First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their kind comments. My wife and I are leaving Tavira on Wednesday, which is just as well: it is suddenly cold and rainy, with ominously dark grey and purple heavy clouds rolling in from the direction of Spain and hovering low overhead; I doubt I’d fancy wintering in Portugal. Here’s a codicil, a one-time coda if you will, that is back by popular demand as a kind of curtain call.
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In the mid 90s, I worked for a large buy-side firm in Manhattan, as part of their elite derivatives team. I was not a quant; just a code monkey, pulling in 75K a year.
I worked for a man named Bob, an odd duck who was partial to wearing polka dot bow ties in what was then a white shoe Investment division whose well compensated executives — all men — tended toward Brooks Brothers or Hickey Freeman suits, depending on their age and rank in the organization.
Bob couldn’t sling code, and relied upon his young minions to implement his proprietary interest rate scenarios, which he formulated using pen and paper, a retro conceit that he took pride in, when not amusing himself at lunch time conducting in his small office a class on introductory Italian.
Derivatives are financial instruments that obtain their value from some other underlying security. If you expand the notion somewhat, one can safely say there are all kinds of derivatives in this world: derivative ideas, derivative books, and other derivative entities and modes of being that mirror or result from, in a parasitical way, the underlying sway of more dominant or original cultural forces.
Tavira is such a derivative town; as is El Gouna, in Egypt, a resort that was born out of the desire of two Coptic billionaire brothers (thanks, Daddy!) and their friends to find a desirable place to park their yachts and go fishing and scuba diving in the Red Sea.
Eventually both towns became hotbeds of derivative speculation — real estate primarily — by Brits, Germans and French parasites seeking the good life under a warmer sun as well as a hedge against what is in their view was an unseemly exposure to predatory taxation, which only the little people ought worry about.
In the case of Gouna, foreigners were able to extract (at an astounding and unsustainable 18 per cent interest rate) usurious cash flows from a near bankrupt Egyptian government, which they in turn used to finance the speculative purchase of villas with very little money down that they subsequently rented out or flipped.
It was, and continues to be, a money-for-nothing land grab scheme that enriches the few, while most of those who did the actual work building the villas or tending the gardens and golf courses and hotels slept in cramped filthy hovels in a nasty little place (tucked out of sight, of course) reserved for “natives” called El Bustan.
A near equivalent of El Bustan in Tavira is East Tavira, where my wife and I took a long walk the other day. It is almost as dramatically hilly as West Tavira, and is subject to the same kind of developer depredations that you find in most of the Algarve.
West Tavira is more the domain of rich European fucks with the money to restore, on a bespoke basis, old Portuguese houses — no soul sucking condos for this crew! — and turn them in a sort of derivative, often quasi “Moorish” notion of what they perceive as the personification of the good life, Algarve style, which they then turn around and rent out on Airbnb.
Like El Gouna, the Algarve abounds in golf courses, derived from the Scottish notion that grown men ought spend their leisure hours knocking a dimpled ball into a small hole using a long stick, a so-called sport for the well off and middle-aged and generally right-wing that is conducted, in the Algarve, on fairways built atop thinnish red clay soil or, in the case of El Gouna, raw desiccated desert.
Tavira tends to be more real than El Gouna, despite the Birkenstock infestations; while Gouna is the goodbye place, with most people always on the run — or should I say go? — for one reason or another: here one day; gone the next to get a colonic lavage at some clinic or other in Switzerland, with the Cessna kept at the ready at Gouna’s private airport, just in case the beards ever topple Peepee and show up at Abu Tig marina thirsting for infidel blood.
The vibe in Tavira is far less dramatic: it’s kind of like a more tolerant Florida, with hills (in the sense of the endlessly boiling weather, and lots of conspicuously armed macho cops).
If you live here any length of time, as my wife and I just did, well, “locals” will begin to recognize you, and you might even have short but pleasant discussions with them in English, peppered with the obligatory obrigados that punctuate Tavira speech.
