Heat

When we got back to the car, the dial read forty-three degrees Celsius—well above body temperature. The guy beside me stared in disbelief. He fished out his cellphone and asked me to take a snap. The day before, I’d heard him explain that when he left home at the start of the week it was five degrees (41 ºF), and he drove to the airport through a hailstorm.

The trek from the frozen landscape of Northern Norway to the Algarve is about as far as you can go in Europe—a journey spanning thirty degrees of latitude. Thirty more would get you to the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia, a land the Portuguese sailors had reached by the 1470’s, and if instead of heading south you went the opposite way, twenty-three degrees would get you to the pole.

Norway and Portugal are next to each other in the alphabet, but that’s not all they have in common. Through the ages, they’ve shared three other things: cod, poverty, and the sea.

For centuries, salt cod from Norway has found its way south, supplying the staple diet of the Portuguese. And again for centuries, Norway was desperately poor, much like its southern counterpart, relying only on fisheries for income.

Whether heading for Greenland or the Cape, sailing longships or caravels, both nations turned to the sea to escape the barren soil and belligerent neighbors—the traditional enemies of the two countries both start with an ‘S’.

Just as I was stunned by the cold of Nordland, so anyone from Northern Scandinavia will have been prostrated by the heat wave that swept Iberia this week. As we drove north from the Algarve and entered the Alentejo, the mercury rose and the air became dry. Up ahead, the tarmac made the air shimmer and dance.

We drove past Ourique, perhaps past the battlefield where the Moors were defeated by Afonso Henriques on July 25th 1139—fighting on a day this hot seems unendurable, and my mind scrolls to a long-forgotten image: Christians in chain mail bearing shields and broadswords, infidels in white flowing robes, scimitar in hand.

We’d left behind the glittering coastal waters, the smell of saltmarsh Salicornia, and the bittersweet essence of St. John’s Bread.

Carob, a pod which tastes somewhere between honey and liquorice. It arrived in the Algarve from the Mid-East, on the Phoenician or Greek triremes.

Carob, a pod which tastes somewhere between honey and liquorice. It arrived in the Algarve from the Mid-East, on the Phoenician or Greek triremes.

Behind us also, but in the trunk of the car, the fruits of the generous Algarve seas: a squid the length of the keyboard on which I write this, and a two-pound tuna belly, known in Andalucia as ventresca—the last time I’d eaten one was in a tapas bar in Seville, and as we walked to the restaurant in Castro Verde, I imagined how oppressive the heat would be in the city of the Americas.

The little Alentejo houses along the street indicate you are no longer in the deep south. The Arab gene pool is strong in the Algarve—if you read Portuguese, or just enjoy pictures, have a stroll through this site on the Islamic heritage of Portugal.

The bioco, or burqa, worn in Olhão until the 1930's.

The bioco, or burqa, worn in Olhão until the 1930’s.

In 1892, over six hundred-fifty years after the Moors were expelled, the governor of the Algarve forbade the use of the burqa in streets and temples—but in Olhão, one of the most traditional towns of the Algarve, women still wore it four decades later.

Not so in the Alentejo, separated from the Algarve by mountain ranges both east and west—the houses no longer show the flat roof and embroidered chimney of the Moorish architecture, and the almond trees and orange groves are gone.

Instead, the whitewashed houses have corner pillars and doorways painted blue or yellow, and the terracotta roof tiles so typical of the Mediterranean.

We went into the restaurant, thankful for a respite from the heat, and walked upstairs. On the wall in front of me there was a sign.

‘We don’t have wifi, but we have very good bread.’

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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