COLUMN

History replayed in Portugal

Watching the Europeans play on the sunny southern strand

Allan Fotheringham August 31 1981
COLUMN

History replayed in Portugal

Watching the Europeans play on the sunny southern strand

Allan Fotheringham August 31 1981

History replayed in Portugal

COLUMN

Watching the Europeans play on the sunny southern strand

Allan Fotheringham

The view of the world as seen from a beach in Portugal looking across to Africa....

In the World Cup soccer finals, held in London in 1966, host England and West Germany met for the championship of the most popular sport in the universe. The day before the match, a Fleet Street sportswriter told his readers, “If, on the morrow, the Germans should best us at our national sport at Wembley Stadium, let us remember that we have twice beaten them at theirs.” Here in Portugal—a neutral during our most recent world war— the struggles between the Brits and the Huns go on, the only casualty being the casual traveller seeking only his mandatory annual brain transplant peace, solitude and a resort that will make the world safe for democracy.

At the Hotel Dona Filipa, at Vale do Lobo in the Algarve, the battle lines— no less severe than the trenches of the Sommeare drawn around poolside towels, sun umbrellas, waiters and dance tunes.

Holidays are serious matters for the European, a sojourn in the sun a cherished break, the one and only yearly respite from congested cities and constricted economies. One doesn’t surrender an inch of beach without a struggle. Churchill—who preferred Marrakesh— would have approved.

The Algarve, shut off from the rest of parched Portugal by a modest mountain range, looks due south to Morocco. It is spectacular in beauty, the deep green of its trees set off by blinding-white villas with their orange tile roofs, bathing the eye like a visual tranquillizer. The Atlantic surf pounds in on the beach, just before the ocean squeezes in at Gibraltar to become a sea called Mediterranean.

The problem is the struggle between southern European resorts to compete for those sun-starved refugees from the north. Differing package terms go to differing travel agents, differing econo-

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

mies—a net thrown wide. So we have these German industrialists, sleek in face and coiffeur, round of belly, with these last-minute fill-ups from some Lancashire package tour. The results prevent a traveller from finishing his long-promised read of War and Peace. It is a maxim of travel that the less one pays for his accommodation, the more the bitching. The Brits are rude, shouting loudly at their children who are defiling the pool the German industralist has paid for so as to purchase privacy.

The Ugly Limey? They struggle for primacy at the newsstand, the sun-burned Brits shoving for the early soccer results, the Germans scanning the financial pages for dire news of the failing mark. The French shrug and retire to the sun cot.

Proof that the main purpose of the world is to amuse itself is that European fashion, as of 1981, has adopted what was the cat’s meow in Ivy League colleges of the 1950s. The richest German tourists now wear plaid Bermuda shorts that look exactly like what a bandy-legged Cornell graduate of 1955 wore—and still wears. The rude British father who shouts a lot—the English invention of “the wogs start at Calais” still applies in 1981 as one can discern from conduct in restaurants—wears Adidas, appearing from a distance as someone from Pennsylvania. On the beach, below the red cliffs of the Algarve (the White Cliffs of Dover, one was reminded again the other week, are not white at all but tattletale grey), are

four lasses from the north country. One would guess, by the George Formby accents, from Leeds or thereabouts. They are in their early 40s and are attempting to go topless.

It is part of the struggle with the shameless continental damsels. One of the four does not have the equipment to attempt it. The other three manage it bravely if not comfortably, the doubletake Portuguese men allowing that, if anything is to win over their neutrality, this is not it. In the bar is encountered a South African novelist who observes, in dismay, “Journalists? You live a life of permanent emergency.” Not bad, one thinks while denying it, not bad at all. It is why one needs an annual brain transplant. And I’d forgotten about tomatoes. I hate tomatoes. This derives from 25 years ago in Spain where I first discovered that they are not soggy frogs’ eggs but can be rich like a beefsteak in more than name. Portugal has revived my affair. z In the bar of the Hotel 8Dona Filipa, the rule descrees that one must wear a >tie and jacket after 7:30. “The English rule transported to the Algarve. The German industralists sit silent with their wives, never talking through dinner, no doubt worrying about the mark, watching the noisy English children. When they leave, their wives follow two steps behind them—like Prince Philip.

In the room, the radio plays Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger. The news is in German. In the ballroom, there is Alistair, a lean Scot with flame hair, 1938 trousers and a ranging dance style that is Travolta-Glasgow revisited. He swoops, jives, does the Charleston, falls to his knees, plays the bull to his wife with fake horns. The Italians watch astonished. The Germans watch superior. Alistair, on examination, says, “We’ve danced across Europe for 30 years.” No one has had the courage to tell him that his poor wife, pudgy, uncoordinated, can’t dance. A Paris paper informs us that Jimmy Coutts, the Member from Stollery, has been defeated in TorontoSpadina. That’s even funnier than the British and the Huns.