Into Exile (3-minute read)
The Algarve, 1965
The first time they set foot on the parched earth of their new home and future source of income, it came as a shock. Dropped by taxi during the late afternoon, they stood like a pair of refugees, surrounded by their modest collection of baggage. They were both still under thirty, blond and, outrageously good looking. Two young men that you would expect to find on the front cover of Vogue magazine and not embarking on a seriously get-your-hands-dirty project.
Tired and emotionally drained, they stared out across the barren earth baking under the glorious Algarve sunshine. The heavy red clay soil had set like concrete due to years of neglect. Making the overcooked earth fertile again would be a monumental task. They were aware that the property had been on the market for some time, but as a working vineyard, it was clear that the last drop of wine was corked a very long time ago.
The house had also seen better days; there was nothing white about Casa Branca anymore. Large cracks were streaking across the fading facade of what once was a fine-looking building. Long since used farm equipment lay scattered around the outbuildings, abandoned and left to rust several years before.
Unspoken angst rushed through their minds about what they had so recently lost, weighing it up against what lay before them. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it was looking more like a terrible mistake.
‘Oh, hell, Fergie. What have we let ourselves in for? I can’t imagine anything growing in this!’ He emphasised his frustration by stabbing the heel of his Chukka boot into the ground. Always the optimist, Fergus replied, ‘this our future, Tommy. There’s no going back for us, not now; this is our new life – yours and mine. We were under no illusion when we came out here. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.’ He turned to face Thomas, cocking his head to one side, and smiling, he walked towards him with his arms outstretched.
‘Look, if anybody can do this, Tommy, it is you and me. Together, we will rebuild this place and restore it to its former glory. Not just for us but for our children as well. Somewhere they can come and stay whenever they want, and for as long as they want.’ The tone of his voice was reassuringly calm.
Bolstered by Fergus’s words of encouragement, Thomas felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
‘You’re absolutely right! We’ve come this far, so falling at the first hurdle is not going to happen. Let’s go and explore minha casa e sua casa.’
‘Minha casa e sua casa? I’m very impressed with your Portuguese, Tommy. Given that you only looked at the Portuguese phrasebook for about ten minutes on the aircraft.’
‘Well, one should be always be prepared on the basics.’
They picked up their bags and went inside the house, shutting the door behind them and walked towards the heart of their new home. There was a resounding crash as the hinges of the pine door gave way and smashed on to the debris encrusted tiled floor. They didn’t flinch or turn around, they just carried on walking, as if they had been expecting it to collapse.
Instinctively they were drawn to the veranda where they stood for some time, mesmerised by the view. It stretched beyond a small orange grove across the vineyard, sloping gently down towards the Atlantic Ocean.
In the pastel shades of the evening sunshine, the view was stunning. The smell of dry, dusty earth replaced by fresh, tangy pine emanating from the abundance of umbrella pine trees mingling with the sweet scent of lavender growing rampant and spilling over what used to be flowerbeds. The bougainvillea, too, ran wild and unrestrained. Draping itself around the house, as if trying to cover the cracks, in a fusion of pinks, purples, and reds.
Fergus and Thomas felt the tension in their bodies, starting to trickle away as they breathed in the soft, aromatic air. The sun had started its descent into the Atlantic Ocean, and its orange glow fanned across the horizon for as far as the eye could see. Crickets began scissoring their legs, and the calming resonance soothed their minds.
‘There may be a lot for us to do, Tommy, but just look at that! Nobody told us we had a view. I don’t know about you, but I can see us sitting here in the evenings and sampling our latest vintage for many years to come.’ Thomas nodded in silent agreement as Fergus opened one of the bottles of wine he had bought at the airport.
‘I should have thought about picking up a couple of glasses as well, but never mind.’ Fergus raised the bottle in the air and said, ‘here’s to us!’ He took a swig, then passed it to Thomas. In the absence of chairs, they sat on the low, azulejo-tiled wall that encompassed the veranda, captivated by the sunset.
‘The first of many sundowners we will share on this terrace with its spectacular view. Then one day, we will celebrate having successfully breathed new life into this desiccated earth and start drinking our own. How about Mount of the Grapes as a name for our new brew?’ Thomas thought for a moment.
‘That would be, er, Monte das Uvas, in Portuguese, which sounds much better, don’t you think?’
‘I do indeed. I’ll drink to that. Here’s to Monte das Uvas, and here’s to us!’