A nasty illness

Nuno died this morning.
The details are unclear as yet but somehow he lost control of his car on the “Straight Mile” half way to Santa Clara, spun off the road and burst in to flames.
I found out early this morning as I drove in to the village; Susana, Nuno’s sister in law, was there with the local police from Saboia. The car was a good thirty meters from the road, a silver and black shell, (and I couldn’t understand why none of the surrounding vegetation had caught fire until I found out later that, by coincidence, an ambulance had been the first on the spot, barely seconds after the accident). Susana was in tears along with Nuno’s mother while the Police looked on sadly and hopelessly. He was universally liked, not least by myself and everyone here at the Quinta, as being always helpful and friendly, ready with assistance and local knowledge to ease our path here through the intricacies of social contacts and relationships, who was related to who and how, and why asking X would ease the granting of a request or procure some supply that the same X apparently had nothing to do with. He saw the Quinta differently and with greater understanding than some who live close by and did his best to help us, positive, jovial and respectful. He worked unloading the eucalyptus from the lorries onto the trains at the station, and the machine seemed to be a projection of his will.
I will miss him, as will all who knew him. The funeral will be large, probably the majority of Santa Clara and Cortebrique. As with most locals, Fatima’s also closely related and I had to break the news to her when I got back to the Quinta.
The funeral will be tomorrow.
It was difficult therefore to celebrate the joy of a couple who announced their engagement at breakfast. With Fatima in tears in the kitchen and Daniela and myself deeply saddened by Nuno’s news, the mood was flatter than it should have been; understandable, but very sad.
Of course in a way these two occurrences unwittingly spotlight the change taking place hereabouts, the seeming demise of the local population and the influx of outsiders. It is brought ever closer with each passing year; ten years ago two of my children were the only foreigners out of 17 in one of the three local primary schools, (whose total number of pupils reached into the 30’s), a sad enough statistic for a total local population of approx 600 souls. Now there are 6 “foreigners” in a school of only 12, while in the interim the two other local primary schools have closed through lack of pupils. So, as the demographic base has expanded, so the total numbers in primary education have crashed to unprecedented levels in the endemic population. There are fewer and fewer children and more and more people over 60. There are as many Germans moving into the area as Portuguese, and their age ranges differ startlingly, the Germans being in their 30’s and 40’s or even younger, while the Portuguese are, almost to the last individual, retirees.
What is even more worrying is that the “Suicide Season” is almost upon us and, as the economic crisis in Portugal deepens and we enter the lean months of winter, it promises this year to bring a rise in its tragic harvest. There were three in the first six months of the year in our surrounding three villages, one in each. What is worse is that even though the average age of the local population as a whole is sadly over 50, a large proportion of those who kill themselves is, more often than not, in their most productive 30’s and 40’s.  Very few local youngsters stay here once their education is finished, so this loss of hope by a large number of those that do, is doubly frightening. At present there is still some fat stored from the summer, but once that fat is consumed …. Maybe it is, as Fatima fervently believes, a sickness that one can catch; if so I wish they’d find a cure!

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