Newsletter December 2005

  by: Nigel Anteney Hoare

This Newsletter starts on a sombre note as this year is the 250th anniversary of a disastrous earthquake that hit Portugal in November 1755.

Whilst there was no accurate measuring facility available then, best scientific estimates give a possible reading of 8,5 on the Richter Scale. It began at about 9:30 on that November 1st and was centered in the Atlantic about 200 km WSW of Cape St. Vincent - more or less where we experienced a largish tremor earlier this year. The total duration of the tremors lasted ten minutes and comprised of three distinct jolts. Effects from the earthquake were far reaching. The worst damage occurred here in the south-west however Lisbon suffered badly with a devastating fire that followed the ‘quake destroying a large part of the city. Severe shaking was also felt in North Africa with loss of life in Fez, Morocco. Moderate damage was done in Algiers and in southwest Spain. Movement was also felt in France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy.

What many who know of the earthquake may not realise is that a very strong tsunami followed causing heavy destruction all along the coast of Portugal, southwest Spain, and western Morocco. This is of still very topical following the events of Boxing Day 2004 in Thailand and Indonesia. It was reported that the wave that hit the Algarve coast was between 12 and 15 metres high although in some places the waves crested at more than 30 metres. Whilst the wave caused damage in Lisbon and Spain the destruction was greatest in the Algarve where the tsunami destroyed some coastal fortresses and, in the lower levels, razed houses. Almost all the coastal towns and villages of Algarve were heavily damaged, except Faro, which was protected by its sand banks. In Lagos, the waves reached the top of the city walls. For these coastal regions, the destructive effects of the tsunami were more disastrous than those of the earthquake. For a vivid eye witness description of the effects in Lisbon go to;

Of course in 1755 the coastal area of the Algarve would have been largely unpopulated and here I plagiarise the history of Carvoeiro which can be seen on the website in which - to quote;

“In "História do Reino do Algarve" (History of the kingdom of the Algarve) from about the year 1600, Henrique Fernandes Sarrão wrote: "A league to the south of this place of Estombar, is the fishing village of Carvoeiro on the coast; and half a league farther over, in the direction of the sunrise, there is a watch-tower which is called the Alfanzina tower"

Thus it looks likely that there may have been a few fishermen and other inhabitants in or near Carvoeiro that saw and suffered this huge wave. Modern scientists shudder to contemplate the effect if the same thing occurred at say 4pm on any August day now. Let’s hope we never suffer any such tragedy.

The end of October and beginning of November is the time of São Martinho - roast chestnuts and “água pé”. Água Pé is a strange brew which seems to be the result of mixing water with the remains of the grape skins, pips and stalks that have been used to make the current years wine. One old rhyme says “Pelo São Martinho mata o teu porco e bebe o teu vinho” or “For St Martinho kill your pig and drink your wine”. Indeed in rural areas this is the time when country folk will start making preparation to slay the pig that has been fattened all year to lay down as legs of salted presunto and smoked chouriço. If you come across one of these “mata porco” celebrations, as long as you have a strong stomach, you will become involved in what is one of the big “festas” of the year.

It is also the time for the Feira Todos os Santos in Silves – the fair that the local people joke spans two months, the 30th and 31st October and the 1st and 2nd of November. The 31st is known to most of us as Halloween with witches and broomsticks etc but is of course the "Hallowed Even" prior to All Saints Day which is in turn followed by All Soul's Day (known as the "Day of the Dead"). This is always on November 2 (November 3rd if the 2nd falls on a Sunday!) and a day when most Portuguese people will visit cemeteries placing flowers on the graves of their loved ones. The day comes from the ancient Festival of the Dead, which celebrated the Pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family. Candles in the window would guide the lost souls back home, and another place was set at the table. Children would come through the village, asking for food to be offered symbolically to the dead, this then donated to feed the hungry.

The All Saints fair in Silves used to be a grand, almost mediaeval, affair strung out all along the road toward the football ground and over the open land by the river. It has shrunk in recent years and this year, because of the works on the beautification of the riverside, was confined to a miserable muddy site near the cemetery (fitting perhaps!) made worse by the heavy rains that fell at the end of October. We went to Silves on Saturday 29th and the fair was not even set up at that stage. We resolved to wait until it moved to Portimão the following weekend.

On the Sunday we drove very early through torrential rain to Lisbon to see our children back to their UK boarding school after half term. The Monarch flight to Stansted from Lisbon chosen in preference to the exorbitant price of EasyJet from Faro – the price deliberately increased just because it was half term (moan over!)

The 1st is a bank holiday and I noticed that the little new church at Vale d’el Rei was really busy with worshippers. The church was built I understand from the legacy of the old priest who died. It seems unusual for a new church to be built nowadays. To see it full of the local people was a grand sight. We took the opportunity of the day off to have some lunch at the new Algarve Club Atlantico/Alfanzina restaurant LA BELLA VITA – very good indeed!

