John and Annie are the only inhabitants of a deserted village which nestles in a secluded valley known to the locals as the “Valley of the Angels”. It is miles from anywhere but the smallest village, and so hard to find that John came to meet us when we went to see them. Within minutes of our meeting we felt a strong rapport, as though we had known him all our lives.
Their typical Algarvian cottage looks over all that remains of a once thriving community: two bread ovens, a threshing circle and abandoned ruins.
The living quarters are perfectly planned for convenience, whilst the lounge doubles as a studio and art gallery, making an eye catching and interesting blend. There is no mains electricity, all household needs are run from a large generator and the open fire heats the water. It is comfortable and extremely homely and makes question why anyone would want more. The valley is full of full of interesting and unusual birds. It is a haven for mongoose, fox and wild boar. A lynx has recently been spotted. At this time of year, with the almond trees in blossom and mimosa in flower, it is tranquil and beautiful. A wonderful place to live and work.
I arrived there ready to ask the usual questions about John’s earlier life, his hobbies, plans for the future and so on, but, over a superb lunch cooked by Annie, I abandoned the notebook for the sheer pleasure of getting to know our hosts. As is often the case with people who have taken the plunge and left the consumer and profit oriented world to find more realistic values, John and Annie are very concerned about the environment and man’s apparent determination to destroy it. Behind the beauty and historic beauty of John’s paintings is a serious theme. He sees the oceans as an element of contrasts and great energy. For centuries man has built his boats to fish from the seas rich food source. The sea endures but boats will not. Man keeps taking, not wanting to comprehend that the fish stock cannot survive either, with the advent of modern equipment and ships. Other creatures are inadvertently caught and immature fish needed to breed and continue the species are destroyed. Those in power seem unconcerned and their rules ineffectual.
FOOTNOTE: If you are able to get hold of a copy of Ruth Banks fascinating and humorous books Wild Herbs and Happiness Book 1 and Book 2 (illustrated by John) I would thoroughly recommend you read them. Much of the enjoyment is due to the fact that the way of life is so different to that which most readers know. It details the trials and tribulations and, everyday events in a self-sufficient Algarvian village charting the changes in lifestyle. Gradually, the old life is left behind as the villagers move into the 21st century leaving behind most of their old fashioned values.
John died after a short illness in 2000.
Many readers will have heard of John Holland, the artist, and read about him in the Algarve Resident. His well-known paintings of Iberian fishing boats and the fact that he keeps a boat himself suggests that he is passionately fond of the sea. He is also a writer and poet. A novel, which he is reluctant to discuss, is at the final draft stage and he has just beautifully illustrated a multilingual book soon to be published for young children written by his wife Annie. All this conjures a picture of a very interesting and ‘whole’ person. However, I soon found out that there is much more to the man.
More about JOHN HOLLAND – The man inside the Artist
Edited extract from the Algarve Resident March 1999 - written by Ruth Banks
John is also aware that a parallel situation is occurring on land where in some areas the age-old methods used by uninformed farmers, combined with the availability of new equipment speed up the effects of soil erosion leading eventually to desertification.
John has led a fascinating and varied life. He has acted in films; once owned a small cargo in which he carried bacalhau in Norway and delivered supplies to Gibraltar from Morocco, while the border with Spain was closed. He is a man who loves classical music and reading, good food and wine. He is a philosopher, an intelligent and articulate thinker. Now he has found his values, lives in a simple way and loves every moment spent in a new found paradise.