Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Knocking on heaven’s door

I’ve been debating whether to write this blog entry as death is one of those strange topics.  But the custom of notifying local people that someone has died by stapling notices up around town has had me hooked since we first got here.

We all know we live in an aging population, well triple that for Pera!   Seriously when our neighbours moved here with their two young girls I think it was the first young children in Pera for years.  Simply by attending events, even I, manage to make the average age a little lower!  So, as in all areas the only people having a boom in this recession is the undertaker!  

A death is announced (not by a notice in the paper as Agatha Christie announced) by posters going up around town, with the details, date of the funeral and often a photo of that person looking so young and healthy that I don’t recognise them!  Funerals happen pretty quickly round here.  Within a couple of days you are sleeping in your spot in the cemetery.

Cremation is rare, in fact we are told that Rui (our local grocer and undertaker (seriously)) only arranged his first cremation a couple of years ago.  Tradition is to be taken to your family plot where your name is carved into the family headstone.  Our 86 year old neighbour tells us that she’ll never leave Pera, even in death, as she has her spot in the local cemetery.

It’s what happens after the announcement and the funeral that has inspired this short blog. 
Because despite your age, riches, likeability or any other redeeming feature in life, your death announcement is stapled to the same door, where thousands of staples remain from previous lives and following your funeral your notice  is torn from the door and scrumpled  up and thrown under the doorway. 

Now if I was more poetic then I’d find you a nice bit of symbolism in this.  But since I’m not, I’ll leave you to ponder it and decide if there is indeed symbolism to find!!!

 And sorry to Tricia Gray - I couldn't work the turtle into this at all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Room for Mushrooms?

It's about this time of year when Peter gets all excited and actually wants to go out for a walk in the woods. The rain has come, the leaf mould is all over the ground and the mushrooms have appeared once again.

Parasol Mushroom
This year, it's a bumper crop. From Fairy Rings in the garden lawn to Parasol mushrooms in the market. Next month Peter will be going on the mushroom identifiers walk once again and this book will be complete with notes on where to find the edible ones.

Fairyring Mushrooms

We had a bit of luck recently on our way up to the Coentral Chestnut Festival - we came across a large Cauliflower mushroom nestling in the woods. A gourmet delicacy we are told! This along with Parasol mushroom from the neighbour’s garden and some Milky caps from the roadside were cooked up for brunch with friends the other day.

Cauliflower Mushroom
Beefsteak Mushroom
Despite having a super book on how to identify the right mushrooms for eating I always worry a little. It's just that there are so many entries in the book which start with 'don't get this confused with the similar looking poison variety'....

Cheating death the neighbours tucked into mushrooms on toast in the November sunshine. Washed down with a little Moscatel at 11am everyone survived the day.

Mushroom three ways

Is it a good time to tell you that I don't really like mushrooms!!!

 And just because I have your attention, here is a photo or two of Lord!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A doer-upper

Aldeia da Mata Pequena is a small rural village on the extreme outskirts of Lisbon. The village is one of only a handful of Portuguese villages that have been bought in total and restored as holiday destinations. This whole village (although only 7 or 8 houses) has been taken from the jaws of decay and restored to create a 'traditional' Portuguese village. Complete with little old lady, dressed in black from head to toe.

We stayed there recently on a trip to the area for a wedding. The self-catering houses are basic but beautiful, resulting in some creature comforts (fridge, tv) but traditional features (two ring cooker, no fire place but a wood oven) creating what their website calls a 'balanced restoration'. http://www.aldeiadamatapequena.com/langEN/01aldeia/index.php

The village has won awards for this balanced restoration, using traditional materials such as, lime mortar, poplar, cedar and pine timber work, barrel roof tiles, stone flooring, wood-fired floor tiles, lime-washed walls. Traditional outbuildings such as hen houses, wells, pens, pigsties, and dovecots… have been preserved, as well as ovens, salting tubs, stone counters

It is stunning, but I cannot help feeling this is what Disney would do if they restored an old Portuguese village. Is it possible that something so lovely can be too beautiful? Too perfect? Too picturesque?

