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une rubrique qui vous donne la parole, dans l'esprit du site
© Felixia
Feliz, the cat, and the ceramic flower pot.


du Québec, juin 2004

(Lire la même page en français, traduction par l'auteur)

Day 3, I'm getting my bearings - I'm getting used to the sudden daybreak at seven-thirty sharp. One minute, total darkness, and the other, total daylight. It's neither sunny nor grey, but it's not raining.

I load the new car the rental agency gave me yesterday (this one doesn't protest at stops), and leave the hotel at ten. My search for an Internet café doesn't yield much success and getting around a Portuguese town is not made easy by the total absence of street signs. Inquiries only trigger pragmatic Em frente responses. I soon figure it out ... if you follow Em frente (straight ahead) long enough, you'll pass this way again in two or three years because the world is round. So it will be me and my nose, a true Portuguese explorer.

I reach the Monchique foothills some twenty minutes after leaving Albufeira. Mid-February, and spring is in full bloom. Flowering almond trees dot the landscape, trees are green and contrast well with the silvery light. I stop to fill the car's tank. I won't be driving on the highway and it should take five or six hours to get to Setúbal. Antenna Dois on the radio, I settle in for a long leisurely drive.

Mimosa (1)

Suddenly, on the right, I see an enormous tree, all yellow-flowered and beckoning. Mimosa. I slow down and stop the car on a convenient wide embankment. The tree holds magic for others too. A couple is busy cutting masses of branches. The man holds a branch down for me to cut. I exercise restraint, like I did yesterday when buying the minuscule ceramic flower pot. The tiny branchlet of flowers fills the car with heady perfume. Soul satisfied, I continue on towards the Serra.

My steady pace is broken by local traffic. A man on a small cart preceded by a ... donkey. I accommodate and follow, very slowly. A long line of cars soon joins the parade. Some are less patient than others, but the road has started to curve this way and that, and the oncoming traffic doesn't allow for escape.

Having marked his three-mile-long statement, the cart-driver finally pulls off to the side and Twenty-first century pace resumes.

Caldas de Monchique

Serra de Monchique is blessed with a microclimate, lush foliage and high mountains veiled in mist dipping into deep ravines where rivers cascade. It offers a marked contrast with the arid Algarve coast. The road through the Serra winds up, en corniche, with barely enough space for two-way traffic. The atmosphere is all vaporous, luxuriant vegetation, otherwordly with stately conventual architecture, secular farmhouses, and grazing sheep. The whole setting is so different from my natural habitat that I'm totally captivated, eyes avidly seeking out the minutest detail for comparison and storage in my long-term memory, to be retrieved in minus forty weather.

Winter in Québec

Before leaving Québec that February ... The weather is rarely - 40 C when all is muffled up in the snow. It's before, or after, that the winds turn bitterly cold.

One detail grabs me by the shoulders, shakes me out of my bliss and into astonishment. In the ditch, a clump of calla lilies. Beauty!

I nearly hit the brakes but the cars behind hold me back, so I continue on, mind racing.

Calla lilies in the ditch? Are they wild? Were they part of a planned landscape and did I miss the house that went along with it? An anomaly? I drive on, soon to see another occurrence. This time, a house, nearby ... Ah! They're not wild. Stifling my disappointment, I drive on again, cupidity starting to rise in my soul.

Only one, do I think, one, to go along with the mimosa.

Sometimes, the atmosphere is all vaporous on the top of the Serra.

The calla lilies taunt me. They hide, sometimes in apparent domesticity, sometimes in wild abandon, along the curves of the narrow road. No embankment by the road , oncoming and following traffic contributing to sharpen my caution. I can't stop the car, frustration building. The teasing reaches unbearable pitch when, finally, I see a large mass of calla lilies on one side of the road and, on the other, perched on the flanks of the ravine, a tea house. Quick on the blinker, I park the car in the pocket-sized parking.

Imperfect Portuguese: Pode dar-me chá se faz favor? The old woman with the keen eyes and the weathered face wipes her hands on her apron then indicates a table for me to sit at.

I would sit outside, under the pergola, but the weather has turned to cool, humid mountain frigidity. The tea arrives, welcoming warmth nourishing my courage ... Estas flores?, pointing to the calla lilies across the road. Unintelligible response from the woman. I pause, then, spurred on by my desire, I continue: É possivel dar-me uma flor?

My accent must be terrible, the woman looks at me in total incomprehension.

Serra de Monchique vue près de Marmelete

Another sip of tea, repli stratégique.

The impasse is broken by the arrival of a lively crowd of ... two women. Blond, voluble, familiar, they engage in fluent conversation with the old woman. One woman separates from the others and comes to me.

"Hello, do you speak English?"
"Yes", I reply.
"I am German and spend my winters here, in Monchique. Will you be staying around here?"
"No, I'm meeting a friend later on today in Setúbal."
"What did you ask the owner ? She doesn't understand."

I chuckle: "It must be my accent. I was asking if I could have one of the calla lilies on the other side of the road. Are they wild ?"
"Yes, they grow everywhere, like weeds."

She turns to the older woman and speaks some words in Portuguese. The woman disappears and returns with ... a shovel !

In horror, I exclaim: "No, not the whole plant, just one flower, please!"

The woman abandons the shovel, crosses the road, knife in hand, and flitters here and there in the well-tended and cultivated patch. She soon returns with a bunch of twenty or so immense calla lilies. The image of the two-inch flower pot flashes through my mind, stirring peals of silent laughter.

I thank her and my German interpreter profusely, dish out the Vitamina Zero cellphone plastic casing and fill it with water from a water bottle. While I arrange the lilies in the container, I notice that they are inhabited by a snail. He will be a perfect companion, do I think, I'll adapt my pace to his.

Calla lilies last forever. Every evening, I would arrive at an hotel, waltz in with my container full of flowers and leave the next morning, packing them into the car.

Now, whenever I see a calla lily, I think of those two women in the Serra de Monchique and their generosity of soul and spirit. In the language of flowers, the calla lily means: Magnificent beauty or panache. And, for sure, it is surely thus.

(1) Photo communiquée par © Fernando Correia.

© Felixia
Page ©, 26 juin 2004.
Texte et photos © Felixia (sauf indication contraire).
Matière fournie par les Lecteurs : lire les conditions d'utilisation du site.

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