Café Flies

The full Birkenstock

I’ve slagged the Birkenstock crowd enough here these last few posts. For the life of me, I fail to see the attraction of those hideous heavy leather sandals, especially when worn with a pair of dorky white socks.

Instead I’ll misanthropically, or perhaps out of ill-concealed envy, touch on café flies:  that is to say, tossers who hang out in tapas bars and open air restaurants, where they take up space and nurse a bica or one mini Castello bottle for hours as they brag about their upcoming jaunt to Marrakech without a hint of shame for their utter disregard for how restaurant workers make a living: to wit, high table turnover, and serving patrons who order food and/or wine, and are generous tippers.

Tavira’s weather was marvelous today.

You couldn’t have fried an egg on the hood of a car, for once.

The usual Birkenstocks were in rare form, spilling out in droves from the Tavira bus station.

They gingerly walked down the narrow sidewalks of the curvy cobblestone alleyway — known as R. dos Pelames — that leads to the main square of the old part of town.

Most of them were frail day trippers, in from Faro for a few hours.

“What is it that they’re looking for exactly?” I asked my wife, as we sat on a bench by the Moorish water works, and watched them go by in clumps.

“Same as us,” she replied.

“We’re political refugees,” I said.


Snowbirds exist in Europe same as they do in the US, except that in America they dress to the nines, at least on the Treasure Coast where we live.

Here, the Birkenstock variety of snowbies wear clean but old-fashioned threads that are a touch frayed around the edges. You see canes a lot, and sometimes, women in their forties with those ridiculous ski poles that they use to steady themselves while walking.

I saw two dear little old ladies who sounded Italian  — it’s hard to tell, because it sounds so much like Portuguese — walking hand in hand to keep from faceplanting.

I resisted the urge to ruminate.

When I ruminate, I tend to say things like: “We all hold each other up, in old age;  whether we admit it or not.”  This is why I avoid rumination; I am not a deep thinker, though I think of myself as one.

But why do people feel so powerfully the need to travel in old age?

Is it simply a desire to see the world, before it’s too late, despite knowing that they can never experience it the way they might have in the flower of youth?

What do they expect to see when they look at the crumbling stones of vanished civilizations?

Or is it just to ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis under some Iberian sun?

The Miss Daisies sauntered out of sight, and my wife and I got up from the bench and headed towards Tavira’s Islamic museum.

We only spent a few minutes there, as there really is not much to see except a broken vase and some shards of pottery.

It was quite hot and stuffy, too.

This isn’t the place to learn what really happened here when the Moors looked out to the east and saw the end of their days approaching.

*  *  *

Where all this took place

Later, we had lunch at a place we like by the beach ferry.  When we arrived, there was a group of four Brits in their 60s and early 70s sitting at a table. They seemed to have been there for some time already, and one of them was resting his elbow on the back of a chair that belonged to an adjacent table.

We sat down at that table, since it was the only available one, but the bloke with the arm was oblivious, and didn’t remove it off the chair.

I  eavesdrop with the best of them, and pretty soon I was hearing words like “motor home” and “free parking” and it soon became apparent that this trailer park trash was from Yorkshire.

One of them, a particularly nasty-faced old tyke, started griping about the time she visited “the dark part” of Cyprus, and how she felt ever so unsafe there, with all the Muslim men staring at her, and Turkish soldiers with guns on every corner.

Lunch was delicious:  I’d ordered vegetable soup, octopus fried in olive oil, pistachio flan, and a cappuccino. We had switched tables just before our food came, as I had little appetite for listening to working class Yorkshire drivel during lunch. Certain types of tourists ought always remain in steerage.

Two hours later, they were still there, as we got up to leave.

I went inside to pay the waiter and decided to ask him if they had ordered anything other than coffee and water in the last few hours.

He rolled his eyes.

There are many people like this in Tavira, he said. Sometimes they stay at a table from 11 till 4 o’clock. Very bad for business but what can we do?

Dark part of Cyprus indeed.

If you ever come to the Algarve and see a bunch of provincial Brits who seem to have been sitting for hours at a restaurant table without ordering much of anything, you might want to do yourself a favor and sit as far away as possible, particularly if you’ve forgotten to bring the flit along.

Enjoy the pics.

leaving america


eva bus schedule
Tavira to Faro bus schedule

The experienced traveler always keeps in mind the boundaries of his or her zone of comfort.

We were going to go to Loulé this morning but then we would have had to get up at the crack of dawn — literally, as the sun rises a little after 7am here — perform our ablutions, have coffee, get dressed, then clamber down this gigantic hill (250 foot straight drop) from our apartment in order to catch either the 8:15a Eva bus to Faro (which arrives there at 9:20a) or the 8:55a (which arrives in Faro at 9:55a).