Take our village for example. It's small, it only has a handful of permanent residents, and it could be stunning (ahhh I feel bad for the village now, it is stunning, but just not in the same way)...let me show you....


Street in Pera

Street complete with old lady in Mata Pequena
 So, not much difference, just add an old lady (we have plenty to go around) take down the cement wall and you've got it.

Take one tumble down house and restore it to glory in Mata Pequena

Take one of the many houses in Pera and do it up
 Quite a few 'doer upers' in Pera to take your pick from

Stone building, complete with cute cat in Mata Pequena

Stone building in need of love in Pera
 The cats come free with every purchase here, or dog in fact.  That's one thing these villages have in common...people dump their pets here.  The cat in the photo above was dumped at Mata Pequena (but adopted that day by a couple from Lisbon).  They told us, many people come to visit the village and because there are a few village animals, they bring back their unwanted pets to let them free in the village.  It's illegal whichever way you look at it - but people still do it.  Here, I've counted two new strays in the last week...that's just the dogs.
I've put this photo in cos I like it!

The picture perfect village scene in Mata Pequena

Not quite some perfect but certainly lovely in Pera

So, do you get what I mean by 'Disney'...? It's maybe just too perfect. Just maybe you need a tumble down house, the glass bin in need of emptying and a dog poo in the road to make it feel real.. It would be lovely to live in a village where every house is picture perfect, but that takes investment which means foreigners....and we couldn't have that. Could we!?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Music to my ears

The majority of village Festas (local festivals) focus around a lot of very poor music, from local accordion players thrashing out the classics, to middle aged men singing ‘party hits’ with scantily clad girl backing singers doing a few basic Wigfield Saturday Night moves.
The normal Festa entertainment on offer

The Candal Festa of Music was billed as something quite different, with  real music from Fado to a Portuguese Irish band (!).  Set in the mountain-top xisto  (pronounced shhisto) village of Candal  - now home to just a few full time residents, but home to some of the best holiday homes you’ve ever seen, the setting could not have been more beautiful. 
Set into the hillside = lots of steps

In true Portuguese style we missed the first act but climbed up the village (set into the hillside would be a better description) to watch a Coimbra guitarist playing some melancholy Fado music while we perched on the steps in the afternoon sun. 

I was put off watching the next act by first having to sit through a piece of ‘performance art’ with two girls dressed the same, with their shoes off, sitting still to a metronome – me and performance art don’t seem to mix, “hide their shoes” I said to Peter as we left to get a couple of sangrias!
The village courtyard

The village courtyard with a natural stage shaded by the vines provided the next setting for the next group, a couple playing traditional and modern songs.  She had a wonderful voice, the music was not turned up to 10+ through the amps (the traditional setting for the modern festa) and the atmosphere was genial and relaxed.

More sangria was drunk as we awaited the arrival of the Portuguese Irish band (!)…a group of Portuguese guys with a passion for Irish music – so we’re sitting in a village on top of a mountain in the balmy nigh time air listening to a fiddle and a bodhran drum – stranger things have happened.

I can highly recommend that next year anyone coming over to visit time their trip to attend this music festival…did I mention it was all free (except the sangria, but at 1.50 euros a glass I am not complaining).   

Monday, August 27, 2012

oh what a lovely bougainvillea

It was something I wanted to grow, a plant which would cover the wall, give shade, give colour and really stamp the fact we lived abroad.  Bougainvillea.

We have the other Mediterranean type of plants growing; we have olives in abundance, we have the grapes thriving, we have the figs establishing, but alas no bougainvillea.   I looked up how to grow it and it says:  Bougainvillea thrives in full sun.  “At least 5 hours a day of direct sunlight is the minimal light required for good bloom. More hours of direct sun are better. Less than 5 hours and the plant may not bloom very well.” 

5 hours of sun ‘check’, good light ‘check’, south facing ‘check’….but alas the Med we are not!  This little peak of Central Portugal has cold air in winter (snow even), a vigorous breeze at dusk and is prone to a late frost.  Our courtyard is just too exposed to the elements, there is no little ‘nook’ for a bougainvillea, there is no wall for it to climb up.  So, after a courageous start in the greenhouse,  our little bougainvillea is more than dead, it was reduced to sad brittle branches before the dog leaped on it and it collapsed.   

