Ladies of Lagoa.

One warm lazy afternoon whilst alone in our apartment I decided to "chill out" by playing my keyboard. I took it onto the large balcony that overlooked side street below. I then went through my musical repertoire, old and new songs, finally finishing with an old favourite I'd learnt as a schoolgirl; a beautiful song called "April in Portugal".

Afterwards, I sat back sipping my iced drink, revelling in the beauty of a cornflower blue sky stretching endless overhead, hot sunshine and a great feeling of being "very much at home".
Suddenly, from somewhere across the street there drifted the most heavenly sound; a woman's voice, a wonderful soprano and by the haunting melody, it was Fado;a story of love in song.

I don't think the lady could have heard my playing yet, strangely, her song seemed to echo my last tune. However, the quality of her voice far outweighed my playing. It was the voice of an angel and I sat spellbound.
My eyes searched for this Portuguese nightingale and, at last "homed-in" to a distant figure hanging washing in a small sloping backyard. Her lips moved with the song and as she turned slightly towards me, I was surprised to see a plump middle-aged woman; her voice was so youthful, she could have been twenty! It was a powerful voice; she would not need a microphone; her notes reached me loud and clear. She never saw me raise my hands in applause for her freely-given concert. I could not have "bought" better entertainment anywhere. Muito Obrigada Senhora!

On hot summer nights our windows would remain wide open and as evening closed in a very special sound would penetrate our top floor sitting room. It was the sound of women at prayer. The low murmuring of ladies who stood at the "Nossa Senhora" shrine not fifty metres from our apartment. As they chanted the "Rosary" their quiet prayers would float upwards, halting our TV viewing, reading, whatever; we would listen, then be invisibly drawn down, silently joining the offered prayers to the Holy Mother. A uniquely moving experience. Amen.

Directly opposite apartment there lived a large family: Mae (mother), Pai (father) and at least six little ones. The father worked away all week, so it was the mother alone who was left to care for the children, whose ages ranged from ten to a babe-in-arms. Her tasks were many and though only thirty-ish she looked tired and careworn. My whole sympathy went out to her as she did her best for the large family and with observation I soon found her biggest problem was "having enough to eat".
At a certain time of evening when all was quiet, children either in bed or watching TV, the mother would appear in the side yard carrying a dinner plate covered with cloth. She would ascend the outer staircase and on the tiny terrace, furtively uncover her meal. Then, curling her left hand round plate to hide its contents, with right hand begin to hastily push the morsels into her hungry mouth. She constantly looked up and around, ever vigilant; her actions instinctive; animal-like.

I felt an intruder the first time I witnessed this scene. Guilty at watching this poor woman snatch just ten minutes to gulp down her supper. Yet I remained, fascinated, mentally urging her to "eat up fast" as ,like her, I expected any minute a child to dart out and grab the food from her fingertips. Only when she had finished and relaxed, could I the relax too. For her, each meal was a race against the clock. It bothered me no end. How could I help? Our money was tight with our business just underway, but I had an idea. Under the pretext of buying "sweeties" for the kiddies, I would smuggle little extras of shopping, along with fruit from the workshops trees into a plastic bag. I would hand this to her now and then saying "For familia senhora". She would thank me but I didn?t need that; it was just one mother helping another. You see, I had been that woman once; not quite so hard up and I'd only had two babies. Lets just say we had known what it was like to go to bed hungry.

I often think of her now. I didn?t know her name or she mine but I sincerely hope that now those beautiful children are grownup, that they treat her well, that her life is easier and she can eat in peace and at leisure.

Sitting on the balcony one sunny morning eating my pao & cafe com leite breakfast, I caught the sound of girlish laughter. Looking over to courtyard on my left I saw a statuesque olive-skinned lady busy with laundry at the large stone sink. The reason for her giggling? Her dark, shirt-sleeved husband/partner/lover? had crept up on her and proceeded to tickle her mercilessly till she was in hysterics. It was so infectious that I found myself laughing too. As she twisted out of reach and started to splash him with the soapy water, he suddenly grabbed her by the waist, pulled her to him and kissed her voluptuously.

Hub applauded, I sighed --Ahhh-------.
Wonderful stuff.

Truly the "spice" of Algarve!