Thursday, March 24, 2016

Joyous spring tidings

Expats exiting
Boatloads of British immigrants are expected to head from Portugal and Spain to the South Atlantic if Britain decides to leave the European Union. They fear that Brexit will make them no longer welcome in the EU. For many expats the Falkland Islands seem a good option. For others, Patagonia would do. Anything but having to return to live in that confused homeland misnamed the United Kingdom.
Pumped up
Fuel fury”, as one paper headlined it, has been propelling motorists across the border into Spain to fill up on cheaper petrol. As prices at the pumps in Portugal rose for the third time in four weeks and reached a European high, Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral called on the Portuguese to be “more patriotic”. He said they should perform their “civic duty” rather than help the Spanish taxman. This laudable appeal is said to have backfired and sparked choruses of ‘Viva España’ as PT number plates sped eastward.
Bigger is better?
Everything is done on a far grander scale across the border. Spain’s 36.5 million voters have been able to do without a government for three whole months – and none is yet in sight. After Portugal’s inconclusive general election in early October, the 9.7 million voters in this country had less than eight weeks to wait before a working government was cobbled together. New elections in Spain will have to wait until June, and the same result is expected – i.e. no clear majority. Just for once the Spanish might like to follow the example of their Iberian neighbours. More than 44% of Portugal’s registered voters ignored the last general election here. The abstention rate in Spain was only 30.3%.
Gloom and doom
Due perhaps to a fleeting shortage of bad news, the online edition of an Algarve paper last Friday declared: “Winter comes to an end this weekend with some miserably gloomy weather. Rain, bitter temperatures and lightning are forecast all over Portugal with maximums expected to plunge from between 7ºC to 3ªC”. As it turned out, there was a nice drop of rain for the garden even if it was a tad nippy at times. Many of those enjoying the first flush of spring have already forgotten that last month was the hottest February ever recorded on the planet - but oh for heaven’s sake let’s not prattle on about doom as well as gloom.
Unannounced visit
The 2016 summer season for Portugal’s tourist industry has started on a high. Another record year is predicted. Hotels and holiday villas are already virtually fully booked for the peak months. Tourists information offices will be kept busy answering all kinds of questions. An unusual group of visitors called into the head office of Turismo de Portugal in Lisbon last week, but they weren't looking for help about where to stay. They were interested in the economic activities of a former member of the Turismo de Portugal’s administrative board. It’s good that the anti-corruption police are getting out and about more these days.
Gongs galore
Almost 100 organisations in Portugal have reportedly received nominations for this year’s World Travel Awards. For example, TAP, the national flag-carrier, otherwise known as Take Another Plane, has been nominated for no fewer than six awards, including Europe’s best airline. The company behind the accolades modestly describes them as “the Oscars of the travel industry”. The global travel industry news service eTurboNews cancelled its media partnership with the company last year saying that the awards “may be interpreted as plain and simple fraud”. Choosing his words carefully, eTN publisher Juergen Thomas Steinmetz went on to note that “unsuspecting tourism boards, hotels, airlines and attractions may have been victimised by this scheme over many years”. Hmm... well, maybe this year things will be different.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Woody, back from the brink