It was much cooler now at night - clear sunny days and dew in morning with the lovely sweet smell of wood smoke as people started to light up their wood burners and open fires.

On the Wednesday it was back up to Lisbon on business for a couple of days and the chance to try some very fine food at some of the capitals best restaurants, Bica do Sapato, Alcantara Café and the newish "Eleven" located in the Parque Amalia Rodrigues near the prison. Very nice indeed and so glad that I wasn’t paying!

At the other end of the spectrum my unquenchable quest for cheap food goes on. Our neighbouring parish of Ferragudo scores well this month with a Euro 7,95 dinner during November offered by the RESTAURANTE ARADE in the main square. This gives you a glass of wine or beer, farmers vegetable soup, a choice of 6 main dishes and coffee. We gave it a try and enjoyed at very much. Mind you with the various add ons, more wine, pudding, coffees and brandies it came to about 15 euro a head! I understand that ANDREW his wife and staff will be offering more similar winter monthly offers. They will even give you a free lift home within the Ferragudo/Sesmarais area!!

It is good to see these bargain initiatives springing up and perhaps this is the lead all Algarve businesses should follow – less greed and value for money - over to you Gambrinus :-)

An interesting article appeared in the Portuguese press which said that since 2001, 30,000 immigrants have settled in the Algarve. This has pushed the population above 410,000. This influx has been counterbalanced the fact that over the last few years deaths have out performed births. Only last year did we get into positive ground with 88 more births than deaths. It seems that the Algarve is being swallowed up by newcomers.

Around this time the ongoing drainage work in the area hit the square with a vengeance. The view of the sea from the square was blotted out with security fencing and poor old GRAND CAFÉ was more or less put out of business. I am not sure what they are doing but one day an enormous drill or auger turned up and began drilling . I missed a photo of that but did take some to show what is going on.

A few places were closing down either for a break or clean up. SULLYS was closed for about 10 days from the 21st whilst the old wrecked place above it seems to have been more or less renovated. The CAFÉ FINO was having a clean up, and most amazingly the Chinese opposite the taxi rank was closed for a month. Is this the first Chinese ever to close its doors voluntarily?!

Off we went to take a look at the fair in Portimão. We went with Ken Sale and his lady Jan. Ken is now based in Suffolk but lived around this way for quite a while back in the 80's and some readers may recall him. We ate first in the restaurant PALAIO in Portimão and then on to the fair. Not bad with a few nice things on offer but not the atmosphere it used to have.

Saturday the 12th saw the annual childrens charity night dinner, quiz and auction at O ANTÓNIOS. Very well organised as always and a complete sell out with Simon Perry a star on the quiz. I understand they raised 3,740 Euros to help the charity ACCA which assists orphanages. António put on a feast for about 9 Euros a head and all the rest of the ticket money (€18) went to charity.

After the meal it was off for a pub crawl to BAR HAVANA, THE ANGEL, ROUND UP and back to HAVANA . Eeeeeek!! Craig and Jenny are closing for first two weeks of December for a well earned break in Florida. I thought about offering to keep the place open!!

Further on the charity front, many local ex-patriates have been busy filling shoe boxes with gifts to try and brighten Christmas for the kids at the Alvor orphanage which relies solely on voluntary contributions and fund raising to keep going.

On Sunday we went to a birthday dinner at my daughter and son in laws house. My 3rd grandson had hit 14 and we were royally entertained along with about 20 others to a fine feast including a massive fish caldeirada. My daughter has lived here for the best part of 25 years and married a local lad back in 1988. She has integrated completely to the Portuguese lifestyle and I was told by her husband that she cooks some Portuguese dishes better than the locals! If you ever get invited to any of these type of celebrations do go along. The local people are always pleased to show foreigners how they celebrate and you will invariably have a great time. Don't bank on driving home!

The weekend of 19th/20th saw us in the UK having got a cheap EasyJet out of Faro to Stansted. We enjoyed beautiful clear blue skies and sunny but cold days there whilst receiving reports of torrential rain in the Algarve. You may have read that the final day of the much publicised World Cup of Golf was a washout and called off. When we returned on Monday we could see the effects. Large lakes had formed in Lagoa behind Mestre Maco and the village looked very damp indeed. CHARLIES BAR had a notice in the window - "Warm and dry inside"!! Being late back on the Monday we ate at LANTERNA VELHA. Frank told us he was closing as usual for December and January.

It was interesting to note that on 25th November at a meeting of the Junta da Freguesia a Motion was passed deploring the state of the old ruin next to the Turismo office in the square citing it as a pollution hazard. Maybe something will happen on that after all and JAN ZEGER of PATIO/GRAND CAFÉ will get his chance to tastefully develop it.

By the end of the month things were more or less at their lowest ebb from the point of view of visitors. SMILERS BAR had closed for a while as had COLOMBOS and the whole place was generally very quiet. The weather had settled into bright sunny days and clear cold nights with temperatures down around 5/6ºc.

Lets se what December brings!

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