Looking back and forward

Looking back and forward

It’s almost December as I write this and the shops are doing their best to persuade us to buy our Christmas gifts early.
Sadly too many people will be facing a lean time of it this year and for many Christmas will be just another day to feed the family. Tourism does seem to have been on an upside this year if that is the business you are in, and you may have had six months’ summer employment, but what do you do now in the winter with little or no work around and you aren’t self employed?
We live in a consumer society nowadays and children have become used to expensive electronic toys. The majority of people have moved to the cities to live in apartment blocks and they have become entirely dependant on buying food and essentials from shops and supermarkets and there is no way they can live cheaply any more.
As a resident here since 1968, I wish sometimes that I could turn back the clock to when life was harder but people were more contented with a simpler way of life.
It’s easy for me to talk. I didn’t have to work hard in dry sandy soil with only the heavens to irrigate the crops in order to survive on the meagre diet provided in the countryside. But, in fact, vegetables, cooked dried pulses and fruit in the winter, or summer peppers, lettuce and tomato smothered in rich olive oil, plus the daily arrival of the fish seller on his noisy motorbike with sardines or mackerel to grill, were delicious! When accompanied by fresh baked country bread and homemade red wine, a positive feast.
Dieticians now call this a Mediterranean diet, very healthy and recommended, shared outside with the whole family on a sunny afternoon – a positive joy.
In the quite recent past, a group of small cottages in the countryside may have housed the local mechanics repair shop who serviced anything from motorbikes to old vans but especially three wheelers, Citroën 2CVs and the Renault 4 – all good working cars that could get down the pot-holed roads.
Then there would have been the “taberna” that sold homemade “medronho” and wine.
They also held a “baile” (party) every month and people came from all around to meet and laugh and shuffle around in a funny kind of dance. That was where Maria José met José Maria whose daughter married António João, the son of Júlio Caixeiro, the cousin of…
The “taberna” was also where you collected your mail and had it read to you as most people couldn’t read. You then bought a single sheet of paper and envelope, so the educated owner of the shop could write a reply if needed and you also bought essential groceries and dried beans, or corn for the chickens. They also had the only telephone for miles around, with a metre to clock up the cost of your calls.
Once a month you would go to the ‘mercado’ and take to sell, or go to buy, a sheep, goat or cow, some yellow fluffy chicks or ducklings, and maybe order poles plus canes for a new roof or even a front door with a window.
The ladies could buy wool or crochet silks, perhaps shoes, woollen stockings or material for a new dress.
The seasons determined what could be planted and everyone would pray that the weather would comply with the required sunshine or rain for their crops to survive.
That cluster of cottages have now been sold for enough money to move into town, whilst a foreigner has built a beautiful villa and pool so they can get away from city-living and be in the fresh air.
Most people now work for someone else instead of being their own masters, are burdened with mortgages for their homes and payments on the car, TV and any number of other things.
I don’t seriously wish the people of the Algarve back to those harsh times of old, but by abandoning their old lifestyles so completely, they have become more and more like the people who come here to get away from all that.
Sadly, the many foreigners who have settled here to live spend much of their time complaining that the way of life here isn’t what they had back where they came from, but they left where they came from because foreigners have moved into their country and are changing it to where they came from!
If only we all adapted to the country we chose to live in instead of trying to alter someone else’s way of life …
Ah well – I’m off to the land of my birth to celebrate an epic birthday I’m far too young to be having, amongst the dynasty I started here but now lives there. It’s a contrary old world, isn’t it?
Happy Christmas to one and all and let’s pray for peace and goodwill to all men at a time when the world is in great need of it.
By Jenny Grainer
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Jenny Grainer arrived in the Algarve to live, work and raise a family in 1964.
She is a freelance writer and her book ‘Portugal and the Algarve Now and Then’
is now in its 3rd printing.