All in the name of progress

news: All in the name of progress

WHEN WE came to Portugal in 1986, Lagos was a pleasant working port, from which trawlers set out on a daily basis, and Odiáxere was a rundown village with strong Communist affiliations. Today, except for the waterfront and the area within the city walls, Lagos has become a concrete jungle spreading like cancer into the surrounding countryside, and Odiáxere has ‘Vila’ status. Along with this advancement have come bulldozers, ballast lorries, bulk concrete carriers and blowers. The ramparts are spreading.

In Lagos, blocks of flats that at one time had panoramic views of the sea or surrounding countryside now, more often than not, look across a canyon into the windows of high rise apartments opposite. New construction in Odiáxere has been overseen with greater care and more concern for the preservation of its character. However, about six months ago, the town square (Largo) became a construction site – a mini moonscape populated by little men dwarfed by their ‘Tonka Toys’. The dignified and beautiful old windmill is now besieged by a maze of low walls and piles of rubble. As soon as the wind starts up around noon, that area is under a pall of red dust and little wind devils, enough to break the heart of any dedicated housewife.

When finished, the square will have many uses, one of the most important being a place where the monthly market may be held. At present, stalls are set up on the football ground beyond the residential area where there is plenty of parking space, but there appears to be no provision for an influx of vehicles when it moves to the new venue.

No respect has been shown for a century’s old terrace of cottages that is a relic of the original village. Before new plans were implemented, these dwellings fringed the north eastern face of the Largo, but today they are hidden behind a high wall erected about five metres from their front doors. Some years ago, when Portugal took an economic upturn and construction firms were freed to some degree from government control, they began to ride roughshod over their heritage. It is evident throughout the Algarve, in Lagos and now in Odiáxere.

To date, the Growers’ Market has been left untouched, but as the town continues to be developed and eventually joins up with Lagos, I can see it being engulfed by the spreading tentacles of a supermarket chain. All in the name of progress – Oh! Brave new world. With the passage of time and dwindling water resources, local growers, unable to compete with cheap imported fruit and vegetables, will give up the unequal struggle and leave their farms.

In the British press and on English television, we are led to believe that a severe water shortage is imminent in parts of that green and periodically flooded country. What is happening to the torrential rain with which they are blessed?Surely that which falls on the north and west of the British Isles could be collected in reservoirs and piped to wherever it is needed. Meanwhile, holidaymakers bringing much needed money to the Algarve will expect daily baths or showers, full swimming pools and villas surrounded by gardens.

While it is difficult to keep up with the pace of change in Portugal, both in its laws and rising prices, suddenly to find that IVA (VAT) is now 21 per cent and there has also been another hike at the pumps, comes as quite a shock. With employers unable or unwilling to pay their workers on time, one wonders how the lowest income groups survive – not forgetting a large population of illegal immigrants without any income whatsoever.

As Live8 pulls money from those who can spare it for the impoverished and anarchic African continent, where the rich grow richer and the poor go to the wall, perhaps at the same time a little could be kept back for the sick and hungry in our own back yard. With an estimated 200,000 people demonstrating outside the G8 Summit in Edinburgh on behalf of the poorest countries in the world, perhaps a long term programme to restore their self sufficiency will emerge at last.

It must be the hot weather that has cast a gloom, or my liver is out of sorts – but one good thing has come from the past two weeks. While St. Vincent’s Anglican Church in the Algarve is going through a time of self-examination and change, and the west end lacks a priest, this Sunday at Luz Church, the morning worship was conducted by lay readers. Two ladies of mature years, one of whom is training for the priesthood, gave us a rich and varied hour of readings, prayer and familiar hymns, together with an encouraging sermon that really touched the spot. As we filed out to the sounds of an organ being played, there was an air of happiness and content among the congregation that promises well for the future: the only cloud on the horizon being that from the autumn, our Catholic hosts will be using their Church every Sunday until lunchtime. There can be no Anglican morning service and we have yet to agree at what hour in the afternoon will suit the greatest number of people.

On the bright side, it will be a change to have Sunday mornings free for all sorts of reasons – each to his own.