This month we meet Arthur van Amerongen (55) and ask him 12 questions about his move to the Algarve. The Dutch journalist has lived all over the world before he moved to the south of Portugal in 2012. Currently he lives in his datcha near Moncarapacho, with his three dogs Jamba, Tita and Raya. Arthur is probably best known for his columns about the Algarve in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant; his most recent book is called ‘Ik, Arthur van Amerongen’.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve magazine September 2015
What inspired you to move to the Algarve?
Arthur: moving here was pure coincidence. I was living in Rio de Janeiro and Paraguay with my dogs and my ex, who was from Madrid. When she wanted to move closer to her parents, I agreed, as long as it wasn’t too close. The Algarve was within range, cheap and had space for all the dogs to roam free, so we ended up here.
When did you feel at home here?
Arthur: Instantly. I’ve lived in so many different places, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Brazil; it doesn’t matter anymore where I lay down my head. My dogs make the place I live into my home; they’re like children to me. They’re mixed breeds, their father was a Rottweiler and his father was the biggest Rottweiler of the whole of South America. Their mother was a street dog. In the Algarve you need dogs as they keep the gypsies away. Apparently, having a big toad or a snake in front of your gate also works, something to do with superstition.
Was it hard to get accustomed to the Portuguese lifestyle?
Arthur: No, in certain ways the lifestyle here is similar to Paraguay where I lived before; people there also keep to themselves because of 40 years of dictatorship. I left Holland a long time ago as it’s too organised for me. Compared to many other countries, Portugal actually isn’t too unorganised; Brazil is way worse, you need to pay a lot of bribes if you want anything done. Here, you need to arrange certain things, like a fiscal number, and yes, this takes time, but I don’t understand people who complain about the Algarve. On expat internet fora I sometimes read things like ‘the Algarve is more expensive than Holland!’. These people are stupid, ignorant and probably don’t speak a word of Portuguese. I’ve found it very easy to adapt here. Then again, I’ve lived abroad for half my life.
How does your life differ now you live here?
Arthur: Sunset. Everything cools off and gets a red glow. From where I live, I can see the sea so I usually sit outside my datcha, enjoying the view and drinking a nice glass of ice water. I also love going for daily walks with my dogs around the Cerra da Cabeça. This landscape is practically empty, in all these years of dog walking, I met another human being once, a weird German guy doing some strange yoga pose.
Arthur: Drunk expats. Don’t romanticise the reasons why people come here. Most of them move because the sun shines and the alcohol is cheap. They don’t care about the Portuguese culture or nature. Very few come here to work or start up a business, the majority are pensioners who easily get bored. Logical, as there’s not much to do and the days are long. The situation here is a bit like Malcolm Lowry describes in his book ‘Under the volcano’. Especially the Dutch are bad; the weather is shitty in Holland, so they see every time the temperature gets over 20˚C as a reason to celebrate. Combine this with the Algarve culture where it’s completely acceptable to open a beer at 9am and it’s logical that about 80% of the expats is constantly drunk.
What do you miss most from home?
Arthur: Sometimes the foggy days. It’s not often I miss the Dutch weather, but you have these days in November where it’s great to walk on the beach in the Netherlands, surrounded by rain and storm. Naturally there are plenty of beaches here in the Algarve as well, also in November, but it just isn’t the same.
My parents have passed away, so I don’t have any ties to Holland anymore. Apart from my language and passport, there’s nothing that connects me to that country. I don’t miss it at all. I do miss South America: the crazy, wild swinging way of live and the exuberant dancing in the streets. Here, a party consist of two gay guys playing an accordeon and other people sitting on chairs, clapping. For a good fiesta I have to drive 40km east, to Spain.
Which 5 words would best describe the Algarve for you?
Arthur: Alfarroba, the 3 F’s (Fado, football & Fatima), the Monte Figo mountain, amêijoas (clams) and the Jumbo in Faro; they sell everything!
What’s your favourite spot?
Arthur: Tavira, in the evenings. Especially when the film festival is on in the summer with an open air cinema. I also like Odeceixe; not the village, but the beach, the part where the river turns into the sea to be precise. It’s full of rocks and in my opinion the most gorgeous piece of the whole Algarve coastline.
From Faro to Lagos, the Algarve is horrible, with the piece between Albufeira and Portimão being the ugliest. But many people don’t know that the rest of the region is absolutely beautiful. The rugged mountain landscape, for example, from Vila Real de Santo António all the way to the Alentejo, is amazing. And the fruit here; we’ve got fruit the whole year round, from oranges and lemons to loquats and figs. It’s pure luxury!
In what way does the Algarve inspire you?
Arthur: It certainly provides material for my columns and my upcoming book. I like the nature, but also the shabbiness of the people, the craziness and the poverty. Yes, there’s a happy Algarve, but there’s also a dark Algarve, and that is the side that I mostly write about. In the book I’m currently working on, I make it a bit macabre, like Finland in the winter time. The Portuguese people help: even though they dress up nice on a Sunday, they can’t hide the fact that they’re hard labourers. With their crooked faces and their missing teeth they can be a bit spooky.
Actually, I don’t even need to leave the house in order to write. My dogs provide plenty inspiration. One day they found a hedgehog, saw it as a ball with spikes, and destroyed it. I saved the baby hedgehog and wrote this down in my column, and also that I fed it milk. Weird enough this caused a big scandal as you shouldn’t give milk to baby hedgehogs, apparently it causes diarrhoea. People were getting very angry with me and it turned into this social media discussion that lasted for days. All left wing loonies and old hippies.
Back to the Algarve; it’s a nice simple life here and this encourages me to enjoy the small things, like eating fresh fish on the market and breathing in the cleanest air of Europe. Culturally, this place is a disaster; there’s hardly anything worth watching in the cinema, the libraries here are just sad and there’s little good music. Then again, through the internet you have instant access to any movie, book or song you want.
How’s your Portuguese coming along?
Arthur: My reading skills are perfect. When I lived in Rio the Janeiro I did a four months’ intensive course and my Spanish is perfect as well, which helps. Speaking could be better, but it’s good enough. Once a month I meet up with a group of Portuguese friends. We talk and they make sexist jokes, all of them, the doctor and lawyers too. This shows that Portugal is still very much a macho country, even more than Spain where you can easily go out as a female by yourself. Here it’s a real men’s world, which must be due to the Arabic influence. After all, 600 years of occupation is quite a long time.
Do you have a secret tip for our readers?
Arthur: Read the book ‘The Portuguese’ by Barry Hatton. He’s a good journalist and this book was an eye-opener to me. After moving to a new country, it takes two to three years until you’re starting to understand the people and the culture. This book will help. It’s a great read, full of fun things you need to know. And it only costs 8 euros.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve magazine September 2015