Back from Portugal and looking through the notes made and photos taken in Faro. Will any of the material eventually transform into part of a published novel? At this stage, I have no idea. The ideas I have are vague and constantly shifting. The only way to find out if they work will be to sit down, start writing and see what happens.
When I'm in a place, I like to engage with the details that I might not remember when I sit down at the desk to write. Surprisingly often, the pursuit of these details leads seamlessly to the bigger picture - the geography, the atmosphere, conversations with the locals. Take the gate to the Old Town, for example, just visible in the picture below at the far end of the Jardim Manuel Bivar.
After a few days wandering around the town looking up at the pretty Moorish-inspired buildings, I started to see dried grass hanging below streetlamps and rooflines. On closer inspection, these were birds' nests. Then I started to see wheels of grasses and twigs on churches - they were everywhere, including on the pediment of the Old Town gate (below). One evening, there was a flutter of white wings inside.
But which birds were making them? As an ex-journalist, I'm not shy of asking when I want to know something, rather to my daughter's embarrassment on occasion. ("Mum! Did you have to ask the hottest waiter what that music was?!" "Yes. And did he not bring me over a written note of the CD title? That's the way to do it.")
So I asked a cosmopolitan-looking local (many Portuguese speak excellent English) and was told they were storks. We chatted for a while under the gate and I found out that it's illegal to remove the nests as storks mate for life and only build one nest. They sleep there each night, bedding down at sunset, and the storks have always been in Faro as it's so close to their food supplies on the salt marshes of the Ria Formosa, now a natural park between the coast and the barrage islands fronting the Atlantic.
Another story in the details that was hard to miss was the economic woe of Portugal, an issue they share with several other southern countries of the European Union. As someone who loves Europe and its people but not the EU political construct and the dead hand of its bureaucracy, I noted the evidence of closed businesses and decaying houses for sale with sinking heart.
I've never seen such pretty cobbled pedestrian streets, though; lining them, shops selling very cheap fashion items - clothes a third or a quarter of the price of similar items in the South of France - and great bags for around ten euros. (Naturally, we did what we could to help out economically...)
Faro beach was a half hour bus or ferry ride away. This is a view from the ferry, which was our preferred option. On the salt flats were tiny fishermen's huts, and constant fishing activity, whether from small rowing boats or the backbreaking work of clam digging.
Finally, a snap taken on Farol, part of one of the barrage islands, sandy spits of land that are constantly being pulled and reshaped by the strength of the Atlantic Ocean along the southernmost points of continental Portugal. The beaches are superb, the water clear and cold. And just look at that sky.