A woman on her early morning walk through the woods came across an abandoned dog lying on his side. He seemed lifeless. It looked as if his collar had been removed and he had been left there to die. But he was breathing, just.
He was a small dog and the woman managed to pick him up and carry him in her arms. At home she placed him next to a bowl of fresh water. He tried to drink but couldn’t. He could hardly stand up.
A vet was urgently needed. On being examined at the veterinary clinic in Alcantarila, it was confirmed he was suffering from pine processionary moth poisoning. It turned out to be a very serious case. Two experienced vets at the clinic said later it was the worst they had ever seen.
The dying dog was a ginger-haired, cross-breed weighing 6.9 kilos. He looked like a pup but was probably about three years old. Without a microchip, his background remained unknown. He needed a name. Under the circumstances,‘Woody’ seemed a good choice.
The small and inconspicuous adult processionary moth lays large numbers of eggs high in the outer foliage of pine trees during the summer. The resulting horde of caterpillars feed on the pine needles. For communal protection, the caterpillars weave silken nests, light grey in colour and prominently positioned. The growing caterpillars remain in their nest by day, emerging to feed at night.
Processionary caterpillars leave their nest for the last time in February or March and move in unison down the tree. They parade across the ground, in single-file head-to-tail lines a metre or more long, until they find a suitable spot to burrow underground to pupate and turn into another generation of moths.
While on the move in this characteristic way by day, the caterpillars are notoriously dangerous. On being intercepted or disturbed, they release fine, toxic hairs that cause painful skin irritations, rashes and sometimes much worse.
There is no mystery to any of this. Warning stories are published in the local press every year. In a letter to the editor published recently, someone living on a campsite complained he had been “infected by these pests to a horrific degree.... I have suffered intensely for over five weeks.”
Dogs that inquisitively sniff or lick processionary caterpillars usually end up with infections that cause their lips and tongue to greatly swell. It is not uncommon for a dog to loose much of its tongue.
Woody must have gone further than sniffing or licking. He must have eaten one or more caterpillars. This inflamed his stomach and in the clinic he vomited blood. His condition was such that the vets doubted he could survive.
The treatment started with cortisone injections, mouth washing and drugs to line the stomach and stop the vomiting. There followed regular doses of antihistamine, antacid, antibiotic and pain-killing medications . He was on an intravenous saline drip laced with glucose and vitamins 24 hours a day for six days, with monitoring continuing through the weekend.
On the seventh day, having shown almost miraculous improvement, Woody was released from his enclosure in the clinic and allowed to return to the home of his rescuer. She already had three dogs, now she had four.
The newcomer remained on medication and was kept under close observation. His health and vitality steadily improved day by day and eventually surpassed all expectations.
Woody is now eating well and brimming over with energy and enthusiasm. He knows his name and has totally integrated. He’s lost more than a quarter of his tongue - but his tail doesn’t stop wagging.

Woody being treated in the veterinary clinic at Alcantarilha. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Citizens to protect Salgados lagoon

Mid-March.... spring migrating birds are on the move while resident and summer species are gearing up for another breeding season in the Algarve’s Lagoa dos Salgados. Something else is in the air now too: fresh hope that greater care will soon be given to this coastal lagoon.
Lagoa dos Salgados, an ecological gem, has been suffering abuse for many years - and it still is today. Human disturbance to wildlife and farm animal damage to habitat go unchecked.
Fishermen with night-vision equipment are still outwitting the environmental police and illegally trapping eels, fish and shrimps. Diving birds, terrapins and water voles also die in these traps. Stray dogs fed by parked campervan owners go on the rampage by the lakeside and kill what they can.
The abuse is obvious but the relevant authorities seem unable or unwilling to take action. Does the general public really care?
An innovative project is about to be launched based on the conviction that nature conservation is an obligation for all. The initiative will involve various sectors of society, from public authorities and private companies to community groups and individual volunteers.
Cidadania para o Ambiente is being organised by SPEA, the Portuguese ornithological society, with funding from the Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan.
It is one of two such projects in Portugal to be backed by Toyota, the other being in a wetland area near Aveiro in the north. Both have internationally agreed Important Area for Birds and Biodiversity (IBA) status.
The Salgados project will be unveiled at a day-long workshop session in Albufeira on Friday 18th. All interested parties will be welcome.
The current situation and special needs at the lagoon will be discussed during the meeting and this will form the basis for defining what activities should be undertaken and by whom.
SPEA’s Executive Director Luis Costa will be pressing for unified action. “The aim is to develop alternative models of management based on the participation of civil society and relevant stakeholders at local level: communities, municipalities, NGO’s, farmers, scouts, etc,” he says.
The Lagoa dos Salgados and surrounding area is home, seasonally or all-year-round, to a remarkable range of waders, waterfowl and other aquatic birds, as well as raptors and passerines, some rare or endangered.
The lagoon is playing an important economic role in eco-tourism in the Algarve, though of course it is impossible to place a value on such sightings as a flock of 200 Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts busily feeding at close range, or much more secretive Little Bitterns and Purple Gallinules skulking in the reedbeds.
All forms of wildlife are currently benefiting from a bespoke system put in place to control the level and quality of water in the lagoon. This, however, is not enough to fully take care of an ecosystem that environmental groups have been fighting to safeguard for well over a decade.
The major tourist resort planned for a great swathe of land adjacent to the lagoon is a distinct issue and not directly related to the “citizens for the environment” project.
There are no indications that construction is likely to start any time soon and anyway a court decision is awaited on its future, but the development remains a threat.
Luis Costa is optimistic. “A good management scheme involving citizenship and volunteers will hopefully increase the arguments against a development that could cause the degradation of the site.”