Alas, alas….so as a result I am reduced to uttering that phrase ‘oh what a lovely bougainvillea’ whenever we are out and about and taking bitter jealous photos of some of the thriving bougainvillea just a couple of villages away…

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A bit fruity

We don't have much luck with our fruit harvest. Our trees have leaf curl are strawberries are eaten by the blackbirds, we've had one raspberry from the bush Lord has knocked down 100 times and the blackcurrants have given us just a handful of berries. So, with a poor crop of any single fruit and a bowl full of plums which only seem to get harder not riper, I decided to cut our losses and harvest the fruit to make squash.

Simple recipe: I used plums, white currents, black currents and strawberries but any soft fruits would do.

Wash your fruit, don't peel it, don't de stalk it, do deseed/stone it

Dump all the fruit (between 1lbs and 1.5lbs) into a saucepan

Put a few springs of lemon verbena or mint

Cover with water (about 5 pints)

Boil until the fruit is mushy (it smells fantastic)

Mush fruit a bit more with the back of a spoon

Pass fruit through a colander into another saucepan

Pass fruit back through a fine sieve into the first saucepan

Put the fruit back on the heat and add 1lb of caster sugar

Don't stir for 5 mins
Once the liquid is bubbling away stir until the sugar disappears and you've got a silky liquid which lightly coats the back of a spoon

Let it cool

Bottle it by passing the liquid through a muslin cloth to remove any sediment

It'll last about 2 weeks in the fridge

Mix with water for squash, mix with vodka for a treat!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

International Stereotypes

The first Pera International Day was held on 16 June this year, it started out as a birthday party and book swap and ended up a day of friendship – local people and ex-pats from the surrounding area.  
We’re quite an impressive bunch when we get together, from the English to the Americans, Welsh to the Australians and Dutch, there are plenty of us to go around…with a Brazilian thrown in for good measure!

The event, organised by Peter WD, was an excuse to get people together, it came with the added benefits of supporting our local social club and encouraging everyone to speak some Portuguese.

Our social club put on one of its traditional BBQ’s complete with Caldo Verde soup (cabbage with a spot of Chorizo thrown in) followed by pork, pork and more pork.  The ‘cheese eaters’ (how the locals refer to the vegetarians) had Peter made veggie lasagne and the quick removal of any chorizo slices from their soup bowls.

I wondered how much we’d all conform to the stereotypes everyone holds, did the English become too rowdy after too many Sagres Minis for example?  Did the Aussie take control of the BBQ and the Brazilian amongst us start the dancing?  Well, no, they didn’t and I think that’s because as individuals we never live up to the stereotypes, but we seem to confirm to stereotypes as a group.  Maybe someone looking in from outside saw not a group of strangers become friends, but a group of ex-pats taking over a Portuguese community - I hope not.

What with the Euro 2012 in full swing and the Ukrainian and English football fans sadly living up to their image (not all, but the sad minority) we had a great opportunity to see the Portuguese team in action at a Euro 2012 friendly against Turkey.

Off we went down to Lisbon with some Portuguese football slang in our brains, sadly I can only recall that a ‘Frango’ (a chicken) is when the goal keeper makes a complete mess of things.    And the reason I remember, well Portugal were not at their best that day (and you could say since) and the poor goalie did make a complete meal of the final Turkey goal….3-1 to Turkey! 
But I didn’t really go for the football, instead I wanted the experience of a Portuguese match.  The tickets were on sale cheaply (just 15 euros) and as a result the Benfica Stadium of Light was full.  Now it’s been a while  since I was in a pub in Highbury and watched Arsenal win the double (1998) then proceeded to watch a bunch of Gunners turn over a London bus in what can only be described as ‘happy rioting’, but these football fans were almost all families.  Dad’s bringing their sons, whole families coming along to support their national team ‘POR – TU – GAL’ being shouted at the top of their voices and free Portugal scarves waving.  Maybe the atmosphere is different if you get a Sporting vs Benfica match (rival Lisbon teams), but the atmosphere on this occasion was joyful – well until Portugal demonstrated some of the very worst football a country can play and the Portuguese hero CR7 – Cristiano Ronaldo, missed an easy penalty and looked like he’d been having a few months off eating cakes as opposed to playing high octane football with Real Madrid.  

