“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad”. George Bernard Shaw
We are often asked ‘Why Portugal?’ which is a difficult question to answer, as it is far less about economics or climate than it is a heartfelt journey towards a little village that kept drawing us back again and again.
In the Wind in the Willows, Mole is arrested in his tracks in the chapter ‘Dolce Domum’ by the sudden calling of his home:
“It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.
Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. … the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.” (Kenneth Grahame)
We had been determined to travel widely and explore many different places; Hong Kong; South Africa, Venice – all wonderful, amazing places. And yet, a borrowed small fisherman’s cottage in a tiny fishing village on the Algarve stole our hearts. We were smitten and returned whenever we could, until finally we made the fatal mistake of looking at house prices and the cost of living.. and realising we might actually be able to buy a house here!
We warn people of this now when they come and stay at our house – beware the magic that bewitches you and attacks all your senses – you may never be the same again!
So what makes it so special? Certainly the weather is a big factor, and long summer days of uninterrupted sunshine helps enormously – although we know it is not all sun – boy can it rain here! But it is so much more than that; the people here are generally a gentle sort, polite, restrained yet so helpful. We have a neighbour who, in just the last week, has given us pots for our garden, followed by home-made ‘bone meal’, then a lesson in how to use it.. all offered freely with humour and lots of sign language! We are now ‘neighbours and friends’ for him. Our immediate neighbour gives us so many lemons we are constantly looking for new lemon recipes, and they have been wonderful to us whilst we have been ‘home and away’ looking after our house for us. A walk past a local restaurant recently resulted in the waiter drawing us in and insisting on buying us a drink on the house , we hadn’t been there for some months and an hour later we were still catching up on the latest news with him.
There is a different, gentler pace here, with local church bells that ring every hour, followed by another church in the distance which chimes away three minutes later!
There’s also a general sense of being able to find joy in the moment – despite the recession. We stumbled across the start of a local festival last week, with traditional singing and dancing – the Portuguese do enjoy dancing!
There’s a sense that the seasons, the land and farming, and the church calendar still give this country its rhythm and pattern.. you are never far from open countryside, and we often hear a cockerel crowing from a neighbour’s garden (even if he does sound somewhat constipated which always makes us giggle!) People often say this is what England was like fifty years ago?
The Portuguese also are an interesting dichotomy – they drive everywhere (often badly – indicators? pah!) – but in the evening they like to ‘promenade’ – we love that people stop and say ‘bom dia’ or ‘boa noite’ to you – and they smile at you! It takes some getting used to after the UK.
We’re not completely smitten past the point of reality – we know that the pace and the bureaucracy can get to you – especially compared to the UK and different technology – and the language barrier continues to make everything more difficult… but I hope that we are able to ‘enjoy the moment’ more here, slow down and accept a different pace and way of doing things, and remember why we fell in love with this special little place.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things”. Robert Brault