No 47: Tradition 1 – Fish and Cork Oak at Portuguese Aljezur

Tradition makes places of land and sea. And distinct ecosystems help cultures emerge, and then diverge. P1010380Everywhere is different; everywhere is the same. Many long-standing practices that are sensitive to ecologies are under threat. Now the extinction of experience and land literacy has become almost as important as loss of species, language and a stable climate.

The liminal Aljezur is far from the noise of mass tourism and irrigated golf courses of dry Algarve. From these rocky ocean cliffs sailed the first men north to the cold cod grounds of the Arctic, bringing back dried and salted bacalao. The national park saved the barranco-macquis of this ocean coast. A humming, thrumming scrub of gum cistus, orchid, lavender and rosemary, thyme and juniper and aromatics of heat and promised sun. There were never so many flowers, yellow gorse, white rockrose, pinks and pimpernels. From the marshy lands, frogs sang; lazy white flap of egret, above a circling buzzard.

On the water was a glittering glamour, light out of season and too blue, the ranks of waves angry, lithe with energy, crashing ashore. Over white streets and terracotta tiles, sweeping swifts and swallows against the azure sea, and far out a single white sail. A capstan was on the shore, abandoned, where stumbled a donkey to turn and pull up the boats. Feral cats fought for scraps.P1000991

Where the surf curled and raced at cliff and shore, men perched on rock promontories, line fishing in the exploding white spray, by the red rock and under the wind tearing off white-horse manes and arcing in the air. The whole land grumbled. On a sign by a ruin of medieval Arab fishing village, someone had scratched out the word Islamic.

The blue spray wrapped plain and valley inland, where steep valleys hid another tradition. The montados wood-pastures, the cork oak forests, cool and resinous with pine and holm oak too, the cork trees carefully stripped of spongy bark, the trunks left black-red. There was old lichen on the trees, deep shadows, gnarled olives. In these forests, the last of the lynx, mongoose scuttling, farms abandoned, whole villages abandoned. The traditions just survive, as long as there is consumer demand, somewhere, for real cork.P1010120P1010114