An orthographical issue
In my last post I referred to an artist called Anesh Kupoor. It has been pointed out to me that this person doesn’t exist, but the artist Anish Kupoor does. Putting two and two together, this must be the one I meant. Apolidgies to Anish, and thanks to Katie J.
‘Why can’t they just leave things alone?’
“The greatest happiness”, Genghis Khan once slurred into a bowl of fermented mare’s milk, “is to scatter your enemy and drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded and in tears, and to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters.”
Well, that was Genghis for you, and fair enough, but to be honest that sort of thing was never my cup of tea, and now that I’m retired I find another sort of contentment in the quiet routines of life, what George Eliot called those “good and sufficient ducts of habit, without which our nature easily turns to mud and ooze, and at any pressure yields nothing but a spurt or a puddle” (I am reading Daniel Deronda at the moment, where this eccentric metaphor appears).
Anyway, this morning, following one of these life-structuring, nature-stiffening habits, I set off at 9.30 with the dog, down to Carcavelos beach via the Quinta dos Ingleses. I do this a lot with her. She is a small black and white mongrel with bits of brown, getting on a bit, called Gucci (we took her on after the death of her previous owner, and that’s the name she came with.)
We are going to go across the little local park by the school, past the Black Alsatians, and from there to the railway line and across the footbridge.
The Black Alsatians are penned in a scruffy, overgrown back yard behind flimsy wire fencing. As we pass, they throw themselves at this in a paroxysm of rhythmic barking, eyes staring and teeth bared to the gums. They do this every time. Gucci is unfazed, because she is a sensible dog and they are behind a fence, but I have jumped half out of my skin as usual, and am prickling with unwanted adrenalin and strong dislike. Dogs like this aren’t too bad when they are barking their stupid heads off behind high gates and fences (the Portuguese believe in general that guard-dogs, unlike children, should be heard and not seen) but it’s horrible to have them in your face. I would like to vaporise them.
Gucci was attacked recently by a big young dog. I wasn’t there, but apparently he got over-excited and boisterous and things got out of hand. That’s something you hear quite a lot when you have a small dog, ‘Oh but he’s only playing’. Anyway, she got a bad scare, a couple of small cuts, and some painful bruising on her neck (it had never occurred to me that dogs get bruises). Also the vet had to remove the damaged dew-claw on her right forepaw.
I watch her adoringly now as she trots busily up the tarmac ramp ahead of me, tail hoisted jauntily. ‘There’s no love like a dog’s love’, some woman said on TV the other night, but surely that’s nonsense. If Gucci is anything to go by, dogs are mostly partial to:
- sniffing things thoroughly
- having their ears fondled
- going for walks (see 1)
but the unconditional love is mostly on the side of the humans. That’s why dogs do us good, because we love them, not because they love us. ‘Until one has loved an animal’, Anatole France said, ‘a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’
We reach the top of the ramp. The broad footbridge is very high above the railway line, and gives a fine view over leafy Carcavelos and away to the distant Serra de Sintra. It’s a fine sunny morning, very quiet, and the rapid ticking of the dog’s paws is loud as we cross over. My own steps chime faintly as we descend the iron stairs on the other side, Gucci’s small rump bobbing rhythmically as she goes down two legs at a time.
From here it’s a short stroll to the Quinta dos Ingleses, which will take us all the way down to the beach.
The quinta is an old country estate, nowadays run pleasantly wild, to which the public have de facto right of access. The English connection began in the nineteenth century, when the estate and manor-house were bought by Cable & Wireless Co. The manor-house, in the western half of the estate, now houses a school for the children of wealthy Portuguese, in its own leafy grounds and bit of pine-wood. Adjacent to this is the scruffy little site of our local football club, GS Carcavelos. To the south and south-west, there is sandy open heathland, with the odd pine-tree or acacia, sloping down to a big pot-holed car-park for beach-goers, and beyond that the Avenida Marginal and the beach. Northward on the western side it’s more thickly-wooded, and bounded by a high wall. You see rabbits here, and the occasional kestrel. But we are heading down the eastward side of the estate and will take the other way on the walk home.
This north-eastern corner of the quinta seems unpromising at first, being near the junction of two busy roads. However, the main one soon slants away to the south-east, on its way to the marginal, so that as we head south the noise of traffic quickly fades to a soft faraway roar like distant surf. After thirty seconds, it’s quiet enough for me to hear the dog sneezing and swishing in the grass, and the thin repetitive whistling of what could be meadow-pipits, unless they have all gone back to northern Europe by now.
