Monday, 30 October 2017

Rainbows over Amsterdam

It is cold. Unexpectedly, the wind slices into the face as you walk along a canal, you hunch into your inadequate jacket. The water ripples like a cat's back raised in fear.
This is me turning purple after a creative writing session, ha ha!
No, I take that back about the creative writing, having just had an excellent morning working on poems we had written, with some other writers. Very satisfying.

Then I walked home through the centre of Amsterdam, past the queue outside the Anne Frank House (little Anne I am glad so many remember you and read your words). Her Diary is one of the most eloquent books I have ever read and translated. Such a mixture of insight and humour and courage.

The tourists crowd the streets. I like it, and try to catch what language they are speaking, and say "Ola" whenever I hear Spanish or Portuguese. (An "h" for the Spanish hola!!)
The trees are turning browns and yellow, and already many leaves (from the plane trees and the sycamores) litter the pavements.
And then, across the Prinsengracht, a rainbow appears. Magical, as always.
Out came my handy iPhone and I captured the moment.
Hope returning, always a rainbow somewhere.
Ah, hope fading: I have recently done some fiddling with my laptop and iPhone and now cannot move a photo into this blog as I was wont.
If there is something I would change in this world of 2017...
But now for some Pilates and meditation, that should restore a balance!

Here's the rainbow!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Back to my northern home...

There will be something like a ten-degree-Celsius drop in temperature, as I travel north from still-sunny Portugal to the grey skies of home...
David stays here, enjoying coffee in the Clubhouse and working on cleaning Stroemhella's mast ... a race against time because he needs to get it finished before the seasonal rains arrive.
I am looking forward to seeing the familiar gables of the Netherlands and of course, all my friends and museal haunts...
And sleeping without the rocking of the waves ... still can't choose between the salty and the city world! But actually don't need to.
I enjoy both...

Here a few pix from Leca de Palmeira (there should be a cedilla on the "c" of Leca).
Above: David at work and signs of our Portuguese life...
Below: the sea, the sea...
This shows our daily walk, watching the waves, ever-changing, ever-fascinating.
But too cold for me to swim, alas...
Waves showing the remains of hurricane Ophelia...

A wonderful place to be!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Sea stories under the sun...

We are back in Leixoes, and hurricane Ophelia has passed on... There were some magnificent waves, hurling themselves against the jagged rocks here and inspiring many stunning photos and videos. People arrived with their cameras and waited for the moments when the huge rollers broke, foaming white and rolling shorewards. I have one such photo as my screen saver: wet rocks in the foreground and tumbling white foam splattering onto the sand's edge.
One of my favourite pix shows the two restaurant cats who came down to see if there were any fish being tossed out of the wild waves: this is specially for my sister and Tilla, who are cat rescuers.
They soon returned, fishless, to the restaurant, where the next day I saw them lying in cattish abandon, soaking in the sun.
This stretch of beach forms part of our daily walk; it is a constant delight, in mist, drizzle or brilliant sunlight. On our walk we sometimes stop at an excellent Padaria (one of the many bakers and maker of delicious cakey delicacies) and treat ourselves to a hot chocolate, thick and rich, that needs to be spooned from the cup. Memories of Torino, and before that, of Madrid. It is definitely NOT cocoa...
Today we had a prisoners' adventure, when we found ourselves locked outside on the quayside. We were with the seagulls, behind a high spiked fence:
Seagulls free; us imprisoned, or rather, ex-prisoned. The drivers of the van in the photo on the left had driven off and locked the gate, while we were walking onwards towards the end of the quay.
The fence was too high to climb over. We did spy some distant figures and I yelled "OLA!" with all my acting training at voice projection. But to no avail, too much crashing waves and screaming seagulls.
David decided to walk right to the end of the quay (in the distance in this photo) where we had noticed some old stone steps leading down to the pontoon (where Stroemhella lay moored).
Happily, oh serendipity, a young man in his rubber dingy came motoring round the end of the quay and David called out to him for help. We soon found out he was French, had arrived with his young family, and he it was who owned the broken boom lying on the pontoon beside our boat.
With his help we cautiously descended the stone steps, leapt onto our pontoon, and home was in sight. We chatted to our rescuer, who had come round in his dingy to discuss what to do with his broken boom.  We practised our French and thanked him heartily for his help and David provided him with some useful tips.
Above: Two seagulls wondering whether to risk a dive...
I think this one is asleep; it's a juvenile seagull, hence his speckled feathers. I find the young ones handsomer than the adults. Could be said of many species...
We have established a very pleasant routine here in the marina. And while the weather stays kind, we mingle inside and outdoors, rejoicing in the vast sky and the endless sea...
 Sunset over the Atlantic...

