Monthly Archive: February 2015

Week 40: Rolie

Olives from our own tree; they taste very good now

Olives from our own tree; they taste very good now

Spot the turtle (European Pond Turtle, with thanks to Hazel for the ID); it's on the UN red list in the Near Threatened category

Spot the turtle (European Pond Turtle, with thanks to Hazel for the ID); it’s on the UN red list in the Near Threatened category

The great thing about a dashboard-mounted gearstick is that you have space on the floor for your handbag

The great thing about a dashboard-mounted gearstick is that you have space on the floor for your handbag

Rolie

Rolie

 

Rolie needed some more attention. When the man I’d bought it from had got it going again from a flat battery (Week 38), we pointed out that the car was also leaking some kind of pale fluid, very slowly, but still noticeable on the light-coloured garage floor. Costa offered to fix that too. He speaks English, copiously, and from decades of working in France he speaks it with a French accent. He speaks so copiously that I have developed the tactic of saying as little as possible – not a problem for me; I don’t much like talking – and letting him run on. I can have a five-minute telephone conversation with him in which I say three words: hello, perfect and goodbye. Husband knows who was on the other line as soon as I put the phone down.

After various organisational twists and turns, Costa offered to pick the car up for me on Wednesday, the day after Carnival, and take it to his cousin’s garage for checking. He couldn’t promise to return it the same day, but it shouldn’t be more than two days. He’d leave his car at our house in the meantime. I said: ‘Perfect.’ It was convenient for me.

He arrived, I gave him the keys and he drove Rolie out of the garage, parking it in front of the house and getting out in order to continue talking. A brilliant smile appeared on his face as he emerged from behind the wheel.

‘I love this car,’ he said.

Two days later he returned, still talking. Various fixes had been done. He veered away from the technical details – offering, if required, to speak to my ’uzband about those instead – but demonstrated how much better the car now was. As well as some gaskety-type replacements, he’d also improved the shutting of the bonnet, and – having tracked down an actual French expert when his various local mechanics couldn’t do it – had improved the closing of the driver’s door, so that it no longer rattled. He picked up a diesel can from the boot, went to his car, then doubled back to mine, having forgotten to collect an adapted water bottle from the passenger seat. Our local petrol station looks to any passer-by as though it is open; in fact, each pump has a small sign declaring it to be empty. The owner is a victim, apparently, of the supermarket petrol station a few miles down the road. That’s a real shame, but it’s another story. Anyway, Costa had been caught out by this on his journey two days ago and had just made it to our place on an empty tank. He needed to refill his car via the water-bottle funnel. By now darkness had fallen and he gave me his mobile phone to use as a torch so he could see what he was doing. Throughout this he didn’t stop talking – about how lovely our place was, how amazing that we’d only lived here three months when we seemed so settled, about his complicated comings and goings and a family member who was ill, how ideal the Renault was for these dirt roads but how I should nevertheless drive carefully – and I wondered when I might offer, or he might ask for, some money.

‘I do this because I like you,’ he said suddenly, disarmingly.

Then he got into his car, apologising for having left Rolie with a nearly empty tank too, and, remembering to retrieve his mobile phone from me only at the last minute, he drove off.

Rolie runs a lot more smoothly now, even on the dirt track. I love this car too.

Handmade tiles from Beloved Earth Ceramics, made by Amanda McGregor

Handmade tiles from Beloved Earth Ceramics, made by Amanda McGregor

The join between the houses; picture taken in a mirror

The join between the houses; picture taken in a mirror

Old kitchen, about to be dismantled

Old kitchen, about to be dismantled

Home work

I finally found the time to fix our beautiful, handmade tiles into the gap left in the floor by the removal of part of the wall: the very first job we did here, to connect the two houses. The tiles look even better than I imagined. It’s a bespoke design that looks like happenstance. We are also about to remove the old kitchen, ready for the installation of the new. While that is happening I, however, will be in England, temporarily exchanging the land of golden light for the land of silver-light-if-you’re-lucky.

Week 39: Flowers

Some of the 'weeds' I might have uprooted from our garden had I had time are now producing beautiful flowers: Fumaria agraria

Some of the ‘weeds’ I might have uprooted from our garden had I had time are now producing beautiful flowers: Fumaria agraria

Eruca sativa, or salad rocket - we can eat this

Eruca sativa, or salad rocket – we can eat this

Achillea?