* The meeting on Friday 18th March will be in the Biblioteca Municipal de Albufeira, starting at 10am.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Portugal is against Brexit

Portugal wants Britain to stay in the European Union, but while the new Socialist government will listen to Prime Minister David Cameron’s requests for EU reforms, certain demands would be beyond the pale.
Our position is very simple,” said Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, this week. “We will do everything in our power so that the UK remains in the EU.”
However, the foreign minister rejected any accommodation that “called into question fundamental values” such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination.  
The Socialist government’s attitude to the possibility of a Brexit is much the same as that of the previous centre-right administration. The subject did not figure in debates during the run-up to the inconclusive October general election.
After meeting Cameron in Lisbon in September, former Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said he agreed that the EU needed modernising but that its core principles must be kept intact.
Ironically, it is conceivable that the EU could indirectly bring about the downfall of the minority Socialist government. Although the Socialists have started to introduce a raft of anti-austerity measures, the far-left parties on whom they depend for power are out of step on some fundamental European issues.
The Communist Party wants Portugal out of the EU altogether. The Left Bloc is less radical but still eurosceptical and aligned with Greece’s Syriza.
While Portugal and Britain have had an alliance spanning more than six centuries, they have some key differences on modern Europe. The most obvious is that unlike the UK, Portugal is a member of the Eurozone and of the Schengen open borders agreement. Most Portuguese believe their economic future lies within the single market.
Opinions on whether the UK should stay or go vary considerably among Portuguese citizens and also among British residents in this country.
Prime Minister Cameron has set out a draft deal encompassing “substantial change” that would include an ‘emergency brake’ on migrant benefits. Exit campaigners say it does not come close to what he had earlier promised.
The proposed reforms will be debated at a crunch EU summit later this month. Depending on the outcome, Britain’s ‘in / out’ referendum could be as early as this June.
Support for Brexit is growing in the UK, with 42% of those polled wanting to leave the union, according to the latest YouGov poll.
A separate study commissioned by the Daily Mail last Friday showed a surge in support for continued membership, with 54% wanting to stay in, 36% wanting to leave and 10% undecided.
British citizens living in Portugal are in two minds about the possibility of their homeland leaving, but those who have lived abroad for less than 15 years will be eligible to have their say in the upcoming referendum.
Expats are being strongly encouraged to register to vote. The British Ambassador to Lisbon, Kirsty Hayes, has been raising awareness of the Overseas Voters Registration campaign launched by the Electoral Commission in the UK. Ambassadors in other European countries have been doing the same. Registering online is a simple procedure (see below).
It is far from clear how a Brexit would impinge on life for the estimated 40,000 Brits in Portugal, the 115,000 in Germany, 200,000 in France, 290,000 in Ireland, 760,000 in Spain and plenty more elsewhere.
Among the imponderables wafting around: Would Portugal be obliged to treat existing or any new immigrants from the UK with the same restrictions that apply to non-EU citizens? 
And what of the rights of the estimated 107,0000 Portuguese-born residents of the UK?
Clarifications will hopefully emerge in the weeks and months of hot debate that lie ahead.

*   British expats who have lived abroad no more than 15 years can register to vote here: 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

New president sweeps in

In contrast to the political mishmash created by the recent general election, Sunday’s presidential poll shooed in a clear winner who promises to be a force for stability.
The 20th President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, is expected to play a crucial role in calming the country’s current volatile situation. He could be pivotal in Portugal’s political future.
Although formerly a leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, he is regarded as a moderate and has described himself as being “on the left wing of the right.”
The two runners-up were António Sampaio da Novoa, a left-wing former university dean, and 39-year-old Marisa Matias who was backed by the Left Bloc. Former Socialist Party leader Maria de Belém came in a poor third.
At 67, Lisbon-born Rebelo de Sousa has been a government minister, a professor of law and a journalist. He enjoyed great popularity as an enternatining political pundit on national television.
He is reputed to read two books and sleep for only four or five hours a day. For fun he goes surfing in the waves off Guincho Beach, Cascais.
On moving into the Palácio de Belém, the official residence of the head of state, Rebelo de Sousa will assume largely symbolic and ceremonial duties. He will have no administrative role, but he is known to favour conciliation and consensus. His powers of persuasion in acting as a counterweight could become key.
Everything that helps to build political stability, common ground that safeguards governability is a priority.... now is not the time for divisions,” he said prior to the election.
The constitution allows the president exceptional powers in exceptional circumstances. He will be able to dissolve parliament, appoint prime ministers or call for a new general election if deemed necessary.
Few commentators think the present minority government under Socialist leader António Costa can survive a full four-year term because it relies on support from the radical Left Bloc and the Communist Party.
The president and the country will be watching carefully as the government struggles to curb the burden of austerity, which means lowering taxes, reversing public wage cuts, increasing the minimum wage, restoring public services and lifting the freeze on pensions..... all this while reducing the deficit, boosting consumption and investment, and complying with EU rules on fiscal discipline without the anti-EU far left pulling the plug on their support.
Costa says he is confident Brussels will approve Portugal’s 2016 draft budget presented last Thursday. It will now be analysed by the European Commission. Changes could be ordered before the government starts implementing the budget.
At the the World Economic Forum last week in Davos, Switzerland, the Socialist economy minister, Manuel Caldeira Cabral, said: “I don't think that the presidential election is going to bring any surprise or any problem to the government.” He added: “The centre-right wing candidate is quite moderate and it was quite sure that he is going to maintain the government and the legislature.”
That could be wishful thinking. Some commentators believe the government is bound to fail and that the president may have to step in and call an election during his first 12 months in office.
The new president succeeds Aníbal Cavaco Silva who served as conservative prime minister from 1985 to 1995 and for two consecutive terms as president from 2006. Now aged 76, Cavaco Silva says he is ready for a rest.
It’s just as well President Rebelo de Sousa doesn’t need a lot of sleep, but he can forget about his surf board for a while.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Charles Every, 100 years of age