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Smoke clouds over Coimbra

A week ago we left our boat safely moored in the marina at Leixoes and took the train to Coimbra.
Partly because we had heard from so may friends that this was a historic city we must see; and also because of hurricane Ophelia, then screeching across the Atlantci and threatening to hit the coast of Portugal within a few days. Wave heights forecast to be above five metres. I did not like the sound of that!
We had packed all we reckoned to need for a week in a small bag on wheels (only two of them!) and providently brought some food for on the way.
It was hot; l watched the bright colours of the autumn trees, with, in the distance, the shimmer of the sea.
How shall I describe Coimbra? We have a room near the river, in the Baixo, Lower, section of the old city. Wonderful view from our window of the university which tops the hill, illuminated at night.
I've decided to try to send a batch of photos I took in Coimbra (one of the most photogenic cities I have ever had the pleasure to visit!) at a later point. So this will be pure prose.
It grew hotter (going up to 34 degrees centigrade on Sunday) as a result of over-friendly Ophelia.
We puffed up the hill and made mental plans of the intricately zig-zagging cobbled streets, rising often very steeply to the flat top where the university now sits enthroned.
We were extremely lucky to have found (via my friend Amal Chatterjee) a superb guide, in the form of Pedro Ribelo. He arrived as we had arranged, on the morning after the huge forest fires had swept over northern Portugal, and he had had a sleepless night watching th flames as they approached closer to his house. Fortunately the wind changed when they were just 500 metres away from his home.
I felt like saying, "Pedro, if you are feeling shattered after last night, we can plan another day for the sightseeing..." But I have the feeling that he so enjoys telling the history of this town/city that his energy soon returned. Anyway, it was a fact-filled day but also lots of fun, Pedro recounting little anecdotes about some of the places he showed us, quite a lot of climbing but also time to sit down in between, and of course far too short a time to see all we would have liked. But I began to get a feel of this amazingly higgeldy-piggeldy place and I began to understand why one of my Dutch friends, much-travelled, said "Coimbra is like nowhere else!"!
Coimbra has its own Fado music, not the same as the Fado we had heard in Lisboa (Lisbon). We reserved places in the Fado Capela for Saturday night, arriving about nine p.m. and being given the last two seats in the back of the small chapel. The singer was a young man, accompanied by a Portuguese classical guitar and a Coimbra guitar. These two in combination produced a sound to wake the angels. It was as if I could hear a chord of five notes resonating through my body. Somewhat like turning into molten gold and flowing gently into the night. Although I understood little of the words of the singer, it didn't matter. Glorious voice, beautifully controlled, sometimes lingering on a whisper, sometimes as if forced painfully from the guts, filled with anguish, but filled with power.
I bought a CD of this trio...
We also went to a small bar Diligencia recommended by Pedro and others, where a slightly more low-key (if one can call it that) Fado was sung. One singer with classical guitar. This place has a warm and inviting atmosphere, it comes highly recommended and was close to our room, and the night was rainy. After a light supper cooked by David in the kitchen of our Residenzia, we emerged clothed in rain capes (first time it's rained for me in Portugal in months!) and soon found the bar.  There were four other people there when we arrived. We chatted to the guy who runs the bar and ordered a glass of red wine from the Alentejo (excellent!) and sat down at the empty table between the two couples.
One pair was from Brazil, and I tried my Brazilian Portuguese which was fairly successful. The other couple, more the age of David and me, were from Denmark and Sweden. Both retired teachers, very interesting and well-informed. Then in came a young woman who I heard say she was Italian, so with great delight I went and told her I spoke Italian (one of my favourite-of-all languages, though in fact I love every language even if I only have a smattering.) Then arrived another young woman, long dark hair, might well have been Portuguese but she told us she was from Greece. Better and better, kali something we cry in delight. It was at this point, as the warm rich singing started, that I was filled with a sense of not belonging to any one country but simply of being me: born in Canada, with European ancestry, here I was with a mixture of Europeans from the north and south, from Sweden to Greece, or from Portugal in the west to Turkey in the east (because the Greek student had ancestors from Turkey, she told us). And I know how lucky I am, how privileged to have been placed/born in a free country and never to have been told that I was someone's slave.
The Italian, Rossella, joined us the next day with her Portuguese boyfriend, Jose, and we had more linguistic games (by this time my Italian is becoming contaminated (silly word!) with Spanish and Portuguese, but at least I still know when I say something incorrectly). It dosn't matter with Rossella because she speaks Italian, Spanish and Portuguese as well as English.

