at time of writing, of course).
- Another intriguing work was João Cutileiro‘s Homenagem ao Pescador, or Homage to the (well endowed) fisherman, in the harbour area at Alvor. No, we couldn’t work out what the head was all about either, but it’s a striking piece. This was close to a restaurante called O Navegador (The Navigator – see, I’m practically bi-lingual already on the page) where I had a taste of the Algarvian Trilogy – a tart made using figs, almonds and carob – and had the most flavoursome boiled potato I can recall, ever; I do not have the words. Divine is not one you would normally use in conjunction with boiled potatoes, but it wasn’t just me, either. On the subject of eating out, as a piscatorian with a paranoia of fish bones, let us hail the monkfish. Had a fine time in the Adega d’Alvor restaurante – brilliant welcome and friendly service, lovely food (monkfish again) – only let down by them having run out of the Algarvian Trilogy.
- The statues and tile work in Monchique are worth a nod here too. Someone has cared, the town has lots of nice touches.
- Got to mention all the textures and colours, the naturally sculpted cliffs, all those varying strata, the reds in the sunshine. Seems once an A level Geography student always an A Level Geography student; I’m not ungrateful. The photo is from but a small part of the spectacular structures at Praia dos Três Irmãos, or Three Brothers Beach, the Three Brothers being the survivors of a promontory, like The Needles on the Isle of Wight but more colourful. Good swimming water for those up for a sea dip I am assured.
- The western side of the Rio Alvor estuary has been generously graced with a European Community funded boardwalk over the tidal shallows and vegetation down to the beach; money well spent, I’d say. Mies van der Rohe (“God is in the details”) would be pleased with the rusted structures that occur – satisfyingly to my eye – at intervals and junctions along the boardwalk’s length.
- The local supermarket was part of the Pingo Dolce chain; hard not to succomb to calling it Pingu. In translation ‘Sweet Price’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, removes an element of mystery, suggests less than the tremendous bread and fish counters. Leaving the bird life for a while yet, I will venture that while the Iberian Magpie is a slimmer, more graceful and nuanced creature than we are used to back in the UK, the same cannot be said for the Iberian Bar Code. As it happened one of our happy band had packed a DVD of Fellini’s 1960 black and white movie La Dolce Vita, which some might call synchronicity, others coincidence. Whichever way, ‘dolce’ losses something in translation. As it happened I kept nodding off (I was tired – we were sampling our own sweet life) for its duration and missed the – I’m told – iconic fountains of Rome scene altogether. Film seemed to go on for a long time but the bits I saw mean I may return.
- A different model of household waste recycling: no house by house collections. Instead we have the Ilha Ecologica, spread at frequent intervals around the town. Under the pods – specific to bottles, cardboard, plastic and metal – are removable tanks that are replaced by empty ones every day. Bottles descend into a cavernous echo chamber; the clatter of a single bottle is an experience, the depositing of a party-load spectacular (and possibly fatal with a hangover). Hard not to refer to them as Illogical Islands (though they seem to work well enough) the Ilha Ecologica would appear to be an absolute gift to crime fiction.
- And speaking of echo chambers, the local marsh frogs, hanging around by the pipes taking the occasional streams under the back lanes make a remarkable noise of a summer evening.
- Didn’t see a lot of the World Cup, and, Portugal’s matches aside, what was available to us in the villa was fairly random, so I missed England’s last two matches altogether, which was probably a bonus. With commentary in Portuguese it was refreshing not having to – with the odd honourable exception – put up with the usual witterings that I returned to for the quarter finals in the UK. What sort of a life has Rio Ferdinand had that so much of what he sees happening on the pitch is “unbelievable”? My knowledge of the Portuguese language was essentially nil as far as the spoken word went so it was football all the way. When Portugal were knocked out at the group stage all the shops were suddenly promoting Brazil tat. At least Portugal won a game. I find it hard to remember an English player displaying any of the real football passion seen in this World Cup from the likes of the USA (as opposed to John Terry being ‘patriotic’ aka thuggish) since that Beckham performance against Greece back whenever.
- Abandoned buildings off the beaten track intrigued and provided interest both as supporting frames for the local flora and platforms for some unlikely graffiti. That’s a life-size Marshall amp and the poem on the other side of the same cottage reads, “Her eyes pierce the void / Cr??? (cross?) deep dreams of chaos / He whispers Meerkat” and it’s signed Meerkat. Google gives up no source. There’s a story there – a band not getting it together in the country?
- Swallows had chosen to build a nest on top of the villa’s patio floodlight. They work so hard. It was decided to not use the light for the duration (so no midnight swimming in the pool) and there was definite feeding but no fledging before we left. Would love to know how it turned out. As a result of all that and plentiful other swallow activity and some undeniable swifts at the airport I’m hazarding a boast that I can now tell the difference. Lots of other bird interest. The aforementioned Iberian magpies, black winged stilts, a flamboyance of flamingos, the storks nesting on turrets and chimney pots in Silves, a good look at some resplendent bee eaters (kingfishers of the air in their iridescence) and, hey! – a fleeting glance (for some of us) of a hoopoe.
- Oh wotthehell, here’s a photo of a beach:
- So I leave you with an image of the Lady who graced (or was it haunted) the villa hall. And another survival from a back road in Monchique. Never mind Abbey Road, I need to get a bowler hat.
Big thanks to V & P, ta to A, R & J.
Not forgetting other A, of course.
And Jess: how can I throw it
if you won’t let go of the ball?