Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anniversarying with the King of the Swingers

One day, back in the life of the jungle, many animals lived together, some in blissful harmony, others engaged constantly in the fight to stay alive. One special animal grew up there and managed to discover the secret to life. And shared it with everyone he met with generosity of heart, humour and a cascading backdrop of monkey music. His secret was simply to enjoy the bare necessities. His name, of course, was Balloo.

Last year, and joyously again this month, we’ve had the great privilege to meet and hang out with Balloo in person, reincarnated in the form of a man from Hereford and his most cool mate and tribe currently holidaying in the nearby abandoned village of Eiro do Miguel over the mountain on the slopes of the Rio Zezere. His human name is Ian Huntingdon, his mate is the inimitable and gorgeous Merla, their two stunning daughters are Evie (12) and Anna (18), Anna’s perfect beau Oli (21), and an old friend of the family, Roger (age and origin unknown).

It was our 14th wedding anniversary on Wednesday. To celebrate, the Winter clan took a long weekend trip to Lisbon with the tribe of Balloo, the King of the Swingers. The 10 of us camped in Monsanto park 15 minutes ride from the centre of the city. Had dinner in one of the quirky old café restaurants in the heart of Lisbon’s Fado district made memorable for the moment when the owner, shortly after taking our orders for fish of the day, strolled over and pulled out of the boot of his old Mercedes, a sack of freshly bought, and probably caught, fish to cook, along with veggies and the eggs for dessert. We climbed and wandered through the capital’s charming streets lined with once grand now slightly dishevelled, tall old stone framed houses dripping with the past and present tapestries of a culturally rich Lisbon: centuries old wobbly limestone cobbled streets; colour filled walls occasionally splashed with sections of those typically Portuguese hand painted tiles; antique black railinged window verandas, from which residents’ laundry hangs cheek by jowel with large canvasses beautifully illustrated with an eclectic mix of sketches and paintings for the latest public art exhibition.

For the weekend’s finale, Ian and Merle arranged a surprise gift for their tribe to thank them all for their previous fortnight of hard labour clearing the land in Eiro do Miguel – tickets to see the Thievery Corporation at the Coliseu. They invited us to join them and what an experience it turned out to be, especially cos it was the first big gig for Josh and Eli, who watched the spectacle of the audience as much as they did the musicians, drummers, singers, rappers and dancers on stage. A most cool way to finish celebrating our 14 year heavenly journey of a marriage dripping with love, romance, adventure and family.

Thank you Balloo and crew. And thank you Lisbon. There’s only one Lisboa. And it’s awesome that this weekend it’s felt that it’s become ours. Our Lisboa. We’ll meet again soon.

Restoration Update: In the pursuit of beauty...

Back at the Moses ranch, River and I have been in full flow, rendering, solving problems, mending, fixing, restoring, more rendering, waiting for wood and materials to arrive, choosing the appropriate heating and water systems to buy, more rendering, but surrounding all of it, is the magic of being able to use our energy and imagination to create. We are so thankful we’ve been given the chance to do this thing with our own hands. These last 2 weeks we’ve been able to move beyond the purely functional tasks to embrace a far more creative process that imprints our own stamp on the function. Using our hands to sculpt the plastering on the walls and over the bedrock, to carve the eucalyptus beam we chain sawed, planed, sanded and heaved into position to support the bedroom floor, to select the prettiest slate lintels for remaking the doorway of the old clay bread oven, and to roll huge boulders into place for the borders of a water channel gutter at the back of the house. It’s just one big art attack (for those of you who’ve ever watched kiddies TV). We are hand sculpting our house and filling it full with romance and love along the way.

As you can tell we’re feeling all loved up at the moment. Not enough time to tell you even half the stories happening here. Just know it is rich. As Merle says, “dripping” with the gorgeousness and fullness of life. School, shopping, building, friends, neighbours, dinners, coffees, passing chats, even the drives and walks to and from these things. Everywhere you look, every landscape you stumble across, every task necessary, every problem solved, every single moment is a an experience to be cherished and treasured because it will never be experienced in that particular way again. Just like the enchanting, colourful, historic and steep streets of Lisbon, we are the tapestry upon which something magnificent and unique is being woven.

And did I mention the sun is still shining hot here? No? Desculpe. It is. Just the icing, or the cherry, or the cream, or all of it on the whole home baked wedding anniversary cake of a life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Learning Portuguese ‘The Easy Way’ - by Josh

Hello, Óla, Ciao, Hola, Bonjúr and any other ‘hi’s’ that I’ve missed out just started school and going on overload with the amount of Portuguese going in and not coming out of my head decided to make a little space and write down whats been happening down here in the Floresta das Pinheiras (forest of the pines).

School at Escola Básica e Segundária Padre António de Andrade has been tiring but fun. We’ve been taking the carinha (minibus) at 8:00; starting school at 9:00; getting a fifteen minute break at 10:45 to get a snack from the school bar; eating lunch at 13:00; starting lessons again at 14:15; doing more lessons until 15:45 then we stop lessons for the day and go home at 17:30.

I’ve learnt so much already after just a week (some things I'm not aloud to write on the internet) but funnily enough I don’t know what it is that I’ve learnt. After 15:45 I do some of my T.P.C (trabalho para casa (work for home)) with my colegas in the biblioteca (library) (surprisingly I haven’t had much T.P.C this last week only homework for Ciências Das Naturezas (Biology) and PLNM (for me only: extra Portuguese) and matemática (for those of you who aren’t English its mathematics).

