Wednesday, 2 September 2015
In Britain, no-one factors in the heat of summer when planning a building. What would be the point? In a "good" summer, there might be two or three weeks of continuous sunshine; in a more typical year, like this one, successive weeks of perpetual gloom and rain are just as likely. I suppose that's how you end up with a building that can focus the sun's rays onto the street and melt cars. Oops!
Consequently, the weather forecast is a matter of intense interest to us, and an important evening and morning ritual: who knows what might be happening tomorrow? Sure, it's August, but that doesn't mean you won't need a coat, or even, if you're very unlucky indeed, a boat. That's why the Fast Show "Scorchio!" sketch is funny (to us): just imagine living in a country where the weather is invariably sunny, eh!
Portugal, of course, is a hot country, though the influence of the ocean means it's not always a "scorchio" country, as our chilly experience in Sintra proved. But it's hot enough for refuge from the sun to be an important factor. Buildings are built to provide shade, and blinds of various sorts and subtlety are installed on most windows, much more commonly than curtains. Although it is surprising how many older small shops have the sort of noisy, free-standing air-conditioning units you associate with countries where intense heat has come as an unwelcome surprise. As an Atlantic people, I suspect the Portuguese have an underlying phlegmatic, stoical attitude to changeable weather not dissimilar to our own. Hot in summer? Who'd have thought it? Mustn't grumble...
Visually, I find the play of intense light and shadow on architectural and domestic surfaces entrancing. I love to sit and watch the distorted shadow-play on a window-blind as it shifts gently back and forth in a sea breeze, and the strong afternoon shadows cast on baking streets and stonework by trees and street furniture became a bit of an obsession. Fuji cameras do seem ideally suited to these contrasty situations, and even the little X-20 took them comfortably in its stride. Those annoying "blown highlights" were a rarity.
Incidentally, if you can read the traffic sign in that last picture, it illustrates something that always intrigues me. Most languages have some aspect that strikes you as mad when you first encounter them as a stranger. English is pretty much made out of such madnesses, of course, not least our orthography; it is a cause for astonishment how so many learn to speak it so well as a second language. But in French, for example, the numbers are utterly baffling: how such a self-declared rational people ended up representing "99" as "four twenties and nineteen" (quatre-vingt-dix-neuf) is beyond me. I dread dealing with money in France, and behave like a true tourist at the till, shoving large denomination notes across the counter, hoping for the best.
In Portuguese, the "mad" thing I immediately noticed was the names of the days of the week. There's none of your good old pagan "moon day", "Thor's day", and the rest of it. It seems that the Catholic Church in Portugal, uniquely in Europe, saw that off centuries ago. In an act of stunning oddness, all the days of the week were given the names of the days of Holy Week -- the one week in the year in Catholic Europe when nobody was expected to work. So, apart from Saturday and Sunday, all the days are named as numbered feiras, meaning "fairs" or "holidays". That is, Monday is segunda-feira ("second holiday"), Tuesday terça-feira ("third holiday"), and so on. Confusing...
Returning to that sign, it takes an effort of imagination to recognise segunda and sexta feira as days of the week, and true insight to interpret them as "Monday" and "Friday". As with those French numbers, it's entirely rational in its own terms, but nevertheless more than a little crazy. To read that parking restrictions apply "from second to sixth holiday" is bewildering on two levels: Monday and Friday generally being thought of as the first and fifth days of the working week, not the second and sixth, and working days only rarely counting as "holidays".
Oh, well. It's all part of the fun of being abroad. Unless, of course, you get a parking ticket.