Week 66: Neighbours

Cloud over the hills behind us

Cloud over the hills behind us

A walk behind our house

A walk behind our house

The oven arrived: getting it into the bakery and assembled was another matter

The oven arrived: getting it into the bakery and assembled was another matter

The intense, enervating, 24-hour heat of late July left and never came back. Throughout August we’ve seen many cloudy skies, both day and night. By contrast, in December, the first full month we lived here, we had nothing but blue skies (see Week 29), which might have something to do with how dry the land is now.

These summer clouds bring no rain – nothing worthy of the name anyway, as I wrote last week – and our well is still dry. It might be time to look into having a borehole constructed; our architect mentioned this recently. She was surprised we were relying on a well. A borehole will no doubt involve heavyweight paperwork, alongside all the technical expertise required. Rainwater catchment is another technique to develop, but it might be months before we get any precipitation to work with.

We’ve been at home a lot lately because one car was in the workshop, awaiting a spare part, while dear old Rolie was being given a rest, having developed an unseemly ‘clang’ somewhere in the works. Costa, the charming, talkative man who sold us Rolie, is going to take him away for a check-up – thus offering possibly the best after-sales service on the planet. Being grounded has proven to be no bad thing, however, because at the moment we are enjoying a wonderful novelty: neighbours.

We have two houses close to us, both second homes. The owners of one house live in Lisbon; the owners of the other in England. Since it’s August, our neighbours are all here. And now there are criss-cross trails from one house to the other: gifts of prickly pears, return gifts of prickly pear produce, orders and delivery of bread, offers and taking up of use of swimming pools . . . We all had dinner together one night, out under the stars. At one point Mr Lisbon said: ‘We are three Portuguese, one German and two British. So why are we speaking English?’ Well, English is the world’s most widely spoken foreign language and it trumps all others. We’re working on our Portuguese, but it’s not up to dinner-party standard yet. And with the constant reversion to English, we’re not getting there any quicker either.

Mr Lisbon also had something to say about the Spanish. ‘They come here, many of them, and speak to us in Spanish, and we understand completely and help them with whatever they want. We say something back to them in Portuguese and they are dumbstruck. They don’t understand a word. We understand Spanish – why can’t they understand Portuguese?’

Oh, the many mysteries of this tiny corner of the world. Today, our car newly restored to us, we dropped into our favourite place: Flaviano’s. No post to be had, but we were exhorted to join the group of rotund men around a long brown Formica table, the top of which was buckled and all its edges worn away. A cutting board sat in the middle, the remains of bread and presunto (ham) scattered about. The men were carving a rugby-ball-shaped green melon with pale yellow flesh into long, thin slices. White wine was poured into glasses for us. The friendly woman who gave me cake at Easter, the one with eggshells in it, was, uncharacteristically, sitting to one side and not joining in. Her lips were in a straight line. I caught her eye. She gestured with a thumb towards her mouth and rolled her eyes. The men were drunk and she wasn’t pleased. Flaviano agreed, resorting to German – a language he speaks a few words of, all of which amuse him hugely – to tell us that the men were ‘besoffen’. We ate our melon and drank our wine and listened to their drunken philosophising. ‘People who don’t like animals don’t like people either,’ the leader declared, feeding presunto to a puppy. When we had finished our melon and wine, we thanked them profusely and carried on home.

Prickly pears from our neighbours

Prickly pears from our neighbours

Prickly pear compote. I’ve seen photos online of prickly pear jam and it’s ruby in colour; ours is this rusty pumpkin shade

Prickly pear compote. I’ve seen photos online of prickly pear jam and it’s ruby in colour; our fruit is this rusty pumpkin shade

Bakery

Having neighbours, plus visiting friends and an electrician, meant that we were able to achieve, by sheer male human strength, the mounting of a 185-kilo oven on to a waist-high frame, which up until that moment had looked to me to be impossible. And thus the bakery is almost complete.

Estrela in our house, where she isn’t allowed – the interdiction coming from her owner, not from us. She has a slightly ragged right ear and some damage to her neck, which likely come from an encounter with a wild boar. She is unaffected, her curiosity ever undimmed, although she is alert and jumpy as ever

Estrela in our house, where she isn’t allowed – the interdiction coming from her owner, not from us. She has a slightly ragged right ear and some damage to her neck from an encounter with a wild boar. She is unaffected, her curiosity undimmed, although she is as alert and jumpy as ever

Bread - not yet from the new oven

Bread – not yet from the new oven

4 Comments

  1. Hazel

    Congratulations on the installation of the oven!!! Magnificent! I’ve never eaten cooked/preserved prickly pears: can you describe their flavour? I wasn’t struck on them raw. xx

    Reply
  2. Edith (Post author)

    Hello H, I had the p.p. compote on yoghurt this morning: delish. Made by reducing the pulp then adding a bit of lemon juice (a la Jane Grigson); no added sugar. Flavour is intense and very sweet – I can’t do better than last week’s description of caramelised melon (as in the sorbet), but I’m still working on it.

    Reply
  3. Clare

    Dinner under the stars…we can but wish here in soggy Britain

    Reply
  4. Janet M

    Portuguese is a really hard language, so I applaud that you are trying to learn it. I spoke Spanish when I was in Brazil (not very many English speakers there), because I couldn’t remember how to pronounce things in Portuguese;-)
    TV in Portuguese with English subtitles (or vice versa)was a great help in learning.

    Reply

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