Prayers were not answered and Portugal were thrashed!

So next year we’ve already been asked to hold the second Pera International Day in a neighbouring town, where we can make some more friends I hope and as for the football….England vs Ukraine tonight, bring on the stereotypes (COME ON ENGLAND).

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Miracle in a High Vis Vest

Before you read this I feel the need to tell you -  it is only my opinion so don’t be offended.  I realise that there are many schools of thought out there and my research has come from various online sources. 

Portugal sees many modern day pilgrims making their holy way to Fatima and in May the number of pilgrims making this trip swells to thousands.  The history of why people bother to walk miles to Fatima is intriguing:

Back in 1917 three children (Lucy, Francisco and Jacinta) saw a series of ‘apparitions’ in Fatima, delivered by the angel of peace, you can read about these here.  I won’t comment, I don’t want to offend!

Like any good story, the story told by the angel to the children was told in a number of instalments (kind of like Lord of the Rings I guess).  These stories were revealed to the world over a series of stories written by the then Sister Lucy (one of the children).  The vision confided three ‘secrets’ to the children, the first two were revealed by Sister Lucy but the last one has never been publically revealed and in 1960 Sister Lucy was forbidden to reveal the secret by the Pope – I smell a cover up!  And good stories need some intrigue, the children were kidnapped, 70,000 people witnessed a miracle, anti-Russian politics came into play and the church seem to be covering up the final secret !

I smell a Dan Brown novel!

Since this time, thousands of people make their way to Fatima to give thanks and generally throw themselves on the Lord’s mercy.   The modern day pilgrim has a hard time of it, not only do they have to adhere to the health and safety rules of the European Union by wearing their high-vis vest, but  they walk miles along  main roads with juggernauts speeding by, and to top it off, this year it has rained every-day for the past two weeks (but maybe it makes it better – more penance or something?).  All this so you can be at Fatima pushing for your space behind the crowd control barriers!

It would also appear that the mighty arm of commercialism has stepped in to make the romantic pilgrimage image fade into oblivion.  For example, you can buy all your Fatima goodies here - I’m particularly enamoured  by the Our Lady of Fatima Window Cling

All in all this modern day pilgrimage does not invoke the images of walking across the countryside with god in your mind and the sense of community in your spirit, to me it seems sterile and a slow way to ruin your love of walking – but then I am faithless, I’ve already been told by a local man that I’m going ‘straight to hell’’ because I’m not a Catholic.  Well that maybe true, but for me hell would be a walking along the main road from Coimbra to Fatima in a high-vis vest and rain pouring onto my weary head.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The rain came

After an absence of 3 months the rain returned last weekend.  Most of the country is in drought and a significant percentage in ‘severe drought’ despite the brief rainfall at the weekend it looks like we’ll be having a summer with water shortages and high fire risk.   Today we’ve returned to cerulean blue sky, really I should not complain too hard!   What is it about the weather, we all end up like Goldilocks, it’s always ‘too hot, too cold’ and never ‘just right’.

But, Spring has certainly sprung.  From the mimosa in full bloom in the woods, causing people with allergies to cough and splutter to the killer caterpillars..(processional pine caterpillars) and the butterflies dancing around the garden.   Lord has already cut his face searching for lizards in the bushes, a sure sign that things are waking up in the garden!


Spring means we wake up the garden, the plants are starting to grow again and Peter’s been digging in our home made compost (where the mice have been nesting over winter).   The veg patch is starting to look good with the promise of veg to come.  The Jersey Royals are sprouting, the broad beans are thriving.

The frosts have claimed a few victims, our bounty of south African daisies has been hit hard, with a hard prune back we have come from a glorious display to twigs sticking out of the earth.