We are following a rutted track, with meadow-grasses grown high on either side. Mixed in with the grasses are the flowers of Portuguese springtime: rose mallow, camomile, ball mustard, mauve-flowered thistles, purple and pink viper’s bugloss. Down the middle of the track are patches of little blue pimpernels. Our course is converging with that of the Ribeira de Sassoeiros to the east, its bramble-shrouded bed hidden behind the tall bamboo which is everywhere in this little valley. Beyond the stream the ground rises steeply, clothed in mixed woodland, mostly pines, above dense brambly undergrowth, wild montbretia, rough grass. The further south we go, the further back this wood stretches, shot with shafts of morning sunlight.
Beyond the meadow stretching to the right there are more stands of bamboo, and beyond them well-developed eucalyptuses and pines, half concealing the little football ground with its tiny, rickety stand. A buzzard can sometimes be seen roosting in the tallest of the pines.
I realise I have lost the dog. I whistle a few times, and after a while she emerges from the grass a long way back up the track, and begins trotting towards me. She will catch up in her own time.
The bamboo closes in on either side for a time, and the path narrows to a single file, so that the backs of my hands are knocked lightly by encroaching grasses as I walk. I have been hearing the occasional peep of a whistle and the shrill shouts of pre-adolescent boys for a while. Now, a clearing on the right suddenly reveals the sports fields of the school, green and orderly behind a wire fence. There are three big maritime pines in the clearing, where I have in the past observed chaffinches, great-tits and blue-tits. No luck today.
A little later the path swings to the left and dips to ford the dry, mud-caked stream-bed, continuing southwards on its other side. It’s becoming a hot morning now, the warmth drawing out the sweet dusty fragrance of the pine-woods along whose edge we are now walking, but when I enter the pool of shade cast by one of the big eucalyptuses the air is suddenly cool again, and faintly astringent.
The place is not ornamental or pretty in a conventional sense: the basic ingredients are prosaic – pine-woods, stands of bamboo, stringy-bark eucalyptus, a dry crusted stream-bed running beneath a roof of brambles. The ground is strewn with fallen leaves, long panels of bark, twigs. A short exploration of any side-path may end you up in a bramble- encircled clearing used as an emergency toilet. But it is nonetheless deeply satisfying that a short stroll can take you to such a quiet, abandoned place. The traffic noise has gone, there are bird-calls, there are no buildings in sight, and we seem to be miles from anywhere.
At the south-eastern corner of the school grounds, there are three ways to continue seawards. One is through the main woods on the rising ground to the south-east, following one of a network of paved tracks, half-covered by fallen pine-needles, which in a few minutes bring you out on the pot-holed, eroded car-park. Due south, there used to be a way between the clumps of bamboo along the shallow valley, but nowadays it is very overgrown and marshy-looking. These days I always head right, re-crossing the stream in its deep culvert and following the seaward boundary of the school gently upwards through the shade of younger pine-woods, carpeted with wild freesia in early spring. At the top of this incline is open ground, a glorious 150-degree view of the ocean, and a five-minute stroll down to a tunnel under the marginal which leads to the promenade and the beach.
I would understand if even the keenest nature-lover were no longer with me, but there is a good reason for such a detailed and affectionate account, because this place, the last green space worth the name on the linha de Cascais, is scheduled to be destroyed in the near future and replaced by an immense urbanised estate of large residential blocks, with the blessing of the private school housed at the quinta’s heart. Needless to say, few locals will be able to afford to live in one of these blocks. The project, it is feared, will also have very negative effects on local wildlife, on the beach itself, on traffic, and on the quality of life in Carcavelos.
There is a movement of protest against this, called SOS Quinta dos Ingleses, but when you get to my age it’s hard to be optimistic about any challenge to big money. Anyway, if I have understood correctly, the group accepts the inevitability of the project, and is agitating mainly for an ‘urban park’ to be built alongside the residential blocks. Better than nothing, you will say, but it makes little difference to me. This place as it is seems to be doomed.
But there we are. Boo-hoo. This walk looks like one well-established habit I will soon have to do without. Expect my nature to turn to mud and ooze, and at any pressure yield nothing but a spurt or a puddle.
I’m no expert, and I’m sorry if I’ve inadvertently said anything untrue about this issue. If you do want to find out more, you can go to the SOS people. They have a facebook page: