Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Turning Portuguese? You are what you eat

In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, even though she’s knee deep in cabbages, she’s humming Girl, You’ll Eat a Woman Soon

Sarah "looking unfeasibly chuffed with my tiny pile of vegetables in November."

Sarah, “looking unfeasibly chuffed with my tiny pile of vegetables in November.”

First things first: the Portuguese language learning has not been going well.

Despite my consistent efforts to speak to everyone I meet in Portuguese in an attempt to practise and improve, linguistic disasters are only an open mouth away. Weirdly, I speak to no one in my own country, but once abroad morph into one of those irritating people who strikes up conversations on buses.

For example, we spent a few days in Lisbon last week and visited a tile shop staffed by the artist herself. We’d been there before and I wanted to tell her this.

“Four years ago, I bought a tile of a woman here.”

Strangely enough, she replied to me in perfect English and did not acknowledge my loyal custom. It was only after I left the shop that I realised that what had actually come out of my mouth was: “For the past four years, I have eaten a woman.”

As I said, the Portuguese is not going well.

In other news, it’s started raining. As is typical for an Algarve summer, it hadn’t rained for about four months, so this is a bit more of a deal than in the UK where it not raining is more worthy of note.

During this dry time very little grows; it just kind of tries to hang on in there and not die, anything more seeming like just too much effort in that heat. And now, when it’s winter and the rain has come, everything is growing like a mad thing.

From a northern European gardening perspective, now is about the time to be chopping up the dead stuff and looking out at a mostly bare veg patch which awaits the far distant spring beyond the frost and the mud. Not here.

My garden hasn’t looked this green and vibrant since May and my left-for-dead cabbages have taken on a new lease of life and are now producing new fresh leaves. Hurrah, you may think, free food. And you’d be right, but less so given that I thought they were dead and have planted 36 new cabbages to replace them.

“It was only after I left the shop that I realised that what had actually come out of my mouth was: ‘For the past four years, I have eaten a woman.'”

The broad bean and cherry tomato gluts previously discussed in this column have a new companion. The garlic I planted last March and assumed to be a goner has also decided to sprout now and this week I managed to reap a small haul of broccoli, chard, aubergine and peppers. My Gardener’s World Diary has gone into meltdown.

This verdant awakening has also seen the Return of the Bindweed. In my version of gardening, I shouldn’t be weeding at this time of year, or any for that matter, but bindweed is incessant and whooping with silent, invasive joy about the rain.

This horrible weed has spread itself all over the nice newly manure-loaded permaculture beds like some uninvited guest who comes and scoffs everything in the house and sleeps in your bed, twisting itself round your legs and nicking the duvet.

It’s like Goldilocks or like the much, much younger man who tried to win an invitation back to mine with the words, “I bet you’ve got loads of food in your fridge” (this being a seduction technique as welcome as the bindweed, he never got to find out – I do). Not sure if he’d have been so chuffed to find out that these days it is all cabbage.

Luckily for him he didn’t get put into a large tub, filled with water and left covered for a month to turn into fertiliser like the bindweed does, thus creating ‘Stinky Bucket’ as we call it. Next time, my son, next time.

Truth is, I nearly said yes to him as I had a sock that had got stuck down the back of the radiator and thought that he might be able to reach it with his skinny little student arm, but decided new socks and an untouched larder were less hassle.

A tonne of logs arrived this week from Sergio the woodman who also makes the most spicy and delicious olive oil from his organic trees. He delivers it in five-litre plastic bottles, from which Keith likes to swig it neat, like some kind of well-oiled lumberjack.

Despite the green pastures and blooming foliage, the nights are longer and it’s chilly, which means the woodburner is on and fuel was required. We stacked our logs proudly as only urban office nerds pretending to be farmers can.

Keith with woodpile
Here is Keith standing in front of the woodpile responding to the request ‘to look manly’. What can I say? I might have claimed to have eaten a woman, but I’m thinking someone might need to pass on the olive oil and make a start on the spinach.

Read all of Sarah’s ex-pat dispatches here.


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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.