Camomile?

Linum?

Yellow flax?

 

It’s Shrove Tuesday as I write, a bright and windy day. Some of our latest family guests left yesterday. They loved it here, and asked plenty of questions, especially about the seasons, many of which we couldn’t answer. We have only been through a quarter of a year so far. The full extent of the summer heat is unknown to us. Today our local town was deserted: it is a public holiday but we didn’t know that. This also explains why the gas man sounded bewildered when we asked him to deliver a new canister today. He’ll do it tomorrow instead.

The river is gleaming. Turtles clambered out from the emerald pools to sun themselves on the rocks. Being the same colour as the rocks, only the shininess of their wet shells gives them away. You have to creep up on them, too. Last time we went to see them we had Estrela for company and the turtles dived before we got there. Today we were quieter and saw four. I wonder if the pools will be deep and clear enough to swim in when it’s hot enough to do so – and whether the turtles will mind the company.

Kitchen

Husband’s friend Gero is building us a new kitchen at his workshop in Erfurt, Germany. For the doors he’s using a pear tree that has been seasoned for about a quarter of a century in his storehouse, and originally came from Freiburg, the town where the two men used to live.

Kitchen cupboard shell

Work on the new kitchen is under way: a cupboard case

The pear tree before being cut into sheets

The pear tree before it was cut into sheets

Week 38: Switchcraft

Beach: long coat required against a chilly breeze

Beach: long coat required against a chilly breeze

wet feet

Got my feet wet taking this one

 

Things have been going our way for a long time now. That couldn’t go on for ever. And this was the week when stuff started going wrong. First of all, my beautiful Rolie, the Renault 4.

Rolie

The car died. I’d only had it for a week. The horn worked, although feebly, so it wasn’t the battery. The man I’d bought it from had been insistent that I keep his number and call him if I had any problems, so I did. He was busy and couldn’t come immediately, but the next day he was here. Husband met him at the top of the road to guide him down the dirt track to our place.

‘It’s the battery,’ Costa said. It was. The horn had stopped working by now too.

We rolled Rolie out and pushed him up and down the track outside the house and in a short while he stuttered back into life; we ran him for a bit to charge him. Costa found the culprit. A lamp in the boot had been left on. In the bright sunlight I never even saw that it was alight. It clearly happened when I’d loaded the car with recycling: cardboard boxes, and possibly an empty wine bottle or two.

‘I meant to warn you about that light,’ Costa said. ‘Sorry about that. It’s quite easy to knock the switch by mistake.’

As he stepped on to the millstone at the front of the house and held his mobile phone aloft to try to get a connection, he spotted the river. ‘Wonderful,’ he said. ‘Fantastic. This place is like something from a film.’

Not the first time a second-hand-car salesman has visited this place and been beguiled. (See Week 31.) And not the first time Rolie will let me down, either, I know. This is what owning an old car is like. Must add car mechanics to list of things to get better at.

Bomba

In the garage, by the door where in all reasonableness the light switch be, is a large black switch. Hidden behind it, and slightly out of reach, is a small white switch: this operates the light. The other day, I closed the garage door and found myself in sudden, pitch blackness. I felt around for the switch and pressed it. No light came on. I tried a couple more times. My eyes adjusted sufficiently to find the correct switch and I realised I’d been pushing the big one by mistake. What did that thing operate? I couldn’t remember, and I couldn’t see anything going on or off. And was it on now, or not? Oh, what the hell.

It was several days later that Eleuterio appeared at the house. He was talking about the bomba (pump) and saying he needed the keys to the garage. Once inside, he switched the switch off and sighed. What I had done was leave on the pump that brings the water up from his well to our garden cisterna, water he allows to us have out of sheer goodwill. The water hadn’t run – it must need a valve or some such to be open – but the pump had operated uselessly for several days. He is a kind man and he didn’t look angry. More puzzled. Just how stupid can estrangeiros be? Later that same day I noticed he spent two hours by the pump at the well, doing what exactly I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that it was my fault and that he could have used his time better than that.

