Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Bathroom Roof Goes On

What a week this was! For two and a half months River and I have been removing an enormous quantity of stuff from the 3 houses at Moses. Walls, stones, wood, windows, lintels, tiles. It’s been quite a destructive phase where everything feels a little chaotic, with piles of the stuff taken out of the houses neatly laid around clearly demarking the place as a building site. But before this week we hadn’t really done any building, any construction. Last week we began with learning to mix mud and setting slates with it on top of the bathroom walls. This week however, was a very different story. Proper construction. Just River and I. And I tell you, it feels fantastic to have finally finished the roof, our first task on the 14 week plan to restore Moses before Christmas.

We had a few hurdles to overcome. First was finding a good supplier of wood and fixing it to the eucalyptus beams. Second, finding roof felt and fixing it to the wooden ceiling. And third buying all the tools we need to do so now and for the next few months ahead. At the weekend we found a great lumber yard on the road to Serta who delivered some tongue and groove pine, which we lumbered all the way to the bottom of the land in readiness to put on on Monday. However it was the wrong type, too slim, and wouldn’t have been strong enough for the tiles on top. So we lumbered it all back up the hill and returned to the sawmill to ensure they delivered the right type, which they did, the same day. Of course we then had to carry the new, heavier wood, on our shoulders, down the hill one more time. This work is definitely growing muscles we didn’t know we had.

What a pair of roofers we are....

Michelle told us about a local place in Estreito that sold a type of roofing felt called Underline. A bit more pricey than the ordinary stuff but the ease of using it with its ‘simple to lay tiles on top’ ridges is definitely worth it. Reusing the original old tiles that Von had carefully removed while my parents were here at the beginning of September, was a most satisfying job. They now no longer make tiles the way they used to. These old clay ones, are all unique. Each one has a slightly different pattern of moss grown over the years but more interestingly has a different curve and shape too. This is cos they were formed around people’s thighs before being kilned. Some are wide and short (made by the thighs of smaller fatter Portuguese) and some are narrow and long (taller skinnier ones). Quite incredible really and it kind of connects you, handling and laying each tile, to another time, another way of living, another world. As a result, the finished roof has so much more innate character than one we could have built with sparkly new uniform tiles. It’s old, it’s gorgeous and we absolutely love it.

Yesterday, we started rendering the bathroom walls too. We tried a mix suggested in the Building Green book, which is 3 parts sand, to one part hydraulic lime, to half part straw. The straw is shredded by sucking it back through an ordinary garden leaf blower and is soaked in water before adding to the mix, so that the lime can extract the water from the straw helping to prevent cracking when it sets on the wall. We’ll see how it turns out but it was a lot of fun plastering our first wall together beneath the beautiful pine boarded, eucalyptus beamed roof we’d just put on.

So today, with a new roof and 2 walls half rendered with just one coat of natural plaster, I feel that everything is possible. To be honest at the beginning of the week I was emotionally fluctuating between a deep contentment in what is already here now and a blind overwhelming panic at the immensity of all the work in front of us. Yeah the journey is more important than the destination and all that, but sometimes the distance to the destination can affect the way you feel about the journey. But you can only do what is in front of you to do. One step at a time. Yes we have many steps to take, but it is still possible to see each one, individually, as splendid in its own right. That’s how it is today with our first roof built with mud, slate, trees, straw and tiles from the land and a little sand, lime, felt and wood bought from round the corner.

On the road to Oleiros last night for a celebratory meal, we stopped the car, got out and took a moment to enjoy this exquisite sunset over the surrounding mountains and valleys. What a life this is. We only get one shot at it, and we’re making the very most of it. Yeah baby.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back to School!