Charles Every, thought to be the Algarve’s oldest foreign resident, celebrated his 100th birthday on 20 January.
 His granddaughter, Kelly, who lives in England, was also born on January 20. She gave birth to her first baby, a girl, just a few days early last week otherwise it might have been a triple birthday celebration within the family.
In addition to a congratulatory message from Her Majesty the Queen, tributes were paid at a surprise luncheon of the ‘Monday Club’ Charles founded five years ago to bring together long-term residents for monthly get-togethers in the Carvoeiro area. It has now been renamed the ‘One Hundred Club’.
In a cheerful, impromptu speech at the luncheon, Charles told his well-wishers: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about!”
The youngest son of the 11th Baronet Sir Edward Oswald Every, Charles was born in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. He was educated at Harrow, one of England’s most distinguished public schools, but he disliked it because “the people there were too snobbish.”
In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, he qualified from London University as an architect, but soon found himself in the British armed forces and on his way to serve in India.
Charles’ architectural and town planning career began in earnest after the war in West Suffolk. After a couple of years, in 1949, he was on the move again, this time to South Africa where he successfully pursued his professional career for the next 21 years.
On eventually deciding he wanted a home in Europe, he started looking in Greece and worked his way westward.
If I’d gone any further I would have fallen into the sea,” he says.
The Algarve was his final destination. He fell in love with Carvoeiro in 1967, bought his current home on the outskirts of the village in 1970 and has lived there ever since.
His daughter Vanessa and son-in-law Terry de Beer moved from South Africa to join him almost 14 years ago. The family links with South Africa are intact through his grandson Ryan and two great-grandchildren.
Having long enjoyed landscape gardening, Charles developed a particular passion for cultivating water lilies. Gardening and garden ponds continue to occupy much of his daily life.
Asked to what he owed his longevity, the astute and quick-witted centenarian mentioned “moderation,” but added that it probably had more to do with family genes - “and good luck.”

100 years of age this week

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Obama honours ex-Algarve fugitive

Sue Ellen Allen, who lived for years in the Algarve as a fugitive on the run from American justice, had the honour of sharing First Lady Michelle Obama's box in the House of Representatives during the president’s last State of the Union address.
A White House announcement on the eve of Tuesday’s address said that Allen and a small group of other special guests “personify President Obama’s time in office and most importantly, they represent who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous.”
It was in the Algarve in 2002 that Sue Ellen and her husband David Grammer, then using the aliases Susanna and Michael Grammiere, were exposed as fugitives. They had absconded seven years earlier, before being convicted in absentia of defrauding US investors of more than a million dollars.  
Former friends in the Algarve alleged that the Grammers had cheated them out of investments here too.
In the face of bitter accusations and threats to turn them in, the Grammers left their home in Silves and surrendered to the FBI in the American Embassy in Lisbon. Sue Ellen was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time.
With only two more chemo sessions to go, our cozy world, our three dogs and four cats, vegetable garden, fresh food and pillow-filled world collapsed,” she recalled in a memoir, The Slumber Party from Hell.
She served almost seven years as an inmate of Arizona’s state prison for women. After her release in 2009, she co-founded an organization called Gina’s Team to provide support for women prisoners and help them get back to community life and out of any more trouble with the law.
Gina’s Team was named after Allen’s cell mate, Gina Panetta, who died of leukaemia at the age of 25 while being treated in prison for breast cancer.
Gina’s death started the next part of my life. She gave me my passion and my purpose,” Allen wrote in her memoir.
It was Gina’s parents who helped her start her campaign. Now a widow, Allen regularly returns to the same prison she was incarcerated in to help prisoners plan a positive future.
In a message at the weekend from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, just before setting out for Washington, Allen said: “I will be sitting in the First Lady's box at the State of the Union message! It's an incredible honour to be there representing all the voiceless and faceless women who are still behind bars. I will take them with me in my heart. I’m also honoured that Gina's mother, Dianne Panetta, is joining me. It's the ultimate road trip.”
Obama has taken a special interest in prison life and last July became the first US president to visit a federal prison. In his State of the Union address he advocated criminal justice reform and reducing recidivism rates. The United States has more prisoners than any other country in the world.
By wanting to change the way prisons work, President Obama and Gina’s Team are very much on the same wavelength.
      Allen told BuzzFeed News: “People say, ‘Why should inmates have education? Why should they have anything?’ Well it’s not a privilege or a reward. It’s a necessity. It’s a necessity for them and for society because they’re all going to get out, and if we don’t prepare them and help them, they’re going to go back to their old life.”

Photo above by B. J. Boulter in 2002  as the Grammers prepared to leave the Algarve and give themselves up in the US Embassy, Lisbon. 

Below, Sue Ellen in Arizona as  a campaigner to help prisoners and for prison reform.