The Birkenstocks of Tavira

So… after an hour’s ride on a semi rickety bus that more likely than not has no WC onboard and of course no AC, and is also probably packed with the Birkenstock people, that is to say, packs of fat old, loud Germans and/or Italians and/or French geezers, complete with fanny packs and leathery skin and white hair, then we would have make the 10:10am EVA bus from Faro (with only 10 minutes or so to spare to find a WC, buy tickets, find out where the bus is leaving from, and get on it), according to this schedule/timetable.  Oh and if also you want to buy tickets from Tavira all the way to Loulé, to be sure — of what a silly idea! — that once you get to Faro the bus will not already be full… well, no can do… apparently the EVA stations are not hooked up electronically, so you have to go all the way to Faro, then hope you can buy a ticket to get to Loulé  and, let’s not forget, back.

Back you say?

Well, if you consult the bus schedules (forget taking the train from Tavira; apparently the Loulé station is in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, miles away from the town itself, and you would have to hope to find an expensive taxi to take you there and back from Loulé:  why Portugal would plant these ridiculous train stations far away from centers of population is, alas, a mystery than shall not be solved here), and try to figure out the suitable connection times, you will soon to come to realize that the only reasonable bus coming back is the 16:55 (that’s 4:55pm in normal US time parlance, I do not know why they are so enamored with military time in Portugal), which arrives at Faro at 17:35 (that is to say, 5:35pm in normal American time, assuming you can grab a seat, because remember, none of this can be booked in advance), and then you either have 5 minutes (assuming no bus delays or accidents) to catch the 17:40 (ie, the 5:40pm bus, in normal US parlance) or wait around for the 6:20PM bus from Faro to Tavira.  And keep in mind that the 4:55 from Loulé is that last bus out of town you can take, if you need to connect back to Tavira.

So let’s see now:  arising at dawn, to get to a town that is a mere 24 miles away, which in the Florida city driving wherer I live would take well under half an hour in my car, you have to endure (unless you rent a stick or pay for an expensive private cab ride), 2-3 hours of bus travel each way (4-6 hours round trip) to go to a place where what you will end up seeing is more Birkenstock people, with the waddling lardass stomachs, the thick, short, exposed stumpy German legs, the scaly skin and white hair and flashing dentures, all trooping up and down in formation, following you into any restaurant you stop into, such as the Sol e Serra Restaurant, which apparently serves Portuguese specialities such as duck confit, a dish I find repulsive to even think about; or, if you decide to stop at a shop like Maquedones Decor, to buy some silky smooth Portuguese cotton fabrics, well you can be sure the Birkenstock people will also be there, matching you with every step along the way, with their cameras, their cigarette smoking, their fanny packs, their yellow nail hammer toes and fire engine red bunions on heavily veined feet, the collapsing architecture of which is supremely exposed by the open air design of the Birkenstock itself, as they finger any goods you show any interest in, with their fat little German fingers, and eyeball whatever you order at an eatery and order exactly the same dish, sometime even having the Birkenstock temerity to ask you how your meal tastes, sitting or standing or somehow being right next to you  in a sweaty horde wherever you go, because this is the Algarve, where you can admire the so-called “Moorish” architecture, and whose economy has gone from sardine canning to packing tourists like sardines in a make-believe golf course artificial world in which the only Portuguese you are likely to meet will be the ones playing let’s extract-some-euros off the clueless punters.

Still up for that Loulé day trip?


Why, exactly, if I may ask?

Wouldn’t you actually prefer to have an Algarve experience that’s not some prepackaged, totally boring Birkenstock run?

Cafe ref sign

Ah but for that you would have to stay out late in Tavira.  You would have to go to one of those after hour places hidden on dodgy side streets where the Birkenstocks don’t go and where all the Dead Husbands that is to say the women in their 60s and 70s whose husbands are now dead but float around with them wherever they go in Tavira or the Algarve in general to spend the Dead Husband money on those long vacation tours they love so much but had to be deferred while Himself and his ilk were still up around taking up space and spouting the usual Dead Husband rot.

You would have to be up at after 2am when everywhere closes in Tavira except places like the Cafe Ref and actually sit at the bar, and order a cold Maltida that will be served to you in a bottle with no glass.

Cafe Ref main entrance

You will hear the tunes you don’t hear in the main square in town that the Birkenstocks love so much, and you will meet artists and strangers and maybe even a heteronym and converse with them all about how Portugal has been hollowed out all the young get their tech degrees and just git up and go or then someone the heteronym no doubt will riff on some topic that has nothing to do with the usual Birkenstock boring obviousness maybe it will be a series of arch comments about the RV trash that comes motoring down in mid October from Northern Europe and the UK staying here for months on end until the young and far richer summer gringos start to arrive but until then the RV trash huddle by the hundreds if not thousands in the free parks without motor home hookups starting wildfires and in general befouling the Algarve with their septic sludge and their cheap pensioneer ways and then when you ask just for laughs how one cops Moroccan dry goods in Tavira you might at first be given the fish eye until it’s determined that you’re cool and then maybe just maybe someone you have never met before will slap on the bar out in the open just like that something the size of a pinkie nail, a suba’, as they call it in Gouna, for nothing, or maybe a beer and a shot of Medronho, without any transaction being involved, except that one, and you might take this square piece of resinous Moorish delight and consume it under the stars of your balcony on the hill, as you look at the city of Tavira spread out below you under an inky starlit night but now the dark of the night will be a perfect blue black and the stars much brighter than they looked before and with the world spinning out of control back home you will embrace this Algarve because this is how you listen to the even more deeply tragic Fado music that can still be imagined at this hour more resonantly than ever because yes this is how you have always done it like this every place you have ever been even as far away and forbidden as Tozeur because the only way to know a place is late at night when the Birkenstocks are sound asleep and the darlings of the evening are all wide awake and smiling.

