This week has flown by and it has all been about the Village Festa. The build up all week with bunting and a marquee and all that goes with a village ‘do’ finally led to 3 days of music, food, games, village activities and of course, drinking and socialising. We are exhausted!
After two nights drinking the local red wine, we were unable to get ourselves out of bed on Sunday morning to head to a car-boot market as promised, with our neighbours. They – much to our shame – then turned up bright and breezy on Sunday evening tooting the horn asking if we were going to join the party for the last evening, which, with very little persuasion, of course we duly did.
It was a great event and lovely to be part of it. We were introduced to all the locals and are feeling inspired to keep going with our Portuguese because there is nothing worse than being at the village do and not being able to converse easily. However, there are also a small handful of English-speaking people here and you simply can’t escape the pull of a few drinks and laughs in the comfort of your own language. We were glad for it and a lot of fun was had, even though on each evening we were back home and tucked up in bed before the real party even started (the music doesn’t even begin until 10/11pm!).
One thing I did that was part of the weekend’s activities was a guided walk in the surrounding mountains. It was sold to me by my neighbour as: ‘a 1½ hour leisurely stroll to a little chapel built into a rock face’. Given that I had to get up early for the walk after an evening of the aforementioned red wine, this sounded quite lovely… I did start to worry however when I arrived at the meeting point to see 20+ Portuguese clad in serious walking gear with poles, but hey, I am partial to a good walk. 2½ hours later beneath pure blue skies and an unrelenting golden sun heating up the dusty hill tracks, I was thinking ‘what am I doing here!?’ Rather embarrassingly a very portly and much-older-than-me fellow who puffed constantly on a cigar, raced past me several times! After 3 hours, which included a rather good – and much-needed – halfway refreshment of roll, lemonade and fruit (or beer, of course) being driven up to us, we made it back to the village for a well-deserved coffee at a friend’s house. It was a lot of fun, but let me tell you – Portuguese walking groups are something else…
Other happenings this week have been Scott getting his tools out to whittle a few things from the branches of some of the trees I have pruned. He has tried olive, cherry, pear, pine and eucalyptus and even Isabella has got in on the fun, whittling her own knife, which she was particularly proud of. Olive seems to be the favourite right now. It’s also been horse-chestnut time, which is divine. On another neighbour’s land there is the most beautiful chestnut tree and as he told us to go and help ourselves, so we did. We have been feasting on them, often having them as part of our dinner as an alternative to potatoes or rice. Delicious! Free! Local!
This week started with rain – RAIN! – for a whole night and day it rained and the grass, bleached and dried from a long hot summer, seemed to start turning green almost immediately.
I wander the orchard daily hoping to see a little green shoot here and there from the clay pellets I sowed back in June. Nothing yet, but I look patiently. When it rains the smell of the forest is fresh and lusciously full and so we walked in it, soaking up the smell of pine, until water was running in rivulets down our faces and necks. Pure glee. After the rain the blue skies and sunshine returned but I imagine more rains will come by October time so we have been getting busy collecting fir cones and firewood so that we have some stores.
What I have realised is that we are constantly on the move here: up and down to the shed, the land, the compost, the orchard. It’s a naturally active lifestyle and I love that we are active without any thought. Most evenings we go off walking in the surrounding forests, collecting firewood and fallen trunks. We carry them on our shoulders back to the house, looking out across the mountains, feeling alive, feeling part of something greater than ourselves. As we walk we’ll catch a view, or perhaps we’ll see our house appearing through a gap in the trees and we’ll stop, be silent and say to each other, ‘this is ours’. We stand with our necks craned as Bonelli’s eagles and Griffin Vultures fly over, so close we can almost touch them. At night the stars are incredible, the sound of owls right next to us now commonplace. We sit out on our terrace until late drinking it all in: the noise of crickets, the breeze in the trees, the shooting stars and satellites we can see as clear as anything.
Portuguese lessons continue and learning from a child’s level seems as good a place as any. Sometimes we feel buoyed with our learning and then other times someone will be jabbering on and we’ll feel utterly lost. A neighbour who visits his land (next door to us) on occasion is my favoured conversational partner as he is so patient. He talks slowly and is never phased by the fact that we clearly do not speak much Portuguese and I feel confident to practice what I do know. The other evening as we chatted over the fence Isabella gave me a ‘high five’ kind of look and said, ‘Ma, listen to your Portuguese!’ I felt pretty chuffed with myself.
When I manage to grab a few hours to myself here and there this week I have been writing avidly: children’s stories, short stories, book outlines, article pitches, working on my new resource for schools that has to be submitted in November. My fingers and brain don’t stop with ideas and when I am here I feel I have the time and headspace to actually get some ideas down on paper. It is one of the things I love most about being here - time.
The other things I love about being here is that I am still walking around in flip-flops, shorts and a vest every day. No need to think about what to wear, just get up and get dressed. I love that freedom. I also love that my ankles and wrists are permanently scratched and covered in dirt and sand; I feel such a sense of accomplishment. We are returning this land – slowly – to it’s former glory. Somebody put a lot of thought into the planning of this place and it feels good to be here, putting some life back into it.
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