Romanticising Rural Life

Whilst continuing my ongoing search for photographic evidence of our levada walks I came across a couple of shots illustrating life in the north and they got me thinking!

improved roads in Madeira!

For much of the 19th century Portugal lagged behind western Europe’s industrial revolution and economic growth, and for a huge proportion of the 20th century found itself shut off from most of the world because of the actions and policies of the dictator Salazar. Consequently Portugal began to stand out in Europe as the country with the lowest income, lowest life expectancy. highest illiteracy rates, highest percentage of workers in agricultural work, lowest industrial productivity and the statistics continue.

No wonder so many Portuguese (more than two million) left their home country for new lives on the other side of the Atlantic. Most headed for Brazil, but significant numbers also headed for the United States and other part of Europe.

The exodus began to slow by the late 1980s when life in Portugal began to dramatically improve, thanks to Portugal becoming a member state of the European Union in 1986. One of the noticeable differences, apart from the dramatic improvement in infant mortality rates and a steep rise in tourism, was the advent of ‘highways’ across mainland Portugal and even Madeira. However despite the improvements and the new infrastructure Portugal remains one of the European Union’s least developed Member States. The upside is that much of the countryside remains untarnished by human activity, which is great for the environment and is why we love it. But the downsides are not great, high levels of poverty remain visible throughout all of the Portuguese regions.

As in the UK one of the very visible signs of poverty is the quality of housing, and it really isn’t good in some areas. However because some of the Portuguese rural ones look rather quaint they have of course become a tourist attraction.

Photograph – Lorraine Hawkins, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

These tiny wooded houses consisting of just one or two rooms have been purpose built in Santana on Madeira’s northern coast, specially for tourists. They are based on original housing designs, and were once a regular type of home across the island. These ones though with their perfect reed roofing, colourful front doors and paintwork, and the beautiful gardens however they don’t give a true impression of how hard life would have been like to live in one.

Away from the town in the countryside we did spot one or two traditional homes which looked more lived in and original, and some of you might say that even these look charming from a distance. Well the one closer to us does, I am not sure about the one further up the hill.

However they are probably not as charming to live in full time. Self sufficiency is not easy, and I know I wouldn’t even want to try home working or commuting from here. There is no road, just a long footpath beside a levada to take you to the road, and then a twisty drive to the nearest town. Living here almost certainly means hardships and sacrifices, but for many in Portugal they have no other choice. Romanticising rural life whilst great for the tourists and our photographs, certainly doesn’t improve it, particularly in a world where climate change is making it all that much more difficult. I don’t know what the answer is in a world run on consumerism.

Author: BeckyB

It's a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, reading, blogging, and best of all spending time with family, friends but unfortunately no longer the cat.

36 thoughts

  1. The entirety of your post reminded me of Batanes, a gorgeous island we visited before the pandemic. It was dreamy in photographs, which inspired us to go, but when we stayed there, we learned how hard life was and it as a reality check. These tiny wood houses of rural Portugal are really pretty though.

  2. I did not initially realize that there was a full article to accompany the photo I saw. This is what comes from commenting in haste–repenting at leisure.

    I visited Portugal back when I was single and carefree. I only managed a day or two there, but it remains a beautiful memory–I took a tour of a catholic church and castle where local boys swam in the buff. (Little boys, thankfully. Anyone older might have scared me off. I was such a naive young thing despite my years in the military.)

    I later visited Italy with my husband–it was then I learned my last name had any significance beyond how I signed my checks. (That’s how old I am. I am checkbook-owning old.) When we signed into our hotel the first night, the clerk looked at our registration and then back at us and said, “Salazar? Like the dictator?” It was the first I’d heard of it. But apparently my husband, whose first name was Anthony, had heard the remark before. (This is not reflecting well on American schools and their ability to teach world history. But, it is entirely possible I missed that day in school. I did learn of Mussolini and Stalin, if that’s any consolation.)

    Portugal was one of my favorite places among the places I visited in my European tours. To me, Lisboa smelled like cinnamon and flowers. I have no doubt romanticized it after this many decades away. But perhaps it is okay to keep some of the romance to remember when you get old and grey and widowed.

    1. no Lisboa still smells of flowers in the right place as does Porto, and out of the cities it is fabulous. So your memories are great πŸ˜€ perfect to look back on when you are old. You’re a long way off there though!

      And I suspect most British have not heard of Salazar either, even those who visit the country probably have not really delved into Portugal’s fascinating history. We are not great at world history either unless it has us centre stage and looking good!

  3. It’s a difficult one. In rural France, as in England, many (in France certainly) quite remote villages have been taken over by second-homers from the cities. They’re keeping the villages tickety-boo of course, but pricing out the few locals who would live there 365 days a year rather than just in holiday season. And yet again, there’s no point in pretending there are enough locals to keep the places viable anyway. In France there is the ridiculous situation that young couples are incentivised to buy little boxes on the edges of communities, rather than take on older village houses that require work and money to bring them up to standard. In that respect foreign buyers like the English who want the character of these older properties are regarded as assets, helping to keep little towns like the one we lived in ticking over. Luckily for us, we were almost the only foreigners in town. But not so lucky for the town itself.

    1. Exactly . . . we can help bring positive change but when there are too many of us affluent foreigners moving in we make life too expensive for the locals – wish there was a clever way to get the balance just right

Love to hear your thoughts