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?
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.