Magic Moments

The main objective on my recent New Years visit to Algarve was to meet up with Susana and family once more. Su and I had become firm friends, keeping in touch regularly by text and e-mail. The idea for her bookshop at Alvor was now becoming reality and she was very excited and eager at the prospect of running her own shop!
After a few problems at her end, Hub said he would have the bookshop sign made for her here in Lincolnshire, I could then bring it out on my visit. It seemed very appropriate as the shop was to be named 'Magna Carta' and one of the original documents signed by King John in 1215 is housed in Lincoln castle. Su instigated a little competition on forum by asking members to guess the name of her shop, the prize being a book & bookmark. Member Sam Sparkle was the winner. Well done Sam!

I met up with Su on New Years day, when she and Stefan came to pick me up from Carvoeiro. When we arrived at their apartment in Portimao I was met with open arms and friendly kiss from mum Maria. Of course we all had much to talk about, most of all about the forthcoming shop! Su was really pleased with the wooden oak sign and told me that after lunch they were taking me to have a look at her shop in Alvor.

Maria's Bacalhau fish pie was absolutely delicious, along with some beer and dessert of Bolorei (king cake; traditional Christmas cake in Portugal, a huge fruit bun ring decorated with sugar lumps and glace fruits) and cups of tea (although Portuguese, both Su and Maria prefer tea to coffee). It was a superb lunch and as Toffee the Labrador lay sleeping close by, a warm bright sun filtered through to us as we sat talking round the table in that cheerful, welcoming kitchen. A very pleasant hour indeed!

When Su showed me the shop I was most impressed. For some reason I thought it would be smaller and maybe 'lost' amongst other 'bigger concerns' but no, it is situated in a smart, available, quite pretty location with a very handy bus stop directly outside!
Afterwards Su said she wanted to show me a very nice part of Alvor's beach, which they'd recently discovered. A few minutes drive and short walk and I was standing in a small picturesque and quite perfect cove; the large rocks on either side almost enclosing the water to form a secluded tranquil blue lagoon. We strolled and took photos in this calm peaceful setting which seemed the perfect end to very nice afternoon. Driving back to Carvoeiro we discovered that most places were closed for the New Years day, so we all went back to my apartment and indulged in tea and choc biscuits, before Su, Stefan and Maria made tracks back to Portimao to take Toffee for his nightly walk!

Although the nights were quite chilly the days were warm and sunny with afternoon temperatures in the upper 60s. So midweek, I  decided to go to Lagoa for some lunch. In the park the elderly Lagoan gents were, as usual, seated on the benches, putting the world to rights as I wandered over to Classique 21. It seemed quite busy but I went in to say 'hello' and have a pre-lunch drink. I am not so 'timid' as I used to be and boldly went up to sit at the bar. Joaquim was there and greeted me with smile and friendly kiss; his pretty Cuban wife Maite was serving at the bar. On my request she made me a refreshing white wine spritzer!

Although I always feel at ease amongst these friends, I also felt a little conspicuous being the only woman seated at the bar. A small man sat next to me quietly sipping his drink and I was quickly drawn to his appearance. Most (like myself) were dressed casually but this man in long heavy black dress coat and striped trousers was very dapper indeed and reminded me somewhat of the business men I used to see when working in the City of London. His receding hairline gave way to long dark greying pony tail with beard to match, his fingers were adorned with fine gold rings. Catching my eye he nodded to me and I smiled back, then Joaquim, who had joined us announced, "This man is a magician"..
He then introduced me to Professor Herrero!
My Portuguese and the Professor's English were not very good but we managed to have a little conversation. He spoke of his life in entertainment, his career on stage, TV and other venues. I told him that my youngest son loved magic as a kid and used to be a fan of Paul Daniels the English no.1 magician. That he'd been to see him on stage a few times and how impressed both he and my older son had been with his act. On hearing this the Professor told me that he knew Paul and his wife Debbie and admired him very much. We chatted for a while and he told me he was performing at Armaçaõ de Pera that evening. His wife worked with him, partaking in a 'levitation' act. This fascinated me as I could never work out how it could possibly be achieved? The Professor gave a little wink saying they were tricks known only to the 'Magic Circle'!
As I laid a 20 euro note down to pay for my drink, he took hold of it, screwed it up and made it disappear, then pulled it from his sleeve without even crease in it!

