Art in The Algarve

Taking Shape

Stranger’s faces begin to form: a long nose

painted lips, a small smile, crow’s feet.

A pony tail hangs down. A fringe stands out.

There are drawn brows, classical

cheek bones. The group is beginning to take shape.


After touching down in Faro, Portugal, I pinpoint

Accents – Monaghan, Chicago, Donegal –

in the narrow, cobbled, sun twisted streets.

We have come to Olhao to paint in a place

where the sun softens, shadows sharpen light,

blue seas glaze and glint. Here, our paint

brushes and pencils are poised over thick gram

paper to create characters and colour.

En mass, our group divides, multiplies

shoals of silver

in cobalt blue, or would it be aqua marine?


The Child

Out of this blue, whatever its hue, I discover a child

Escaping old haunts: A fear of inadequacy begins to glide,

Over my wrinkles, like the ripples of the ocean I stare at this morning,

while I write and drink expresso.

The fear vibrates and glistens with sickening familiarity.

It is unexpected after forty years.

I try to rationalise:

The group provides a reason for my existence

I am here to take part in its shifting pigment

to be a vermillion green mixed from a primary yellow and red

It doesn’t matter that I am learning.

I am not inadequate.

No one is too old to appreciate a new perspective.


Market Day

Thirteen places, laid for breakfast: white square plates

Serviettes, invite the fresh of day to step forward.

Bread rolls, croissants, bananas, berries, eggs, fruit and yoghurt.

One by one, people come, greeting morning, go to and fro

Table to kitchen, in and out, scattering. Re-assembling.


Outside, in the sun, on the sea front, farmers’ crates are piled

with dried lavender, cheese, fresh flowers, kumquats,

live hens, and lanky rabbits, spicy cakes, fruit and vegetables.

Crowds drift, peer and point, gossip. Brown fingers

gesticulate. In all the excitement, the glittering sea stretches

beyond, unremarked, no longer dominant. On the cobbles,

In the lanes, around the squares, people parade, sit in cafes

baskets brimming with beans, potatoes, carrots and conversations.


A Demonstration

‘Squint your eyes to see light and dark.

Your muscles are your tools.

Adventure and discovery must be fixed.

There’s no hiding in watercolour.’


On the roof top terrace, Michelle loads a squirrel,

she twists its flourish and paints a flower:

a two-tone Iris, blue and yellow. From the tower

where the storks nest, the church bell chimes,

embellishing the calm of the afternoon as we perform

Art in the Algarve. Somewhere, a dog barks.


FADO Evening

Castanets in tune to Strauss.

Not all that nice. Bottles of wine

stand in lines, like soldiers, and we dance.


A Day Off

I sit on my terrace, smoking. It is coloured with clematis

Wound around wrought iron. I look out over tiny cobbled

lanes, white shining squares. Bins too.

I observe waif like people ravaging through.


On the promenade, waiting for the ferry, I watch women

parade and children scamper. We board. Joanna says

I’ll sit here. I don’t want to hooray henry all over the boat.”

I smile, make a note. She is in good humour.


The Rio Formosa National Park

On the beach, tall tussocks of yellow and green grass

Billow in the salted sea breeze, planted, I believe

To prevent erosion. They create a landscape

Over the sea, prettily ringed with delicate strings

of brown sea weed. Ribbed white clouds, like silver sardines

swimming the sky. The extraordinary light flattens the earth

stretches as far as the eye can see.


We have a jug of sangria and a ‘dose’ of chips.

Later, on our way home, I sit outside Café Convivio

my toes in the sand, listening to birdsong, admiring

the succulents.  The sky is quilted with pools of light.



Time for Murder

We are thirteen around the table. The perfect number

For a mystery murder, victims and killers.

Suddenly, Belgian detectives stalk the cobbles

Between courses of pasta and shrimp

Octopus and black pudding, chicken wings

Chocolate mousse dissolves into

Tears, stomachs nursed in howls of laughter.



Melon, strawberry and pineapple breakfast

With rolls of cheese, hubbub of dreams

Regaled, making nonsense of days where we

Brush in birdsong: mine flat and stark.

Colours sing in conversation creating dynamics



Shapes and lines turn into eyes and noses

Unaligned, too close but a stance is caught

A curve of cheek captures a face, a nail on a

Hand draped on a knee, still life, moving



Vera paints cheek in pink straw. Carmel decorates with haiku

Grainne constructs with long quiet lines. Joanna draws attention.

Colleen pinks her sparkle. David paints in contemplation.

Sue discovers pencil. Damien draws a diary.

Dorothy shows how it’s done.



Rare bloody beef, pale cream veal

Refreshing white wine, gateaux de caramello

A broken chair. We conclude

Dancing on tables.


Last Day

The glow of the blue and yellow Iris has dimmed

Petals are dying on the chrysanthemums. We

Give thanks to our brushes and materials

with poems and words that glow

and go out to dinner, yet again.



It is early morning. Suitcases are packed

One taxi has left. On the neighbour’s terrace

Life hangs on the line, still in the light:

blue t shirts, a pink camisole, stripy pants.

I bow a goodbye.



I watch a woman in a blue cardigan. She holds

A plastic fork and plucks round green of grape

From a plastic container and pops it in

Her mouth. The squares of orange and melon

She places with care in a bowl beside her.  I

Wonder why. Does she not like the colour?


I think how individual postures and actions are

only ever questioned by a stranger’s difference.

This week, I rediscovered a quiet me. I remembered

How, as a child, I found conversation difficult.

Unless I felt passionate, I preferred to listen

drift into dream –  as all my teachers

complained. In my twenties, I lived for my

passions:  justice, words, eating and drinking

I didn’t stop talking. then in my thirties and forties

It was all work and rearing children.


I didn’t notice the quiet go.

It took a landscape of strangers in a foreign place

to acknowledge the young in me again.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s