When I moved to the Algarve in Portugal 17 years ago, I immediately loved the countryside. It was friendly, not hyper-organised and the soil, a rusty red. This landscape revealed certain scents, sounds and people all of which transported me to Africa and a chapter in my youth.
Five years after I arrived, the urge to live in a more rural setting led me to Pechão. Away from the tourists and hustle and bustle yet deceptively close to the sea and various towns. I visited this particular area a couple of times with my mother, mostly on Sunday afternoons during one of our random driving trips. We looked at various plots and ruins but there was always something displeasing.
It was not until a year later, while strolling in Olhão, that a ruin in the window of an estate agency caught my eye. A viewing followed. It was love at first sight. There was no tarmac, no electricity, no water. Only a dusty track, a ruin on a gentle hill with a breathtaking view and two hectares of land; not fenced. The only sign of ownership was an old natural rock wall, not higher than eighty centimetres. The type of wall you can comfortably sit on. The view was not of the sea, unless you climbed a tree on the highest part of the land; it was of the hills to the North. This was a view, the attraction to which was hard to describe. It was not as spectacular and vast as certain others I had seen. Not the type one could get lost in. It was distinct. A captivating and enchanting view, at the same time spacious and comforting.
All the land around mine seemed to belong to everyone and no one, until suddenly, in early spring 2005, tractors appeared out of nowhere and began to plough the earth, thereby revealing ownership. Later on in that year, in August, singing and the clacking sound of sticks announced it was carob picking time. In November, it was the olives ́ turn.
Apart from those brief moments of human activity every year, the land seemed to exist for my enjoyment alone. At night it was dark. You could see the stars . There were neither fences nor walls and no signs. When stray and abandoned street dogs started to adopt me, a dilemma presented itself. I realised I needed a fence. The idea of a fence did not appeal to me. It would shatter the illusion of my vast kingdom and strangle my freedom to roam.
Whereas the decision to install a fence was hard, selecting one was easy. I chose the one I felt was least aggressive, least visible and consequently, least burglar proof. The large openings in the mesh fence meant small wildlife could still pass through. The posts were wooden.
Eleven years have passed since my fence went up. Part of the dusty track is now tarmac, lined with street lights. More houses have been built in my zone, known locally as the Valley of the Birds; houses with walls or fences, some with barbed wire. A few of them boasting all three! Last week a blindingly new fence went up along a country lane nearby topped with a row of barbed wire. I almost felt trapped.
My kingdom is getting smaller and the nights, less dark. Why do we fence ourselves in? And more recently, aggressively so? Portugal is still a very safe country. Before long the shepherds won ́t stroll across the land anymore and I will miss the tinkling bells and the baa ́s, buhs and mehs. Electric trimmers will lead the modern orchestra. The sleepy countryside and the way of life it cradles is slowly but surely disappearing and I too contributed to this by fencing myself in. I find myself longing for bygone days. In Portugal they have a word for that. Saudades.
Corine Timmer spring 2016 (c)
The book Prikkeldraad, which means barbed wire in English, by Dick Wittenberg ISNB 9789045024905, inspired me to write this personal account.