By MARGARET BROWN [email protected]
Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.
Despite heavy rain clouds overhead and real wintry chill in the air, a delicate perfume of Nespereira tree blossom fills the air with a promise of spring.
Members of the Japonica species, these trees were first cultivated in China over a thousand years ago and figured in some beautiful paintings from the Song Dynasty of the 12th century.
Specimens came to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, brought back to Iberia from the time when Portuguese explorers sailed round the Cape of Good Hope and eastward to the Spice Islands in 1512AD, eventually to land on the mainland of China.
One of the first local fruits to appear on supermarket shelves, nêsperas are eaten raw, used in tarts and for making jam. Long lived and able to survive untended in places with a Mediterranean climate, although indigenous to the Algarve, many are being cut down to prepare ground for more construction work.
Happily no such fate has befallen the sweet chestnut tree, fruit of which is the main feature of the feast of St. Martin’s Day. Festivals are held all over Portugal on November 11 to celebrate the end of the agrarian year and to remember Saint Martin.
Originally a soldier during the 4th Century AD, he was noted for his compassionate and active help offered to the destitute, was ordained Bishop of Tours and eventually sanctified and adopted as their patron saint.
The roasting of chestnuts, eaten with other choice foods, is central to these parties. Jeropiga, also known as “Farmer’s wine”, is a traditional accompaniment that should be aged for at least a year before use.
Made in the proportions three to one from young fermenting wine and Aguardente – a local brandy with a kick like a mule – dilution with a little water is advisable before drinking.
Now that the festivities are gathering momentum in the run up to Christmas, it is worth bearing in mind this is also the season of Advent, that there is another side to the fun and games.
The Church is preparing not only to celebrate the first arrival of Jesus the infant, but is looking forward to a Second Advent, the arrival of Christ the King. A time of reconciliation and hope, however faint, that the world will finally be at peace, to be ruled with truth, justice and righteousness.
As well as joyous revels and family reunions, this period is also one of personal accountability for one’s behaviour and repentance for wrongdoing, not unlike Lent. While the discipline of fasting is rarely practiced, there are many people who have no choice.
Only walk round Lagos and have a look outside the supermarkets where beggars are growing in number; or visit the Church in Luz to see hungry hands reaching out to the departing congregation on a Sunday. There will be more as recession bites more deeply.
While Britain is in the grip of ice, snow and bitter cold the seasons here are not as we knew them when we first emigrated to Portugal, and one morning last week we awoke to thick white fog obscuring everything beyond the end of the drive, a temperature of 18ºC and an influx of mosquitoes which appeared to have mistaken the time of year.They were after my blood.
Water lilies were in bloom on a neighbour’s barragem and not far away fields were bright with yellow flowers, offering a touch of sunshine on a dull day – not the acid yellow of indigenous Oxalis but more the colour of Wild Mustard.
By afternoon, the indoor thermometer had reached 20ºC, mushrooms and other fungi were shouldering their way through a mat of vegetation in the paddock below the house, and the Boss decided not to light the living room fire. While farming follows a pattern of work in accordance with each season and in expectation that the climate will keep to its age old rhythm, such changes throw the whole system out of kilter.
At dark of night, the cricket population, having performed its raucous chorus during the summer breeding cycle, appears to be tuning up all over again with increased enthusiasm. In the absence of much in the way of Christmas lights in Lagos due to the recession perhaps, like Crickets, should any revellers be out and about they will mark the time of year by generating plenty of noise and heat instead of light. Meanwhile the regiment of palms lining the Avenida is in darkness, the glittering corsets and fronds dripping with tiny lights that charmed with such delicacy in past years being no longer there.
Out of respect for family finances we have agreed not to exchange gifts on the 25th having decided to upgrade the surrounds of our small house instead.
Patios and walkways laid by the original builders, which began disintegrating some time ago, are to be replaced with tiles laid on a fine concrete base.
While this was hardening, we kept Millie the shag pile bitch shut in except when out on the lead, but her neighbourhood friend knew no boundaries.
He not only left a trail of middle sized paws but brought along a mate whose feet were double the size, carried twice as must weight and sank to the bottom of the mix.
Small pellets of concrete have migrated indoors despite care taken to wipe our shoes, the carpets and floors speckled with grey grit and Millie’s feathers full of the stuff.
Without doubt, the end result will be excellent.