Saturday, 17 May 2008

Seeking ...

Seeking means to have a goal; you are perhaps indeed a seeker. And in striving towards your goal, you perhaps do not see many things that are under your nose.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)



The hunt continued apace, but the results were disappointing. We were now visiting friends and family in the Algarve so frequently that they were getting worried about us. And perhaps even a little tired of hosting our regular visits. Hey, that's the price you pay if you class us as close friends or family!

Nothing. Nada! Not even close to what we wanted, or could afford. Seemed as if we had a better chance of winning the lottery. Now, there was a thought!

Maria was also regularly hurling herself up the motorway in a northerly direction to take care of business at Quinta da Cardiga (roughly translated, The Cardiga Estate), an old estate that has been allowed to deteriorate for reasons that I shall not go into here. Suffice it to say that the estate has stopped producing anything for which it was once famous. It now consists of vast tracts of agricultural land, a run-down Palace, a whole host of run-down estate buildings and the tidy little village called São Caetano that houses the ex-estate workers. The residents live in rent-free accommodation, a sort of feudal tied-cottage scheme that continues to be honoured by the company. When the current occupants pass on, the house they occupy will revert back to the company as it cannot be passed on to the children. The occupants, all pensioners and without any income except for a fixed state pension, are secure in the knowledge that they will always have a roof over their heads. Even if the company sells the property out from under them, it is their entitlement to remain as sitting-tenants.

Map of Portugal showing the
various Districts.

A good rule of thumb, if you
don't know and want a palatable
red wine, is to buy one that
comes from the Alentejo region.

Beja and Evora Districts make
up the Alentejo.

The estate is located in the Santarem District (the pale yellow one in the middle of the map) and is about 120 kilometres from where we live. Not too far for Maria to hurtle up there late morning and return early afternoon, having completed whatever it is she needs to do. On one particular trip she had a late afternoon appointment with a couple of legal-beagles closeted in the nearest town, so she took the opportunity to walk the village and chat with the residents. They love these visits as they can get all their complaints off their chests, something they would never dream of doing face to face with the owners. For her part, Maria loves the visits because she has a close rapport with most of the residents, some of whom she has known for more than 25 years. She uses these sessions to catch up on all the latest gossip which is essential for her to be able to 'administer' things without causing too much upset to the old dears. Since this meeting was scheduled for late afternoon her return trip was delayed a tad. She phoned ahead and I produced dinner. Please note, I did not say I cooked dinner. I trotted across to the local Cafeteria and snagged a couple of portions of one of their specialities and two helpings of their 'out-of-this-world' soup. The wine I already had! Maria arrived home, all wound up like over-stretched knicker elastic. I assumed her meeting had been a success and I waited for her to recount the events of the day. We had a late, but pleasant meal and the conversation and wine flowed in equal measure. Then came the "I have something to tell you." moment.

I listened intently. What else do you do when somebody has "... something to tell you."? As far as I recall I don't think I uttered a word, and moved only to top up the glasses with a fine red Borba.This particular wine from the Alentejo Region is a blend of mainly Trincadeira, Aragónez (Tempranillo) and Castelão, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet.

The grapes are treaded by foot in lagares (the stone troughs that are traditional in the Douro for Port production) for 30 to 45 minutes twice daily until the end of the alcoholic fermentation.

The wine producer likes this method because it provides a large surface ratio of solids to juice, because the open top prevents heat from collecting in the juice and because the gentle treading pressure assures no destruction of the seeds, and therefore no leaching of bitter tannins into the juice.

The wine subsequently ages for a year in new French oak barrels.

We still reminisce about that evening 3 years ago, and it still brings a smile to our faces. Her "I have something to tell you." shifted gear into a series of rapid questions. Did I have my heart set on moving to The Algarve? Had I considered alternatives? What did I think about a possible move to São Caetano? And then it deteriorated into an even more garbled rush. She'd seen a lovely old house in the village. Did I remember seeing those houses on the edge of the village on the bit of road that ran down to the river (of course I didn't remember - I'd only visited the village once before)? Well it was one of those. And just think, only two hundred metres away from dangling a worm in the river. And oh, could we go and take a look, together, in a couple of days? Please. Pretty, please?

She then produced her 3G-phone and proceeded to flick through the various images she had taken. They were in no particular order, but I've reproduced a few of them below to give you an idea of the disjointed take a viewer has when faced by a series of camera-phone (or is that 'phone-camera'?) snapshots. Click on any one and it will give you an enlarged image and a slideshow feature.


The house. Looks a bit small and run-down, but pretty enough. The rest of the 'terrace' stretching away to the left. Two small one's at the end.
Farm boundary wall on left. Can't go any further. Hmmm... those two little ones again. And why is there a door stuck between the two sets of buildings?
Interesting. Looks like the end of the road. Yup, can't go any further! Aaahhh... this is what life should be all about!


