Week 74: Rolie
For some weeks now, my Renault 4 has been misbehaving. This has entailed many meet-ups with Costa, my multi-tasking, extrovert R4 man, a Portuguese with a French accent and an outsider’s view of his own country. We meet at the Cooperativa, where he has a workspace arrangement with a mechanic, the same one who sorted out the R4 when I pranged the back end on the millstone outside our house (Weeks 49 and 50). The car issue at the beginning of this week – indicators that stopped working – was resolved in a matter of moments by Costa, his head under the steering-wheel column, a spanner in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. While fixing the lights, he delivered a non-stop commentary on the job in hand, on procrastination in sunny, southern countries (‘They say “Monday”, but you should ask, “Which Monday?”!’) and on some age-related concerns with his back that were hindering his positioning half in and half out of the car, all the while taking calls on the mobile, and grinning whenever his face was angled outwards so as to be visible.
The preceding problem had been an electrical one that caused the car to cut out. It would usually start again after a few moments, but this wasn’t much fun on the road in traffic. On my way to the Cooperativa that time Rolie had given up the ghost and I had been forced to leave him on the side of the road and walk the rest of the way. Costa came with me back to the car, laughing while perorating on the fact that he eats too much, that I give directions just like someone from the Alentejo (‘Oh, it’s just around the corner, no, not this corner, the next one …’), and that my ‘baby’ – babee, with the accent on the second syllable – was ‘a bad baby’. He got the engine going again and drove off. It took a substantial rewiring to sort out that problem, and it was the fixing thereof that had knocked out the indicator function. There had also been the rattling gear stick – now cushioned by a new rubber washer – and a flat tyre, a slow release caused by a tiny stone between the rubber and the rim.
The Cooperativa, with its huge, under-used (or unused) concrete silos and its Social Realist signage featuring a man and a woman in stout boots and with raised fists marching off into the future carrying a sheaf of wheat, offers space for many activities. While Costa fixes the indicators, a forklift truck manoeuvres sacks of sweetly pungent, freshly dried figs into a store-room. Wine barrels bob in water-filled plastic boxes under the water tank. The mechanic, a bear of a man – whose lateness caused the discourse on southern procrastination, though in the end he wasn’t really that late at all – arrives cleaning his sunglasses on his T-shirt, casually exposing his considerable belly, and joins in the conversation with the man under the steering wheel. Other people, to whom my car must be pretty familiar by now, come and go. Strange agricultural smells assail the nose. Mysteries unfold there. I don’t know the half of it.
The real story this week has been rain. For days now it has done nothing but pour. Columns of rain have marched up and down the valley, thundering on the roof and hanging in sheets from the gutters. Surely the river will be back earlier this year. We expect it almost any day now.
Each time the noise of the rain stops, birds start up. Small birds are passing through in flocks and singly: wagtails, buntings and warblers; other birds are returning for winter. I opened the garage-type door to our ‘spare’ house one day this week for a yoga session, only for a bird to startle and fly straight into a window then land, stunned, on the floor. Thirty seconds later, it recovered itself and flew out of the still-open door. It was the redstart, my winter companion of last year when we had newly arrived in the valley at the end of the world. I’m so happy to see it back.
As I write I am deafened by the latest downpour and yet, incredibly, the internet is still functioning, allowing me to make this post. Equally incredibly, one day this week was hot and sunny enough for sunbathing at the beach. Our favoured beach at the height of summer is no longer easily reachable since the boat has stopped running, so we returned to our beach of autumn and winter: Barril, where the anchor graveyard is.