The wrong switch, now labelled

The wrong switch, now labelled

Light switch hidden behind

Light switch hidden behind

 

We were getting ready for family guests: my mother, sister and brother-in-law. This was a much anticipated visit, and we wanted everything to be right. More carpentry and painting had been done; best of all, the new bathroom was complete. All we needed was the heating engineer to make his promised return visit and get the system fired up. We’ve got used to having no heating and only lukewarm water – when you live at the end of the world you decide you don’t need a shower every day anyway – but didn’t want to impose the same on our guests. The engineer didn’t answer our calls, didn’t respond to messages. This was the first time we felt let down.

Blue guest room all ready

Blue guest room all ready

New guest bathroom (one hundred times better than the old one)

New guest bathroom (one hundred times better than the old one)

 

Family arrived. They loved the place at once. No further explanation as to why we moved here required. And even better, Brother-in-law turned out to be a secret heating nerd. He went round tweaking the heating works – we have a solar-operated system and a gas boiler for back-up – and one by one coaxed the radiators into life, with one recalcitrant exception. The taps finally gave forth real hot water. It was fantastic. The only thing is that the gas boiler has no thermostat or timer. We cannot control when the heating comes on or goes off; it does its own, unpredictable thing. The boiler was made by the hand of man, but it seems to have gone feral. It answers to another call. What it is, we don’t know.

Ameythst toadflax (thanks to Nick for the ID), greatly magnified

Ameythst toadflax in our garden (thanks to Nick L. for the ID), greatly magnified

Almond blossom still appearing all over

Almond blossom still appearing all over (thanks to Pauline L. for the photograph)

Week 37: Busy

Taxas e licenças

‘Taxas e licenças’

Staircase in Tavira town hall

Leaving the town hall

 

One morning this week we returned to the Taxas e licenças counter of the town hall in Tavira. It was one minute before nine. A minute later the civil servant arrived. We greeted him and gave him our atestados (parish certificates proving our address) and passports. He photocopied the passports and returned them to us. He didn’t ask for any other papers, just excused himself to go back to his desk.

After examining his computer for a while he began shaking his head. ‘No,’ he said. He stood up. ‘No, it’s not possible.’ He was speaking in English to us now, although we’d started off in Portuguese. ‘There’s nothing I can do about it,’ he said, walking towards us with a regretful expression.

Our hearts sank simultaneously.

He joined us at the counter. ‘The system is down. Can you come back later? Have a coffee or something?’

Our hearts rose again.

Twenty minutes later – after coffee and cake – we were back. The man looked happy and everything was fine. Perfect, in fact. We paid a small fee at an adjacent desk and returned to the counter where the helpful woman we’d talked to when we first came to the town hall smiled a huge congratulatory smile and proudly showed us our certificates, giving us the chance to check our names and address had been correctly rendered. They had. We returned several days later and picked up the embossed and signed certificates of our residency of the República Portuguesa.

House in Tavira; even the broom is blue

House in Tavira; even the broom is blue

Works

At home we’ve mostly been living with dust and noise as a new bathroom is built, electrics are repaired, cupboard space is created and a small interior wall is demolished. We’ve had builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers around. Almost every day new plans for the kitchen arrive by email from Germany; the new kitchen is to be installed early in March, after which the ‘spare’ kitchen in the other half of the house will be transformed into the Backstube, the bakery.

Small wall demolished; 'spare' kitchen behind

Small wall demolished; ‘spare’ kitchen behind

Tractor taking rubble away

Tractor taking rubble away

Half the workers in the house have been Portuguese, the others German or Swiss. I don’t know why so many German-speakers. We followed up recommendations from various sources and generally came back with Germans, Swiss or Portuguese. Nobody from the UK. Something cultural there to explore one day. Maybe an outcome of the greater extent of professional training in the trades that occurs in Germany and Switzerland, and perhaps that training is more exportable to other European countries than the UK equivalent. The British seem to come here later in life, to retire rather than to work. (Not in my case.) An exception is a young British woman, a film editor who also makes beautiful, bespoke terracotta tiles. She has made us some gorgeous tiles to fill the gap in the floor where the connecting wall between houses 1 and 2 was removed, and once I’ve grouted them in I shall post a picture.

Car

We have bought my dream car. Husband has the jeep, and I have Rolie, short for Roland (French pronunciation please), a Renault 4 GTL. Here he is. What a beauty.

Rolie at the front of the house

Rolie at the front of the house

All this and editing cookbooks too. A busy week.

Lordy, bless him

Lordy, bless him

Spot the almond tree (actually two of them)

Spot the almond trees

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