Finally, after presenting my new passport, evidence of my retired status, pension slips, financial independence from the Portuguese state, having property here, having a fiscal number, being a Portuguese taxpayer, being married to a Portuguese citizen and promising never to work, I have my ‘Residência‘; I am effectively Portuguese. Well, European at least, with the right to stay here for at least the next 5 years. This is a right of every EU citizen, of course, but in Portugal, everything is muito complicado as I have tried to explain before. I mentioned to Luis that I’m not allowed to work and he is not happy because he had some plans for me to help out around the house. That is now, however, completely out of the question, of course. I really want to stay legal.
Sorry about no posts for 2 weeks but my old mate Brian from Brighton has been here. When I say old, I really mean old. He featured in one of my earlier unpublished masterpieces, Artcore. They´ll publish it when I’m famous. Anyway, I digress. Like a Parisian who has never been up the Eiffel Tower, I’ve been coming to the Algarve every month for 6 years but have hardly ever done anything touristy and this was a chance to put on my shades and Bermudas and let the side down. A few impressions follow:
Silves is not really a holiday town but is the original Moorish capital of the Algarve and its skyline is dominated by the castle built by the dastardly Saracens before the Crusaders evicted them. Remember that at the time, the Moors were the most cultured and advanced civilsation in the world; they introduced oranges, lemons, olives, pomegranates, grapes and religious tolerance. Although Muslim, the society was largely secular and allowed a great flowering of learning and culture. The Moors were in the Algarve for around 500 years (most of them entirely peaceful) so their impact is everywhere, even today. The castle is impressive in its red stone and it towers over the town; its massive walls survived the earhquake of 1755 which destroyed most other buildings, including those in Lisbon 300 km away. The remainder of the old town of Silves is what you would expect for Portugal; narrow cobbled streets, nicknack shops, restaurants and cafés doing Jazz on a Sunday in the open air under leafy trees and a gentle breeze. I’ve been to Silves countless times and have always liked it.
Portimão is good for shopping and has a great marina as well as massive cruise ships that loom over the quayside. It also has our hairdresser who is camp as ninepence and Brian waited in the square while he teased and pretended I had enough hair to cut, then charged me for it. Monchique is a favourite and is perched about 800m up the hills and looks down over eucalyptus, pine forests and the entire Algarve coasline. I’d quite like to live there some time. They brew a local firewater, Medronho, there which is undrinkable but breaks the ice at parties.
Aljezur is a good drive and has a romantic broken-down castelo on top of a hill. Sagres (the end of the world; O Fim do Mundo, the furthest extremity of Europe beyond which there be demons) was a major disappointment but at least they brew good beer there. Lagos is smaller than I expected but has an expansive open centre with ancient walls and a coastal fort and museum. Here, Brian achieved a first; until then, he was under the impression that sardines came in tomato sauce in tins. Here, they’re big and fat and full of tiny bones.
We first went to Faro on the local slow train; a return ticket (60km each way) is less than 5€. Actually, it was quite fast and reminded me of British Rail before denationalisation. I think that Ryanair must have taken over the stations because each one we passed through had the name of a major town on it (Albueira, Armação de Pera, Boliqueime, Loule, etc) yet each was in the middle of a field of dereliction, surrounded by nothingness. The stations are all derelict but sprayers of grafitti have still managed to decorate every brick with a complete lack of artistic talent. Still, the journey was cheap; you get what you pay for.
Faro we went to twice and it is better than I had expected; some have described it as ‘a bit grotty’. The outskirts are largely industrial but the centre is attractive with cobbled streets and historic buildings, some of which predate the earthquake. If I try to think of a UK parallel it would be like a corner of York but the difference is that there are many buildings that are unoccupied or derelict. And that’s in the old walled part of the city I can’t believe that no one has the money to see the potential for tourism to sort it all out and make it a tourist’s park. Maybe it would be a bit too much like a Disneyland.
The churches we saw are all the same; mostly opulent and over decorated edifices, promising redemption and eternal life but surrounding you with images of torture, suffering and death. Somehow, I think that I and the Catholic faith will never be reconciled. The Igreja at Alcantarilha has a disturbing ‘Capela dos Ossos´, a chapel of bones, where the good people of the XVI century managed to find a new way of decorating walls. Bizarre to say the least, but I suppose it saves paint.
That’s it. Brian reluctantly goes back to the snowy wastes of England tomorrow and I’ve enjoyed his stay. It has increased my consumption of beer, wine, petrol and fish. Oh, and did I mention that it also stopped me writing? Except this blog, of course. Anyway, it’s back to work tomorrow. Oh, I forgot! It’s not permitted……damn.