The new season of Autumn has started for real this week. The kids have gone back to school. And they love it. Proper love it. Josh is in year 6, the year he missed when we were on the Poop in Europe tour, so he can learn everything he already knows but this time in Portuguese. In year 7 they will have to study 16 subjects so we thought it best to ease him in gently to a new system and a new language. There are only 11 other children in his class, five older five younger, yet although so few pupils, they still have classroom assistants. You gotta love it here! Eli is in year 4 which is based in another building in the school and is the last year of the younger age groups, so she's a big fish in a little pond. Day 1 she was voted vice president of the class by the other 18 kids in it. They've both settled in nicely and are keen to learn as much as they can. One of our hopes for their 18 months of home schooling on our various adventures was to instil in them a desire to learn for learning sake. Not just to pass tests or to pass through the school system but to enjoy the process of learning. So it's been such a joy to see them both bouncing off to school at 8am and still bouncing when they return on the minibus at 6.30pm relishing the chance to discover more about the world.

Hi ho, hi ho, its off to school we go....

We had a terrific time with Grandma and Papops, my mum and dad, while they we here on holiday. As did Josh and Eli who stayed with them for a week in a log cabin at the campismo de Oleiros. They flew back last Thursday from Lisbon looking much the healthier for 10 days in the Portuguese sunshine. Came back soon guys. And on Friday we took a trip to Coimbra to buy clothes and loads of school stuff. On Saturday we all went down to Albegaria, a little village an hour north of Lisbon where a South African and Portuguese couple, Sandy and Fatima, have made a piece of heaven on earth. A cricket field. Josh and I played and Von and Eli devotedly watched! But it was worth the trip cos Josh took his first wicket in men's cricket. Then another. And then a third. A truly momentous occasion and a fab boost to his confidence the weekend before going back to school. No picies to show but we do have a wee film clip of the cafe there that serves the best ham and cheese toasted sandwiches in the world!

The cafe in the famous cricketing village of Albegaria...

Last thing to say is that "Jerry" has returned to the UK to see her mum and dad. Before she left we all had a rethink on how the renovation work is progressing at Bacelo and Moses. "Tom" really needs to focus his energy on Bacelo so Von and I will be renovating our houses and creating the gardens by ourselves from here on in. We have appreciated their support on the work at Moses since July, especially the belief they've given us that we can do this. Our first goal is to get the house called Moses ready for moving in before Christmas. We have a project plan to that effect and the first few days working together have been really sweet. Sieving the clay we took from the first 2 houses (called Cabeco) earlier in the year and mixing in water with our feet (well Von's feet actually cos I chickened out), then setting in slate with it on top of the walls. It's the way all the stone houses were built in this region years ago and it feels great to be using only the materials we have on the land to kick off the building phase after 2.5 months of demolition. The bathroom roof should be complete by Friday and we'll show you the evidence next week. For now just a short clip to show Von's gorgeous muddy feet in action.

Mud, glorious mud...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Have you seen these grapes…? by River

Here I am finally having a quiet day, the first one in months. I am sitting cross legged at my little table listening to Jazz vocals, at the moment Stormy Weather by Sarah Vaughan is flowing into my body via my ears. It’s a beautiful evening the earth is mellow and comfortable after the first substantial rains in over two months. The air is at its cleanest, sweetest smelling of pine needles, heather and the incomparable smell of autumn ripening fruit. The season at the moment is grapes. Everywhere you look they are hanging hedonistically from voluptuous vines and you find yourself irresistibly drawn to nibbling one or two.

Pergolas of grapes have featured highly in the highlights of this Summer season for me.

It was under a pergola that I sat one day in the village of my dear friend Shanti B and watched the most fantastic (in the truest sense of the word) array of people walking to the last night of a summer fiesta that she and her crew had arranged with the local mayor.

First came her beautiful sister and her twin boys. It was amazing to spend time with her. She was so full of light and laughter it was infectious. It was really odd to meet someone who smiled like Shanti, had the same mannerisms and the same nature, predisposed to joy.

After her came a few rainbow people one of whom was my teacher for the afternoon (I always meet one at Shanti´s and was waiting for him), Jaia my love I am still unpacking that conversation but what I took away from you was to try to remain as natural as possible and move forward as far as I could in love.

Next came the traditional Portuguese dancers with their black or deep red frocks and white pinafores with white head dresses. I had an interesting experience with them when I needed to spend a penny, pee that is. I went into the ladies and there they all were men and women getting tied up in the last of their outfits. There was a great deal of encouragement to pee in front of them with just a half wall dividing us but that was just too much for me, so off to a more private bush I went.