Attractive enough, despite the low-res snapshots. I guessed I'd have to go see for myself. But I had a few questions of my own. Was that house going to be large enough? How much did it cost? What were the neighbours like - apart from almost certainly being 'old'? How much garden space could we expect? How much did it cost? Did the adjacent farm throw off nasty country smells (as compared to nasty city smells)? How soon would it become available? How much did it cost - errmm, had I asked that before?

Most, if not all the questions were deflected with noncommital answers and a cheshire cat Lewis Carroll's famous cat that appears in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

At one point in the story, the cat disappears gradually until nothing is left but its grin, prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat!

smile. It was becoming apparent that I would have to get off my butt and go take a look for myself.

I think that the quotation by Herr Hesse that I've used at the start of this post was aimed specifically at the two of us!

'Till next time ...

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Thursday, 15 May 2008

Beginning ...

Remember today, for it is the beginning of always. Today marks the start of a brave new future filled with all your dreams can hold. Think truly to the future and make those dreams come true.




About three and a half years ago Maria and I started hunting for an alternative to the flat in which we live, here in Lisbon, Portugal. Nothing much wrong with the current flat, except that it is in a big city, and we have reached the age where quiet and solitude are a more attractive proposition.

Map of the Algarve
Map of The Algarve

The hunt concentrated on the Algarve region because, as most people who are familiar with that area will tell you, it is a most attractive part of Portugal, probably the world. Since 'The Algarve' stretches from Sagres on the west coast to Monte Gordo on the Spanish border in the east, we had a vast area to cover. But several factors were used to whittle down the choices, which helped to reduce the area that we needed to concentrate on.

Our choice eventually concentrated on the Tavira area. For many reasons; affordability being the primary one. Properties in the west had already been snapped up by various Northern European outsiders, and price-wise, had gone through the roof (pun intended). We also preferred the quieter lifestyle in this 'more agricultural' part of the Algarve. Not for us the disco's, wine bars and nightclubs. Let the tourists have those!

The constant 600-kilometre round trips took their toll, and we began to get a bit dispirited with the lack of success. There were several properties available, but none of them met our criteria. You only needed to drive past boxer Frank Bruno's massive 'castle' only so many times before you began to realise that absentee landlords were inflating the local property values here, too!

We knew enough about the building and planning laws to appreciate that although things looked bleak, we might be lucky enough to spot that vacant bit of farmland with a run-down building on it, that could turn out to be just the haven we were searching for. Putting up a NEW building is tantamount to a bureaucratic nightmare, but if the land you buy already has a 'roof' on it, you are free to 'repair' the existing structure. And the same rule applies to any structure on the land that previously had a 'roof' - cow shed, pig pen, horsey thingy, whatever. Intending to exceed the square-footage of the existing roofed areas would require one to re-apply for planning permission, of course, but since the local planning departments hold only 2-dimensional paper maps, nobody is in a position to work out how HIGH the original structure was. And if those structures have already 'fallen down', all the better. Ah, ha!

So we continued looking ...

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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

My Profile

My email

This is information about me that does not appear on my Blogger profile. I've added it here to test out the functionality of an 'additional' profile that expands on what Blogger publishes.

  • I was born in India in 1944 and studied in various English-medium (Anglo-Indian) schools, some as a day scholar, most as a boarder, until the age of 16.

  • By the time I'd turned 17 my parents decided that the only hope for me to make my way in the world was to pack me off to the UK.

  • I arrived in the UK in March 1962, and stayed with friends that originally came from the same Railway Colony in which I lived in India.

  • I arrived on a Sunday and had landed a job by Thursday. An 'apprenticeship' that ultimately turned out to be a con, but that's for a full post some time in the future!

  • Dissatisfied with the mind-numbing, repetitive task of producing 'electrical cable twists', from the sort of light stuff (pun intended) you use every day, to heavier lengths that often ended up as 'undersea cable', I applied to join the military.

  • My first port of call was the Army, but they didn't have vacancies for 'tradesmen', only canon-fodder in the infantry. I declined and approached the RAF.

  • The RAF welcomed me into the 'Communications' trade and that's what I spent the next 36 years doing, never bored, because you never knew what awaited you when you signed on for your shift. One of the highlights was speaking to an aircraft tasked to carry HRH, The Prince of Wales, whilst it was still on the deck in Kathmandu. I happened to be on a tiny, remote island in the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles away. That, too will appear as a post some time in the future!

  • I met Maria during my last months in the RAF, and in 1998 I joined her in Portugal to start another life. Which I am still living. Eat your hearts out!

That is a quick résumé, to which I might add from time to time, as the notion takes me  ...

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