Nevertheless, such niceties do nothing to disguise the fact that these are not actual friendships, but in fact morganatic relationships with working people derived out of their economic need to make a buck off tourists, now that the tuna and those god-awful tasting sardines no longer provide a living for most Portuguese who still reside in the Algarve.
As in El Gouna, there are chi chi restaurants here too. The one we went to that is head and shoulders above the rest was Aquasul, in East Tavira, in a little alleyway just off the so-called Roman bridge, which was actually built by the occupying sweaty Arab hordes a thousand or so years ago.
If you should dine at Aquasul, you will notice the same dynamic that you will find at, say 7th Star at Abu Tig Marina (but with far better food). It’s a place where the moneyed like to see and be seen.
But instead of sullen Coptic waiters, there are pretty waitresses and biffs instead of chain smoking Egyptian latter day effendis with cellphones, a generation or two removed from their fellah anncestors, yet who invariably think of themselves as the new Pasha class and make sure they send their kids to the AUC, kids who grow up barely able to speak modern Arabic fluently.
This priceless El Gouna crew is a nouveau riche derivation that sees no real problem in, say, welcoming the Americanized “model” who was once known for her scandalous lesbo shoots yet who recently paraded herself in Bwana getup in front of the Sphinx, where I used to innocently play as a boy, as she spoke to the press emoting some unrecognizable East European mangled version of English.
Here in Tavira, on the other hand, you’re more likely to witness older foreign biffs (who come with their wives and sit morosely throughout their joyless meal, pining no doubt for just one night of karaoke freedom with some fresh-faced skank at the Black Barrel) or Belgian-looking Dilbert types sporting expensive looking blue striped shirts who tend to hang out in womanless groups of four or five — the biffs complete with light, Italian made sweaters, casually thrown around their shoulders, to show how sophisticated they’ve become — the Dilbert shirts mute until the second round of wine bottles are popped — and then of course you might also see the older habitués who are not above giving a discreet pat here and there to the waitresses who must smile back at them this publicly demonstrating their paid-for-right to hint at some sort of casual familiarity if not some darker sense of ownership of the faintest but still detectable sort.
It is here at Aquasul, where miraculously my wife and I were able to dine without having first made a reservation, that I enjoyed the most magnificent wild duck breast dish I have ever had in my life, and discovered a high-end bottled water called Carvalhelhos — far superior to usual Pedras or Castello you’re typically served elsewhere, and which enhanced our meal almost as well as a good bottle of chilled vinho verde, which we probably should have ordered, to tune out the screaming 7 year old who was sitting at the table next to us with his parents. I simply do not understand why it is that children like to emit these high frequency ear busting squeals that make you essentially want to strangle them on the spot.
All right. I am not going beat a dead horse out of this derivative analogy: theme I will take a final moment to point out the dozens of Hindi restaurants that have come to populate Tavira, and in front of which gangs of swarthy young touts, or their older babu versions, stand on the sidewalk and harass tourists walking by, usually with an irritating half whispered oleaginous entreaty, that sounds like some dope peddling come on.
It goes something like this: “hel-lo…. Tandoori?” — the hello being spoken with a singsong change of pitch, from high to low register, that is maddeningly attention getting, and the Tandoori bit concluded with a pseudo generous come-this-way unwanted welcoming arm flourish that makes you want to deck these insistent fuckers as look at them.
A closing word about Bob. His equations turned out to be bullshit, much like the tourist junk displayed in a Tavira shope shown below, and he was eventually fired.
Most specious derivations — such as presidencies based on lies, venality and xenophobia — eventually collapse under the lumbering weight of their ammoral baggage, which is what I sincerely hope will start to happen come November.
Bob’s derivative ideas — he was oddly fond of the making the uncomfortable joke that if you cross the Black Sholes model with the Cox Ingersol one, you end up with Black Cox — almost did the firm irreparable harm, but the firm’s Chief Investment Officer got rid of him just in time for the Xmas bonuses to be disbursed without a hitch. May we all be so lucky.
Enjoy the pics; these are the last new ones that are likely to appear on this blog for some time.