Hope springs eternal

I think we all had high hopes for 2021 and I’m not going to say that they were dashed; however, there is still plenty to hope for in the future. The pandemic really does have us by the lapels and doesn’t seem to be planning to release its tight-fisted grip any time soon.

It would be great to hear that the vaccine programme is off to a galloping start, but it’s not. It is encouraging to hear that the number of cases and, yes, deaths is going down, but we’re still in lockdown for a while yet, at least in some parts of Portugal.

Plus, the weather hasn’t been that good; plenty of rainy, cool days, with the rest being cloudy and possibly more rain forecast.

I know we’re spoiled living in an area that can boast 300 days a year of sunshine, not just so far this year, but a few sunny days would certainly brighten our outlook from the vantage point of our locked-down residence window.

In fact, the rain can be a source of hope. The reservoirs have to be filling up and I have hope that the forest fire season will be diminished. Thank goodness for the buttercups scattered in shiny yellow profusion across our landscape. Even a few almond blossoms are peeking out in hopes of warmer weather.

I know I don’t envy the new American president, who seems to be facing more daunting challenges than ever. Of course, there is hope that Joe Biden will be more competent than the previous guy; and it won’t be too difficult to be more empathetic and much more honest.

Getting back on the right track is not a certainty however, especially with the threat of solar laser beams from space, election interference instigated by Hugo Chavez (rest in peace) and the continued saga of multiple impeachment attempts – that should be slam dunks but turn out to be air balls (basketball puns for those who get it).

I also hope that Brexit turns out well for everybody, but I have my doubts, what with the concurrent pandemic developing new strains, one that’s even got a British designation.

I hope my regular reader has been monitoring the outfits Boris Johnson seems to like to wear each day as seen on the news. Last month, I pointed out that he seems to like to appear on the telly in different costumes. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to see if it was a fair and accurate observation.

Well, recently during a daily BBC update, the prime minister sported four different getups – a white doctor’s coat, a blue technician’s gown complemented by a shower cap, yet another hardhat and yellow vest ensemble and even a standard jacket and a tie. I understand that clothes don’t make the man, as they say, but there is something to be said about dressing appropriately for every occasion.

I’m also hopeful that my lovely wife and I may actually experience something resembling a social life during at least the latter half of the upcoming year. So far, not so much.

Once a week, an excellent local caterer (Sunshine Catering) delivers a full hot and tasty meal, so my lovely wife doesn’t have to cook every night (I know – I should cook some, but she’s so much better and I do help out as much as I’m allowed). I do get to exchange a few words with the nice but busy fellow making the delivery, but it really doesn’t count as a visit.

I also try to only go to the local grocery store once a week and then mainly to load up on wine and potato chips. The owner, a sweet little lady named Paulina, and I often have a pleasant exchange and she lets me know what’s going on in our village, Santa Bárbara de Nexe – but again it needs to go on quite a bit longer to actually count as a conversation.

That’s pretty much it when it comes to mask-to-mask communication. Thank goodness for phones and some social media (zoom doesn’t really work, does it?) or the only beings I would have spoken to in the last few weeks are Fluffy, my loyal but aging dog, and my overworked lovely wife while she’s slaving away in the kitchen.

We rent a house in the hills overlooking Faro that has been divided into three apartments. Currently, the middle apartment is available for rent but, on the other end, the place is rented year-round by a delightful couple from Manchester, England. So that’s great, right? We can at least chit chat socially distanced across the patio and toast each others’ health. Nope. They’re trapped back in England in lockdown and not anxious to join our lockdown here. So it is very quiet inside our walls. How quiet? VERY, desolate almost, even though the views of the sea in the distance are usually scenically rewarding on days that aren’t cloudy.

Recently, I’ve noticed a few posts on one or another expat group’s site on Facebook about new arrivals. These are mostly retired folks, who have somehow managed to complete all their paperwork properly and achieved residency status. They flew in sparsely occupied planes, having paid exorbitant excess baggage fees, with their two large Siberian Huskies in cargo, only to find empty streets and closed restaurants.

That has to be weird. I know, five years ago, when my lovely wife and I arrived, it took a while to even find anybody that shared our situation. Early on, we went on quite a few road trips and saw plenty of historic sites but were pretty much on our own. So I know how it feels.

Good ol’Pat was finally involved in organising Americans Living in the Algarve (ALITA), a very active and welcoming expat group that can be found on Facebook. There are also Americans and Friends PT and Expats Living in the Algarve, which is more UK-centered.

I strongly suggest that any newcomers, who wisely picked up The Resident to find out what’s going on, to contact these groups. For those who already have, who knows, there might even be social events such as happy hours and winery tours held some time in the vague future.

Meanwhile, any newcomer can at least have some contact with people who remember a time when going out to dinner was a real possibility and going for a walk on the beach would not get you fined.

The thing to remember is that this pandemic endurance test is worldwide and that we’re not alone, though it might feel that way, at least part of the time. So far, my brother and his wife and friends from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Panama and Wales have been scheduled to visit and had to cancel. For some it’s been almost a year and still no opportunity to reschedule is in sight.

That’s a real shame because we love sharing the sites, sounds and smells of Portugal with our relatives and friends.

Last year, at this time, we celebrated my lovely wife’s birthday in Barcelona. While there were some Asian tourists who were wearing masks, we were totally ignorant of the crisis that was brewing. That was until our driver told us one day that a major international technical conference had been cancelled because of health concerns. We didn’t know how lucky we were and were quite surprised. Not any more.

Now we have no choice but to be patient and try to act responsibly.

Do I like huffing and puffing behind a mask? No, and my cigarettes keep getting bent or broken.

Do I miss the lads at the pub? Well, not really, but that’s another story. Do we miss even driving outside the confines of our “concelho”? Yeah, especially since most of our friends live across one border or the other. So whaddya gonna do?

Last week the headline on the cover of The Resident, our area’s outstanding English-language newspaper, read ‘Hope At Last’. That’s still the message this week. We have to keep the light of hope shining in our windows, until the doors of health and safety are opened again. Until that happens, I really don’t want to get within six feet of any other residents.

What I would appreciate is hearing from somebody other than my loyal reader and especially any post-pandemic newcomers. I’m always interested in hearing about what might turn out to be unusual, offbeat, cute or kooky story ideas, since I’m not beating the bushes like I used to. I’m also still curious to discover more expats in the Faro area. My email address is [email protected]

Only people wearing masks are welcome.

By Pat, the expat
|| [email protected]

For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.