After them came the Rainbow festival clan, in all their beautiful colours, floaty dresses and MC Hammer trousers. With wild, hair, bare feet and dirty angels faces. The light seemed to shine brighter around their combined energy.

After the Rainbow clan came the sound of drummers, Portuguese rather than African. Down the street came this loud, base chakra vibrating sound, played out by stocky strong shouting men. Followed by some of the villagers and the little kids. It was a very heart warming scene.

As if that wasn’t enough there came a sexy young woman, wild haired, brown and doe eyed on a donkey!

There I sat under the pergola eating grapes hanging perfectly within reach and prepared for a fabulous evening and that it was. Thanks Shanti.

It was under a pergola that I realised that things weren’t really working out for Michelle and the rest of us here and I let go of trying to make things work and allowed the winds of change to have their will. It’s been hard that process, and I have felt quite shaken by it but…

Another highlight of the summer had been having our friends Caroline and Jon and their beautiful girls Maya and Violet with us. We have missed them greatly and it was a joy to have that time together, singing, dancing, philosophysing and just generally enjoying being together. And it was sitting under a pergola of grapes that I realised that time was precious and it was good that we shared so much of it together as it would be sometime before life would give us that time again.

We spent the most youthful long weekend in Sao Pedro de Moel with our dear friend Rachel. We laughed, drank too much wine. We walked around on the coast until 7am. And just generally relaxed. We spent time with a woman I am now calling the Goddess of the Lighthouse who taught me an exercise that I hadn’t consciously tried before and I am now using it. It’s well powerful stuff but in order to know about it you’ll have to come to Zion and talk to the Goddess of the Lighthouse herself. We all left saying we love Sao Pedro de Moel and will be going again next year by the grace.

One other highlight worth mentioning was the annual Summer fiesta of Oleiros. Great fun, like Christmas on a summer’s evening. Dancing and watching Sunshine dance in the early hours of the morning had to be the highlight of that experience.

Now Papops and Dr. Mops are here, Andy’s Mum and Dad. The kids have abandoned us for the weekend, but I think they really are sick of us and are so very excited to have their grandparents in their new town. It’s lovely to see.

It’s been unusual having so many people descend on me in my life. Sometimes people are giving to you and sometimes they are taking. It’s not easy for me and I have been showing signs of wear and tear; the main one being a loss of confidence. I have found myself questioning for the first time whether I am doing the right thing. The undertaking here is mammoth I know but when so many people tell you how brave you are to take on so much work, it has the opposite effect on me because I am not brave or spectacular or special in anyway nor am I equipped for this task. Yet what I do know is that when I am working here taking off roof tiles or removing a pile of rocks, I know that I am working for my life for the life of my family and hopefully for the life of some of my friends. I am no great yoga master or gardener or artist or anything that would equip me for a life such as this. I am an ordinary woman being given the extraordinary opportunity to start again from scratch but having a little wisdom of age. I remember that it’s called Moses. So when the giants of doubt and fear come to catch up with me as they have been doing this month I try to remember this biblical story big daddy Memphis told me recently of when Joshua and Caleb came back from spying for the tribes of Israel and responded to the tales of fear and woe told by the other spies with this. “Don’t worry about those big men and their armies, look at the size of these grapes boys!!”

And I remember that that is my divine mission in life. To rejoice in the fruits of life and let the joys of a fruitful life cast out all fear and doubt and to keep flowing like a River. This evening I am flowing eating a bowl full of grapes that Memphis just brought home after spending a few hours with one of our older neighbours. And I am no longer sitting under the grapevine I am sitting in the evening sunlight gorging myself on the fruits of this life.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

In the first autumn rains, blackberries for breakfast

The rains began yesterday and everything has been washed clean ready for a new season here in Zion. Today was my housekeeping day at Bacelo and as I strolled back from the compost heap, I stopped to take moment in front of a bush laden with ripe juicy and freshly rain washed blackberries. As it was time for second breakfast, I proceeded to steadily stuff my face full of dozens of sweet little wild berries. Yet another in a long list of experiences that remind me, in this new life of ours, with all of its challenges and difference to the lifestyle we had in London, I lack nothing. We lack nothing. We still have scars as evidence of our long and continuing battle with these viscious brambles, but today the enemy became the provider and friend. Ironically, all I had to do to reap the rewards of their generous offering, was simply leave them alone. After feasting, I stood utterly content with all that God has, is and will provide. Who'd have thought such profundity existed in a blackberry? Bless.

