It’s been a while…
Looking back on my last post is like looking at an old, sepia photo of bygone days; it might only be a little over two months on the calendar since we were leaving Portugal but it feels like a lifetime ago.
Dona Catarina stands at the big, green, iron gates to the quinta as we drive out for the last time; her eyes and cheeks are wet; her smile is caught in a no-man’s land between love and loss. By her side, Dona Emilia stands, one arm fastened around DC’s shoulder, the other clasping her hand.
“You do know every time she sees that plant she’s going to start crying!“
Emilia’s parting shot brings laughter to lighten the saudade in the car. The tear-inducing plant in question, our farewell gift of a large hebe, has already been planted in a tall, earthenware pot beside the little gate that DC passes through umpteen times a day. There’s going to be a lot of tears.
It was early May when Jack and I returned home to the quinta after walking the Camiño Santiago on behalf of Inntravel, and the ensuing three weeks had been a blur of activity and tension as we juggled the tasks of packing all our worldly goods into brown cardboard boxes, trying to sell our car, and finding somewhere to live while we considered what our next steps might be; with navigating our way through the bureaucratic labyrinth of returning to the UK amidst a pandemic. Worryingly, Portugal’s COVID rates were on the rise, threatening its status as a Green-listed country and potentially leaving us facing a 10 day quarantine at best and a sojourn in a quarantine hotel at worst. Oh, and then there was just the small matter of The Banana Road which had just been launched and needed to be promoted.
By the time our last Sunday on the quinta came around, our goods had been collected and were stored somewhere in the south awaiting onward transit to the UK; all the necessary paperwork (as far as we were aware) had been acquired; and we had left our car with a dealer who promised to make good on his payment by Monday or Tuesday at the latest. As our flight was on Tuesday, we preferred not to think about what we’d do if payment didn’t materialise. Portugal was hanging onto her Green status by the skin of her teeth, and I had received my negative COVID test result. Jack had heard nothing.
We had arranged a small farewell party for the neighbours, and as Sunday dawned hot and cloudless, we set up tables in the leafy shade of the large terrace we shared with Aaron and Lotte who lived next door. Bottles of vinho verde and of beer were chilling nicely and we had arranged for a takeaway from the village restaurant as most of our cookware was now in boxes in a storeroom.
Everyone made the effort to cast off their habitual quinta attire and don summer finery for the occasion, after all, it wasn’t every day we had a community party – this was the first during our sojourn. Somewhere around 1pm, Jack collected the food from Âncora y Serrano, and the rest of the afternoon and evening drifted away in a haze of conversation, relived memories, and much laughter, accompanied by copious amounts of choco frito, bacalhau à bras, salad and chips followed by fruits-of-the-forest cheesecake from Pingo Doce.
It was a perfect day.
The only blot on the landscape was that, by the time we had cleared the dirty glasses and leftover chips from the tables, Jack had still not received his COVID results. I was confident it was merely an administrative delay; as my result was negative, it was inevitable his would be too. Nevertheless, a fresh veneer of worry spread itself over the accumulated stress in Jack’s mind, threatening to disrupt sleep.
Monday morning brought a double dose of good news; Jack’s negative test result had finally come through and the money for the car was in our account. I combined final packing with trying to do some covert last bits of cleaning, which was tricky, as DC kept appearing behind me and snatching the duster from my hand with a wag of the finger, a shake of the head, and an assertive “Nao, nao nao, Dona Andrea!“
There was just time for a quick trip to the garden centre to collect the large hebe Katarina in full bloom, DC’s favourite lilac, and it was time to go. Once again, we were leaving somewhere we had been, for the most part, blissfully happy. The rhythms, sights and sounds of the quinta had been our world for the past four years and had long since found their way to the compartments in our hearts labelled ‘home’. Although we were excited for what might lie ahead, we grieved for the loss of our Portuguese idyll with its idiosyncratic residents.
With heavy hearts, we drove past the miniature goats and through the vineyards before our minds turned to the imminent uncertainty that lay ahead. We had checked our documents against the latest rules a dozen times but COVID regulations were hastily constructed on shifting sands and we were far from confident of getting through them. When we had relayed our fears to DC a couple of days before, her eyes had lit up.
“Então volte para casa!“, she said. “Then just come home!“
It was a comforting thought, and given the fragility of the next few hours, far from beyond the realm of possibility.