Almost everybody you meet, if you take the time to scratch the surface, has a fascinating story to tell. This is what Lena Strang, writer for the community magazine ‘Tomorrow’, has managed to tap into - the everyday magic of ordinary people. In her monthly series called ‘Meet the Locals’, she does exactly that. She takes the time to have a chat with ladies selling their vegetables at the market, for example, or fishermen, or even a shepherd and his cows (that’s her latest) and often comes away with some quite remarkable stories and insights into Portuguese culture.
But we’ll get back to all that. First, let’s turn the tables and put this intrepid journalist on the other side of the notepad for a change.
This is exactly what I managed to do when, by chance, I was seated next to her at a restaurant opening recently. Lena, I dare say, is just as fascinating as the locals she writes about. Originally from Finland, she spent her working life teaching English in the UK, but after she took early retirement and bought a property in Lagos 15 years ago, she now spends as much time in the Algarve as possible.
Tenacious by nature, Lena was determined to learn Portuguese (which she now does fluently) and also to do some writing. She decided a good way to accomplish both these aims simultaneously would be to strike up conversations with local people and find out about their lives, and then, write about them. As things often do, one thing leads to another and when Tomorrow magazine was launched she was asked if she would like to contribute her stories to the publication. The magazine has been going from strength to strength ever since and Lena’s stories are now one of the main features.
The magazine is distributed on the west coast (from Aljezur to Lagoa) and living in the more central Algarve, I had, unfortunately, never seen it before. So Lena very kindly agreed to send me the latest edition, as well as signed copies of her books. Yes, that’s right, ‘books’. Through the years her Meet the Locals’ series has built up a considerable collection. Enough to fill not just one book, but two. The first one is called ‘Touching Lives’ and the second ‘Crossing Cultures’. They seem to do exactly what the titles suggest, and maybe in this particular case, you should judge a book by its cover. The smiling faces beaming out of the colourful collages on the front are an excellent indication of the joy to be found between the pages.
Locals’ eyes are lit up with the opportunity to talk about their lives and their passions with someone who can make them feel at ease in their own language. Whether it’s an old fisherman with a passion for building beautiful replica wooden boats, local farmers that proudly show her around their land, honey producers, dog breeders and even Fado singers and violinists, Lena talks to people from all walks of life and gets them to open up about their experiences, which provides a rare and enchanting glimpse into the real Portugal. She also talks to long time residents that chose to make the Algarve their home, and, as you can imagine, such people often have extraordinary tales to tell as well.
But it’s not just peoples’ histories that she uncovers. Lena also has an insatiable curiosity about old, mysterious or quirky buildings. If there’s an interesting building that has sparked your curiosity (especially in the Lagos area) chances are Lena’s gone digging for clues into its often intriguing past and hunted down the people who can explain what it was.
The books are available in both English and Portuguese (which should satisfy some of the locals who, I imagine, have a burning curiosity to know just exactly what she wrote about them) and if you would like to get yourself copies (which I highly recommend) email her at email@example.com, or if you are in Lagos then the Ria Formosa bookshop on Lagos Avenida also has them in stock.
And watch out. If you are an interesting local, she could very well be round to get you into book three.