Time to stop now; the fires in Portugal were finished by the rain on Monday night. The sun returned and great bubbling white clouds. David and I spent the next couple of days exploring the utterly beautiful old churches and cathedral and climbing up ad down excessively steep staircases, remarking upon how fit all this activity was keeping us.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Fogbound in Porto

A white impenetrable wall that we can walk through but remains enclosing us; always present,  permitting no vision of anything beyond.
The foghorn hoots mournfully and the huge cruise ships chug into the harbour, lights ablaze, and wait for the sun to reappear.
Our French friends set out in their small sail boat one evening when it was still bright, but we know there was fog out at sea so we are hoping to hear they have reached Lisbon safely. The sea is cruel, I never lose a threatened sense.
Here in the marina the fog presses silence on all activity.
David and I went for a walk along the front, where a couple of days ago people lay sunbathing on the sand. Now even the breakers seemed hushed. A few black shapes moved into view, cycling or walking, and then were gone again.
Here is our dear Stroemhella, waiting at the mouth of the Douro, for the mist to lift, a week ago.
Happily, the sun does return. So we could chug round the corner to Paco do Palmeira where, in a more down-market marina, we find all the heart could desire.
Now I have started writing a short story about two brothers at sea (ha ha, the metaphors are plenty!) trying to sail through the mist ...
When we were off the northwest Scottish coast (Outer Hebrides) many years ago, we encountered a mist like this. It makes everything quiet and mysterious.
Through that stillness we heard the melancholy sound of bagpipe music and slowly through the mist came a small yacht with the bagpipe player standing on board. We sounded our (also musical!) ship's horn. He responded. I plan to merge this unforgettable scene into my story...

Monday, 2 October 2017

Return to Porto and much feasting...

Each day on the Douro was a delight. We were overwhelmed by the peace...
No other boats were attempting this slightly tricky journey, except of course the huge cruisers whom we encountered at mooring places. In Pinhao we were lucky on our upward trip to find the only unoccupied pontoon. All the rest were bagged by the Biggies...
Here we are having a quiet night in Pinhao before we were joined by our Dutch friends, Harry and Ati.
The next few days were passed going deeper into the quiet, 'between walls of shadowy granite' (line from Tennyson's The Lotus Eaters) (actually the rock of which the soil is composed is apparently chist, although I am sure we encountered some black basalt...). It was utterly magnificent. We would sit silently absorbing the warmth of the hills. Every day sun. The rocky or the tree-filled slopes are coloured in intricate complexity. Here a pic!
Still waters sometimes, as here, but at the end of the day the wind could get up, whooshing down the river, urging us into a secure sheltered spot.
We cooked splendid suppers on the boat (our two-burner stove proving itself very good at subtle adjustments of temperature!).
And of course it is grape-harvest time, and often along the road bordering the river we would see the lorries loaded with fruit, being taken to the Quinta where it would be pressed, put into casks, later to be bottled...

This is a grape-laden lorry at one of the places where we moored on our way back down the Douro.
I would have liked to do a little grape-trampling but I suspect you have to arrange this in Portuguese, and so far I am limited to asking for beer or vinho verde (actually I'm slightly more fluent than this would suggest, which is proving very useful...).
Going down through the locks I spoke a mixture of English and Portuguese on the mariphone, and all went extremely smoothly.
It was marvellous to have Harry and Ati with us, helping with tying fast the boat when necessary, often doing the washing up (!) and to have their company during these days. David and Harry exchanged engineering talk, Ati and I shared a more artistic take on events...
Unforgettable days. Long hours in ever-changing light. Quiet evenings. We all slept deeply and untroubled. Stories for grey winter nights...