house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Alentejo Acrostic

We were in Alentejo last week for a short holiday; two days' drive, three days there; distilled below, a taste of sunny South.

A - Alentejo stone. Alentejo, the sun-baked humpback, crumbles into a multitude of coloured pebbles. A first step into desert? Crumbs for poets and painters? Warm slate shines from fists of dry earth, yellow, white, blue, dark red like memories of ancient feuds. I spent three days in Alentejo dizzy between vast horizons and the endless mosaic of stone underfoot.

L - Lumbering up the hill to a windmill made of stone and silence. Loping back through layers of hot and cold air, like crossing the borders of rain and the seams of seasons. Or walking past sleeping dragons.

E - Elegant storks fly to their high nests of straw. I love to see storks glide – not so much over fields and forests these days, but over motorways and industrial parks. A new map, confusing, grey, unyielding. There are fewer nests. Who ever gave us the right to invade their fields? We've built vast citadels of metal and cement, and such incredible machines but look, the world is poorer for all that.

N - Naked Pythagora in the sand, where the sea cannot reach. On a beach in Alentejo, a man draws a triangle in the sand and teaches his children the Theorem. They are naked and won't sit still; running abound, into the waves and back, they shout: “The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides”... The sun is warm, the sea blossoms and booms, people sip coffee on a terrace. Every day someone, somewhere, draws this triangle and little ones play Pythagoras until it's no longer Greek to them and knowledge lives on.

T - Tick removal surgery. Watching the fire one night, I suddenly became aware of a small lump behind my right knee. A torch revealed a red spot; on top of it, a black point, several black legs sticking out of it. The torch clattered on the floor, who would want another eyeful of That? Instead, waiting for Moona in the dark, I let alarming scenarios play themselves out. Most involved some sort of alien invasion. Slurred metalic speech, tentacle growth, green-and-purple vision would be imminent. When Moona walked in, I would automatically scan his liver, intellect, former bone injuries, both earlobes and the right eye then immediately infiltrate him. He wouldn't even know it until he started seeing green and poked himself with a tentacle. Together, hungry, we would walk into the hills of Alentejo, looking for larger groups of humans to colonise. Ahem, all right. Back to T-for-tick. Moona arrived and set to work with needle and T-for-tweezers and a dish cloth. Secret: there is little he loves more than minor surgery. His eyes twinkled with living firelight and badly suppressed excitement. He dug into my leg and pulled at the insect until I squealed and slapped the tweezers out of his hand. I picked them up and continued. The Thing felt hard and clung on. Then a few hairy parts broke off. Total disaster. Unidentified insect anatomy still burrows behind my knee. I'm almost used to it now. What's harder to get used to is M. calling me Bug Leg and U2 (You Two, presumably). Yeah, yeah, make fun.

E - English invasion. A few years back, I watched a TV programme that proclaimed the Algarve the best place to buy property in Europe. And so the flood began. Perhaps it was going to happen anyway, Britain sending its expatriates deep into the Algarve and neighbouring Alentejo. Is it a good thing? An anonymous Portuguese surfer thought not. Between waves, he complained of inflated house prices, idle foreigners and diluted culture. But as we drive through it, the province still looks ageless and almost Arabian. White villages, low immaculate houses with wide belts of colour around windows, foundations and doors. It may be Steve-and-Sally and the Joneses sipping white wine on the verandas but then, can you not see their point too? This is where the South starts, and the 'good life' – they spent years dreaming it, and once they've broken out of the rat race, this is where they came. We all did (but at least up North we remain a minority).

J - Jungles and jaws. Olive trees, stretching into the horizon. Cork oaks, gnarled or peeled. Trees don't seem to be left alone in these parts. Olive trees are pruned down to their arthritic shoulders. Cork trees are scraped and peeled every ten years. Sheets of bark pile high in every Alentejo courtyard, curled inwards, still hugging an imaginary tree. The mutilated trunks stand smooth and dark red, like the flayed body of the satyr Marsyas, who once offended the god Apollo with music of unsurpassed beauty.

O - Old couple in love. We pass them in the car every day of our stay in Alentejo. They cross the yard, bent on their slow chores, or stand side by side, watching time flow past their gate. As she takes the washing in, she buries her face in one of his shirts, hugging it with rough hands. He's chopping wood, straightens up and sees her. A small smile frays his grey moustache and lights up the space between them.


At 6 March 2009 at 09:08 , Blogger Unknown said...

I love your poetry. You have a fan here!
But to kill it (poetry) completely, I'll tell you about the goa'uld. I know the Tick! As you know, I've always had dogs... The thing is, you have put a few drops of betadine on them. It'll make them come out or at least let go and then you can pull them out.


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