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Visiting that badly run circus – arrivals

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.

We hoped that there would be no rain on the day of our daughter’s visit because the hike from car park to Arrivals would guarantee a thorough soaking at Faro Airport.

Meanwhile, the temporary arrangements for meeting visitors resemble a badly run circus. With its large marquee, well hidden sanitary arrangements and no visible helpers to guide confused travellers on their way, the whole effect is most depressing and a poor advertisement for the glories of the Algarve.

We have come to expect rain, however blue the sky, because on previous holidays No.1 daughter has brought foul weather as part of her baggage.

As it was she sunbathed every day and went home with a light tan. Economy being essential in these trying times, the return flight had us out of bed at 5.30am to be at Faro two hours before departure time. No.1 had paid an extra €20 for fast Check-in and Speedy Boarding, together with what appeared to be half the morning’s other passengers.

We joined near the front of the queue, the tail end of which snaked into the distance and she was checked in 50 minutes later: surely some people will have missed their flights.

While our daughter went home to hard frost and a likelihood of snow, we left Faro in glorious sunshine. It was a pleasant drive home punctuated by the recurring ting of tolls and restorative galões at a motorway service station for less than half the price paid in the UK for rubbish coffee.

With a sharp drop in temperature several nights running, frost has turned local vegetation white, cars have become sheeted over with ice and bird baths a skating rink. Once the sun has risen it melts the coatings enough to refresh surface rooting plants at the start of another dry day.

Drought is beginning to bite in the valley: a neighbouring farmer’s grain and grass crops are stunted and pale because the plants are unable to use soil nutrients in the absence of moisture, the cost of irrigation too high.

Although enjoying every sun drenched day, the knowledge of impending hardship in the countryside brings with it a sense of guilty pleasure that is unsettling.

Meanwhile, our wild and wooded plot has been blessed with a greater variety of passerines than usual, either because of its undisturbed nature or the dawn until dusk sunshine.

First to arrive was a rabble of azure magpies. These have been with us since well before Christmas, returning with much squawking to perch at night in an ancient carob tree interwoven with olive saplings.

Living on acorns, pine nuts, invertebrates and fruit, this winter they have been competing with a local family of hungry wild boar for whatever they can find.

Then in early January as I was looking through an east facing window a flock of ten Trumpeter finches landed in a huddle on the grass: tiny brown birds, some with scarlet beaks and pale pink underneath from throat to rump, the others less colourful which is their normal winter state.

With a small population in southern Spain, these rare visitors are native to the Canary Islands, North Africa and the Middle East.

Two weeks later twenty five Goldfinches (of the Genus Carduelis) arrived in the same area, gorgeous in their yellow, black and crimson livery. These trim little songsters have had a special place in the human heart since at least The Middle Ages.

A patron of bird feeders and seeding thistles (genus Carduus, those of the long sharp thorns), it has long been associated with The Passion of Christ. Renaissance painters Raphael, Barocci and Conegliano each included a goldfinch in a picture of the Holy family. In Madonna of the Goldfinch (Raphael) John the Baptist is handing one of these small birds to Jesus to forewarn him of his future suffering.

The other two artists depict a goldfinch in the hand of either John the Baptist or Jesus. Because of their long sweet song the beautiful little creatures are confined in cages, and sometimes crossed with female Canaries to enhance the melody.

Returning to our plot of ‘set aside’- as neglected land is known in England-there is a pair of Thrushes and several Robins scraping a living and waiting for rain to bring insects to the surface. As I write we have been promised several wet days by at least one weather site and it cannot come a moment too soon.

Sad for visitors seeking the well advertised sun, sea and sand of Algarve but a lifeline for the countryside. Meanwhile despite the unseasonable warmth and lengthening days our wood store is going down fast as a result of very cold nights.

Having come across a man selling firewood of fair quality at a very reasonable price, I failed to make myself understood when ordering a load over the ‘phone in what I thought was decent Portuguese.

Have yet to try again but am shamed into silence, and suitably cut down to size. Able to converse face to face, but words spoken on the telephone seem to be converted into an unintelligible code needing an Enigma machine to interpret.

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