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Carnival as usual

By Jenny Grainer [email protected]

Jenny Grainer arrived in the Algarve to live, work and raise a family in 1968. She is a freelance writer and her book ‘Portugal and the Algarve Now and Then’ has sold more than 2,000 copies.

Portugal has an ever changing face and never more so than as it struggles through the current financial crisis.

When I moved here to live in 1968, just two years after my first holiday, the country was still in the grip of a dictatorship. As a foreigner, the only rule we had to adhere to was to keep silent on matters political and, for the rest, just enjoy the sun, sea and sand of the beautiful unspoiled Algarve.

It wasn’t hard to do, with the province almost cut off from the rest of the country, with simple people eking out a living from either the sea or the land. Most were illiterate but all were warm, friendly and sharing.

When the Revolution brought about by a military take over on April 25 in 1974 happened, it took a few days for the news to sink in to the local population and didn’t make a lot of difference when it did.

Of course the foreign community took it very differently and many fled in blind panic convinced that a bloodbath would follow. Happily none of these wild imaginings did in fact happen because it simply wasn’t part of the make-up of the Portuguese.

Fun in the streets of Paderne. Photo: SUPPLIED
Fun in the streets of Paderne. Photo: SUPPLIED

They took things in their stride which is always a slow and pensive one and set about learning what democracy meant.

The face of Portugal began to change as the people experienced a freedom hitherto unknown to them. Along came better schools, better housing, doctors and a change in living standards and health.

This, in turn, brought about a huge physical change in the stature and ambitions of a people previously suppressed and made to tow the line. All, or most of this, came about when entry to the Common Market was gained and the rest of the EU should be proud of many of the changes their money brought about.

Now, 38 years after that revolution, with a generation of adults who have never known poverty as their parents and grandparents did, they have to deal, like the rest of Europe, with the very harsh lesson of living within your means.

I didn’t panic when I lived through April 25 and I’m not about to start now.

Unlike their Greek counterparts and even the Spanish and Italians, the Portuguese are not a volatile nation. I would be very surprised to see hoards of men and women rampaging through the streets throwing bricks, setting fire to buildings or turning cars over thinking this would help them in any way.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any loud voices or expressive waving of arms or screaming and tears; there is no question that there will be and has been much objecting, but I can’t imagine it will turn to violence.

Certainly the politicians are taking stringent steps with the economy, which are not to anyone’s liking, and stupid fund raising efforts such as the much discussed tolls on the A22 are only going to increase the problems of the Algarve and instead of gaining money for the coffers will be losing it and causing dangerous traffic chaos as well.

Still I’m convinced that the people of Portugal will just tighten their proverbial belt by another notch and carry on with their lives – just as I have witnessed this weekend with Carnival fun going on as always.

We are truly blessed in the Algarve with a wonderful climate and this year in particular, whilst the lack of rain has blighted the lives of farmers, it has for the most part brightened the lives of the majority.

The colourful floats and streets full of happy people making the most of an otherwise unhappy time was, at least for a few hours in the warm afternoon sunshine, great fun.

There were less shop bought costumes as mums and dads put their imaginations together to come up with a lot of home-made costumes for their children to wear as their grandparents did – as I did – years ago. It’s what people have to do when times get hard.

The bubble has truly burst and it isn’t easy when you have been living to a decent standard to have to lower your sights for a while but maybe this younger generation will benefit in the long term and grow up with a better outlook and attitude toward life.

I grew up after the war happy to get a book, a tangerine and maybe a few sweets in my Christmas stocking. I played on bomb sites and my mother made most of my clothes but I never knew I was deprived.

I have never taken something home that hasn’t been paid for and although I own a credit card because it’s the only way to pay for purchases online, the bill is paid at the end of the month in full.

Remember the character in Charles Dickens’ book David Copperfield, Mr Micawber, who famously advised: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure 19 shillings and sixpence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds annual expenditure twenty pounds and sixpence, result misery.”

Food for thought perhaps?

To obtain a copy of Jenny Grainer’s book ‘Portugal and the Algarve: Now and Then’, please email [email protected]