Before I made my way to Luis' bar to have some delicious chicken fricassee lunch, the Professor went to his car and on his return handed me some books. Joaquim then said "This man is also my cousin, his name is Dagoberto Cabrita De Campos and he's also a writer!" (with such an impressive 'long' name its no wonder they called him the Professor!).

One book was of poems (Vazio), which also contains beautiful Portuguese scenic photographs. Another is 'Os Mortos Nao Falam' and tells of the Professor's interesting career and the many people he has met. The other one is called 'Um Cagalhao na Tola'. They are all published by Edicao Barlavento. I asked their price but he waved it aside saying they were a gift for me, which was most generous of him. Problem is, unless I become very proficient in Portuguese I'm going to need a translator! This had been another interesting afternoon. Quite magical in fact!

One late afternoon I travelled once more into Lagoa, my purpose being to look up an old friend. I haven't seen her for years and I had lost her telephone number but I had reason to believe that she still lives in the same house quite close to Lagoa's 'Senhora da Luz' main church. It was pleasantly warm so I quite enjoyed the leisurely walk from the Nossa Senhora shrine (close to our old apartment), through the back streets up to the large church. It is always a treat for me to sit in the shade of the Jacaranda (though this time flowerless) trees close to the church. Just sit and observe the locals. This can be most interesting as elderly an usually very smartly dressed Portuguese ladies gather there for a friendly afternoons chat. The interaction can be fascinating, often the voices are raised as a discussion develops and foreigners such as myself will often think an argument is taking place. But not so! Its merely lively debate and banter and I have to say that during my years in Portugal I've rarely, if ever, seen much in the way of anger shown. If it does, then it will blow over very quickly!

Once more, my venture proved fruitless. There was no answer from Maria's and after almost an hour no one came or went from the house.. So, I made my way back down to Classique 21 for some much needed refreshment. The place was empty as Maite made me a long milky, sweet 'Galao' coffee. I noticed the sky darkening and glancing at my watch saw that it was after 6pm and that I should make tracks back to Carvoeiro. The bus wasn't due for some time so decided to splash out on a taxi.
As I stepped outside the restaurant I noticed a man with a cart parked on the corner of the square. A smokey nutty smell reached me and on walking over I saw that the man was selling hot roast chestnuts. The night air was chilly, I was hungry and the thought of hot chestnuts felt appetising and warming! Under the street lighting the old metallic vestle holding the nuts churned and wobbled as the elderly man fanned the hot embers beneath with what looked to me like a huge pastry brush. This was his bellows but it did the trick and soon the nuts were cooked! As he tipped out the hot chestnuts, my mouth watered. On his cart lay a yellow pages phone book and tearing a page out he proceeded to make a neat paper cone and filled it with maybe a dozen nuts, all piping hot! I think the price was 1 euro and a few cents and well worth it. I held my camera up to him, to ask permission to take a photo. In a low, husky, barely audible whisper he cheerfully assented.

Sitting comfortably in the back of the taxi, I munched with delight on the hot chestnuts; not only were they satisfying my hunger but they kept my hands warm too and as I ate them a wave of nostalgia swept over me as I recalled buying hot chestnuts when a child, on winter nights in London, usually when my mother took me to out to the cinema. Simple pleasures but very nice ones. Fond memory.
But there is a sad side to this little cameo. When I told my Lagoa friends of my seeing the chestnut man, one said "He is not so old. About 50. But he's not a well man. He has cancer.
He explained his illness and then I knew the reason for the low husky whisper of a voice and my heart went out to him.