From this


To this

The home made greenhouse has come into its own, even if we’ve killed a couple of things off because it’s been too hot in there


I’m already wondering if I should mow the lawn. 

The lack of water is a big issue, the short sharp rainfall of the weekend will not stop the massive problem Portugal will face if more rain does not fall.   It’s not only the lack of water and the promise of water cuts and communal taps, the real worry is fire.  Without the land having its annual soaking the fire risk increases, the tinder of the bracken and leave debris gets dryer and dryer, it only takes one idiot with a discarded cigarette to start a fire.  Having experienced a fire close at hand last year, I dread the thought of it happening again.  

Rights to the community water, which flows through the ‘lavadar’ system will once again be disputed this year if there is a water shortage.   Many streams and underground streams flow through this area and villages have tapped into this abundance of water by building a system which collects the water and transports it down into the village.  We have a pool in our village where the ‘lavadar’ pipes bring the water. Rights to this water are hotly contested, only a handful of houses have a system in place to transport the water to their gardens (we are one of the lucky ones), but other people think it is communal village water and everyone is entitled to it.   I can see that a water shortage will only increase the risk of these disagreements to the water rights.  It is not helped that our pool is cracked and water escapes quickly from the holding tank.  The local council have told us there is no money to fix the problem, despite the fact that three more round-a-bouts are getting a makeover at the moment with gangs of people working on the ground planting plants and creating sculptures to ‘brighten up’ the roadway!  

Peter continues to believe that my Portuguese lessons are a waste of money.  While I go to a lesson every week, do my homework (sometimes) and practise what I’ve learned that week with neighbours and shopkeepers.  He disappears off to the social club for hours, drinks wine and beer and chatters away to the old men at the bar.   He sometimes gets more than he bargains for though and last night he came hope a little bit squiffy and three just shot ducks in a carrier bag!   So this morning he’s been plucking them and very grossly squeezing their chests to emit a quacking sound!   Queue Donald and Daffy Duck gags here...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting out and about

When you live somewhere you never seem to make the most of the benefits of being there.  In London I never really went to the museums or galleries, they were always there so always something to do another day.   Now we live in the mountains, with time on our hands we don’t seem to make the most of the opportunities for making the best of the benefits the area has to offer.  Almost two years ago when we arrived we were out and about every day, exploring, walking and swimming in the local praia fluvial’s every day.  

Peter promised himself that every morning he would walk to the top of the hill our garden backs onto and run down to the stream and take a swim.   It has never happened.   We promised that every Sunday we’d walk up to Coentral, about a 2 hour round trip uphill, stop for a coffee at the cafe at the top then walk back for a lovely hearty lunch.  It happened once!  I said I’d sit outside, learn my Portuguese while looking at the landscape, it’s normally too hot/windy/cold to do that.  Last year we must have swam in the local praia fluvial just a handful of times.

We got the dog, I had images of us taking long walks through the forests, exploring areas inaccessible by car and off the beaten track, taking our lunch with us, sitting under a tree with our feet cooling in the stream.  We got a dog that cannot really be off the lead, and dog walking has become a daily chore!  And while he loves his walks he also loves sitting in his bean-bag bed.

But, on Saturday we changed that, just for the day, but changed it we did.   Packed up our sandwiches, harnessed up Lord (!) and off we went into the forest.   We took a route through the area devastated by the forest fire we had at the end of the summer last year.  It is strangely beautiful, the charcoal of the trees, no dead bracken on the ground, opening up vistas that normally wouldn’t be there.   

 Lord found a black squirrel and chased it up a tree, he took a paddle in the stream and we even sat on a large rock and ate our sandwiches while Lord sat in the water (far too cold for us).

All of this had a motive though, we were heading up to our friend Ferrie’s house to welcome him home after a few months in Holland.  He has a B&B up in Sarnadas and very lovely it is too, with a pool fed directly from the stream and small waterfall his property backs onto.

Being served three strong dark beers while sitting on this terrace in the heat of the winter sun made me think ‘we really should do this more often’!