Three stories to tell you today. The first is of circus fairies mingling with folk dancers. The second is the arrival of the 5 starrers. Finally, the magic of St Pedro de Moel.

Our beloved friends Shanti B, Marcia and Ton came over this week from their place in Fundao. We have a cute arrangement with those guys. When it all gets too much for them, they nip over for a few days rest with us. Vice versa, when its time for a fresh perspective we go to the Mount of Oaks to soak up the goodness of their emerging community. Anyway, 2 weeks ago we popped over to theirs to join in with the final night of a community week they were running in their local village, including a prayer room, seminars from voluntary groups, graffiti and circus-act workshops and a weekend party in the open air sports arena. The stunning spectacle of this finale was in the diversity of the people and the cultures they unashamedly expressed. The usual traditional Portuguese folk music, with local singers, dancers and drummers were beautifully mixed together with Barbara’s crowd of tattoo wearing, free spirited dancers and fire jugglers from Belgium, France, England, Africa, America and Israel. The village had never seen anything like it. Nor had we. It was gorgeous. And to know it had all been orchestrated by Shanti B in close partnership with the local Mayor and Catholic priest just added to the inimitability of the whole thing. Kids want to go back regularly for circus lessons. We said they could. Watch this space.

The next is an interesting tale of a clash of ideology that has reinforced our resolve and clarified our direction. We invited another yoga teacher to come and stay with us. She is a well known one with a successful retreat business who has made it into one magazine’s top 10 yoga experiences in the world. Quite an achievement. So we were really looking forward to spending a few days with her. However it didn’t quite go to plan. She arrived with her boyfriend after spending a couple of nights in a 5 star hotel in Lisbon and dressed to the nines as if they had both just walked off a film set. By comparison, we spend most of days fairly scruffy round the edges with layers of dirt normally caked to our sweaty skins. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, half an hour later they were both walking back up the hill, back to their hired car, off to find somewhere not so “basic” as our home! To us this life of ours, and the things we are building with our own hands, are both incredibly beautiful and precious. But not everyone sees it. We know that. It became crystal clear that the guests we would really like to attract are those interested in exploring what they can learn from this type of living and from the new skills that we’re learning everyday. There are hundreds of other retreats in the world where those not so interested can get the pampering they feel more comfortable with. Don’t mistake me. We’ll do luxurious too. But in a new way. One which nourishes our souls and connects us to the deeper rhythms of life. Again, watch this space.

And so to St Pedro de Moel. A little town on the coast of Portugal near Leiria between Lisbon and Coimbra. We were invited there last weekend by the one and only Raquel to spend a few days with her Mum and good friends Rosarinho, Rita, Duarte, Alice & Nelsa +++. These guys had spent many of their childhood summers growing up with each other in this most magical of resorts. Set in thousands of acres of breathtakingly splendid Pine forests, with its own Lighthouse (a possible contender for Raquel's Zion name one day) and quaint seaside town streets, promenades, cafés and bars, families return year after year to reconnect to the place and to each other, play all day in the sea and all night in the clubs. Thanks Raquel. Now we know why your heart always smiles at only the mention of the name St Pedro de Moel. We’ll be back.

Alice & Nelsa singing a few Brazilian numbers in Bambi, the coolest bar in St Pedro de Moel

That’s all for now as my Mum and Dad arrived yesterday from London so we’re off to spend the evening with them. I'll fill you in on how they get on and do a renovations update in the next episode. I'd like to leave you with this photo of one of the many public fountains in our local city of Castelo Branco where there's a water garden and sculptural park that's featured in the very recently published "Gardens of Portugal" book. A book in which one day I hope our Zion gardens will be featured in too.