The locked door of mystery by the Cafe ref patio

Such are the paths one travels off the beaten Birkenstock trail, perhaps.

The Cafe Ref’s back door out, after 2AM, when everything gets served in plastic cups and front door is loced

At any rate, my wife decided, in view of the clouds that suddenly appeared over Tavira to screw this Loulé shit: we will follow the Sequa river today on foot, and hike to discover what those mountains have to offer.

After all, It’s all about one’s particular comfort zone, isn’t it?.

leaving america


Tavira Day 2

Sometimes I wonder if much of what we see before us is often a measure of our insecurities, a function if you will, of the worst that can be imagined, a mirage that fulfills, in fact, a largely tragic view of life.

I wonder, also, if we are responsible for creating that which in the end comes to destroy us.

I went to the Islamic fort in Tavira today, after having a mediocre, overpriced greasy lunch of gristly lamb chops at Artefact.

But the walk to this small restaurant on R. dos Mouros (ie, the street of the Moors) gave me the opportunity to walk by houses which abut the fort the Arabs built here in the 7th century.

Others were here long before the Arabs.  In effect, I was walking in an area that was settled by human beings some 2,500 years BCE.

I wonder what they saw, all those who came before me, when they found this place.

It now looked as I had often pictured the streets of the small towns and villages in Mexico that a drunken Malcolm Lowry staggered about in prior to writing Under the Volcano:  the same uneven cobbles, the same low stooped white washed houses, the same winding streets, the same cantinas, the same errant dogs wandering around on their own with no owner, the same long shadow of a long dead civilization that somehow had remained alive in the faces of those who had survived the follies of ancient conquests.

The cultured Moors who settled in Tavira lived and worked and had children and built a civilization that defined this place and its Iberian surroundings in the large for centuries before it was all snuffed out by those who conveniently believed in what they claimed was a different sort of God, a better God, one whose benevolent son had blue eyes, light skin and lovely blondish-brown hair.

I walked without hurry through the gate into the fort itself, noticing the half hidden bars of a dungeon at the base of the main wall that faced the plain below, stopping to admire a beautiful Syrian hibiscus tree, and climbed up to the turrets where I studied at some length the embrasures that I noticed were trapezoidal.  What manner of weapons fit into these oblong peep holes of resistance, I wondered?

The turrets provide an excellent vantage point to gaze at the famous roofs of Tavaria, and take in the nearby salt ponds and the more distant Altantic ocean, which was hazy under a hard sun.

For a moment, I imagined myself a Moorish guard, perhaps one whose family had lived in Tavira for 400 years, and accustomed to looking down at the dominions of his ruling but now forgotten emir, waiting for the avenging knights of Santiago to appear.

What must he have thought about the prospect of suddenly becoming an alien in a vast place where generations of Moors had lived and prospered, but had now been reduced to defending a shrinking patch of land that he already knew was hopeless to defend?

Truly he must have thought that there is no such thing as a country, only a provisional resting place, despite the castles and forts, until their once-mighty ramparts were softened by the caprice of time and crumbled, this fort he was defending now destined to one day turn into a bunch of old ruins, ruined by fat tourists with enormous cameras who would one day come to visit for a few moments before moving on to casually bucket list some other locale that was cheap to visit on Ryanair.

I tried hard to imagine this Moor and for one passing moment at least this fort was everything to me; it was I who was standing post, and willing to die for in the service of defending my civilization, and it was 1242, and the pitiless forces of the Order of Santiago loomed in the marshy distance and my world was about to forever change.

What did you really think about, at this moment, Moorish soldier?

Did you wonder what Tangiers, the refuge of idle traitors and brigands, would be like compared to what you once had?

Or did you instead worry only about your wife and children being enslaved, and not give a thought not even for one teary instant to how you were not likely to survive this day?

The Germans and Italian tourists huffed and puffed as they climbed down the turret stairs.  I stood in the garden and watched as a dark-skinned Portuguese gardener who spoke no English tended to the trees around us.

But the tourists did not seem to notice him, or if they did, dismissed him, most probably, as some inconsequential local, for after all, now, it was time to go, and he was not someone that important.

But as they left, I wondered if the silent gardener was in reality a soldier who had once stood post on the turrets above, never leaving, even in death, a facsimile of Paradise that so many since then have found so compelling?

leaving america