It was around eight o'clock one evening, a chilly night and early on I had made up a good log fire, settling down to watch some Brit TV. But when the programmes were finished I started to feel fidgety. I knew that if I stayed in for the night I would be fed up and probably have trouble sleeping. So I decided to eat out and with some effort, I showered and got myself ready.
Stepping out into the street, everywhere seemed very quiet. Quite a few of the restaurants and bars were closed and would remain so for at least a few weeks. But I knew that Colombos would be open, so I made my way there. The temperature had dropped quite a bit since the afternoon so the doors were closed but on entering I found the place to be warm, cosy and inviting. There were maybe a dozen customers; some at the bar ;others dining. Geninia and Annette greeted me with usual cheerful word and smiles and set a place for me at a window table. By now I was feeling quite hungry but couldn't think what dish to order. Then Annette said,
"Why not try the fillet steak done this special way. Its my favourite!"
She then described the dish of fillet steak cooked in a pepper sauce, wrapped in streaky bacon with cheese slice laid on top. I wasn't too sure about this. It was a new one for me but then said "Okay. Ill give it a try!"
Geninia brought my rose wine and some olives. Then I sat back, feeling completely relaxed. I sipped my drink enjoying the background music (some of Geninia's favourite Brazilian CDs), pleased that I had decided to dine out and waited for my 'surprise' meal!

The steak, done medium to my taste, was superb. Served in the terracotta dish, surrounded by 'pot roast' style potatoes just nicely crisped, it was mouth-wateringly good! I enjoyed every mouthful and ate every bit. I asked Geninia if it had a name and she replied 'Tornedo 'A' Chefe'! As she refilled my wine glass I looked in the direction of the serving hatch to see 'Fatima' the cook smiling back at me. I gave her the 'thumbs up' sign and a wink. That lady always has a ready smile on her face and a friendly word of greeting for all. No matter how busy she is during the day or how tired she is at the end of it she is always very pleasant. She's not a bad cook either!

Pleasantly full now, I decided to wait a while before coffee and dessert and retrieving note book from bag set about writing up my journal. A blast of cold air had me look round as the main door opened and a middle-aged man with greying hair and moustache entered carrying a guitar case. He wandered over to the bar and sat for a while in conversation with Geninia. By this time Annette had served me a huge piece of caramel meringue to accompany my cafe com leite. I started to tackle this extremely sweet and but very more-ish pudding when a movement at my side drew my attention. The guitarist had taken his guitar from the case and proceeded to 'tune-up'. Within a few minutes he was strumming a sweet melody then started to sing. It was very nice to hear. Sated by my sumptuous meal and lovely wine, the sweet music, so easy on the ear, rounded the evening off just nicely.

Fernando, for that was his name, sang some very pleasant songs, one of them being a favourite of mine 'Old Lisboa' (by the sea).. he went to each table in turn and everyone seemed to enjoy his songs, as he received hearty applause at the end of each tune. When he finished singing the song by my table I asked if he sang 'fado', as I enjoyed it very much. He replied he didn't usually sing it that, much as it was a 'special to certain singers'! However, he took my question as a request and proceeded to sing 'a fado' for me. It was quite lovely.
I was buying the girls a drink and I asked Fernando to join us. That evening, surprisingly, I was the only one in our little group who drank alcohol, my usual port.. whilst the girls, Fernando and even Fatima drank orange juice or coke!

As we sat at the bar, I manage to have a little conversation with Fernando. He was from Portimao and I asked him how long he'd been singing? He told me for most of his life. It was how he earned a living, going from bar to restaurant and similar premises; that it was good in the summer season, with the many tourists around but a bit of a lean time in winter as many bars and restaurants closed. I told him it reminded me of the 'wandering/strolling minstrels' of olden days.. of medieval times in England when men roamed the country earning their 'bread and butter' by playing and singing! He laughed and said that he had once been called this by an Englishman. I bought his CD and looking at it I noticed the old song 'Nature Boy'. A lovely old song and originally made famous by the legendary 'Nat King Cole'. But discussing this with Fernando I learned that he styled his version on the one made famous by the equally talented singer George Benson. I found common ground here, as my daughter is a great fan of George and I was used to hearing his voice in the house when she was a teenager! Our discussion on music went on for nearly an hour and on looking at my watch I found it to be after eleven o'clock! I was really surprised how quickly the evening had passed. But I said my goodnights and wended my way home feeling happier and more content than when I had left it earlier on. A really pleasant evening with good food, good wine, good company! But most of all, I had something to write about. What more could I want?