School (dare I say it) is great. Ellie is in the Quarto (4º (4th)) ano and I'm in the Sexto (6º (6th)) ano. I’ve only got twelve people in my class (6 boys 6 girls) 5 are 12 and the rest are 11. Some subjects (like maths) I’ve done 2 years ago and others (like biology) are new things to me.

This last week pai e mãe have been working on Moses to get it ready for moving in before Natal (Christmas). Just now (its 20:07) we got electricidade (electricity) down there from a guy called Lucas who works at the school as well as being an electrician. We’ve got a temporary kitchen and the wood for the telhado (roof) and the chão (floor) of our walkway.

During the feiras (holidays) I was getting more and more nervous everyday but now I’ve started I don’t know why. Probably because I didn’t know Portuguese I didn’t know anything about the subjects or the putos in my class. We went to São Pedro de Moel on the coast and we had loads of people come (6: Caroline, Jon, Maya, violet, grandma & Papops) and basically just chilled out for 3 months.

The last time I went to school was 18 months ago and the time I had with my parents was one of the best times of my life and to give that up is always very difficult but things never last forever and it was time to leave that behind and learn Portuguese.

At this moment in time it is 20:51 20 de Septembro de 2008, Mother is moaning that she wants to go to bed while laughing her head off and saying she’s tired while messing about and saying things like Ellie and Josh can put up a stand in Oleiros with rent-a-goat; Ellie’s being a smart-arse and saying things at random like driving a 4x4 golf cart around the place and about horses eating our houses and donkeys sleeping with dad in bed; dad is lying in bed being as quiet as possible; Angel’s sleeping thinking what idiots we are; Moses is lying outside sleeping in the rain for begging; Slinky is either lying in my bed or playing in the rain; Daffy & Dodo the Delicious Duo of Dumbo Duck Dudes are sleeping in the chicken shed; and I'm writing this. And at this moment in time it is 21:05 and Joshua Krystian Maffezzoni Winter nº8 (number 8) turma B (class B) ano 6º (year 6) is going to bed. Boa Noite!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dragonfly Passing Through - by River

“Wherever the River flows, life will flourish…Where the River flows life abounds…the River itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won't wither, the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”

Ezekiel 47 : 8 – 12 mais ou menos

Thanks Shanti B this one has gotten me through some tough times here in Our Zion.

But the last month has been fabulous why? Cause I have finally figured out all I have to do in this place is just flow. Keep on flowing River.

Memphis and I moved here for so many reasons with so many hopes and dreams and many of them seemed to be coming to pass. But the biggest one of all had not yet happened. Falcon Bear and Effie Starlight had not yet started school. School was more or less a topic avoided as I don’t think any of us dared express our hopes about how it could be. I think this lack of resolution encouraged me to see this as an extended holiday that I could (however difficult it maybe) walk away from if Falcon and Starlight weren’t happy at school. Big tension!

I think we may have been able to continue home schooling if we were in England where the children could still have easy access to other relationships and clubs and so forth. But here, the only way to make relationships with other children is at school.

Well! It has been four weeks at school and I could never claim to speak for Starlight and Falcon’s internal feelings but from what I have heard from them and what I have seen, school has been a little bit of what we all hoped for and therefore a wonderful thing to have happened in our lives.

Falcon I think wanted to find like minded boys to hang out with. So far he seems to have found boys who want to talk about sport. Be willing to listen to him and think about the importance of being kind to even the smallest creatures. He also wants to be around boys who have ambitions and want to talk about going to University and they have even been talking about going together since one wants to be an architect and the other two want to be photographers. And he has found that: a sense of place, companionship and people who show the desire to learn.

Starlight I think wants to be able to express her individuality. She is not afraid to be her own person and I think she wants to be recognised for having the special tender accepting love of life that she has. She had that recognition in her early school life in London and I think being her own person and being recognised as that is important to Starlight. It helps her feel safe to shine. And she is shining. She is often the first one to get ready for school in the morning and walk up the hill. She gets her stuff ready the night before. Goes to bed without messing around too much and is ready for her day. I remember Andy and I constantly saying to the kids “Just get up and get ready for your day and then you will be ready for whatever it brings. “ But she never listened and now she is doing it all on her own. She is fabulous.

I think Memphis, Big Daddy Penguin as he is, wants the children to be able to stay children a little bit longer and just enjoy the process of growing up and learning to take responsibility for themselves. Watching them walk up that hill every morning at a quarter to eight, we can see they are well on their way.

For me, I want the kids to want to learn. To learn from everything and everyone. To be around us enough to want to learn from us. To be with other people fuelled up by taking learning seriously and enjoying it. But I also want them to be safe, not safe from bad days and low times and from generally feeling pissed off and frustrated, those times come to us all. But safe from the separateness that is so much a part of life in London. I want them to feel deeply connected to the Earth around them and everything in it. I also want them to still be willing to fly free of everything and work it out for themselves a lesson I think they will retain from their life as city folks. All this learning and experiencing requires a lot of great people in your life. Your family, your extended family, your families’ friends, your teachers, your peers. It’s easier if the majority of these people are good people, willing to give you some of their time, willing to be themselves with you and willing to teach you. That is what I had when I was growing up and I want that for my kids. They had some of that too in the Metropolis and now they can have a different experience of good people here to help teach them about this time in their life.

In many ways I jus couldn’t get stuck into our home at Moses until I had seen that my children were safe at school. But now Memphis and I are putting down roots. It has been great!

We have been working together alone for the last four weeks and so at first we were really scared without Sunshine or someone else who had actually done this before. We also wanted to do it ourselves, a confidence that we would not have had without Sunshine’s help and for which I am truly thankful.

But alone we were, so we looked at each, sat down and just looked at our home, alone and ready to begin. Memphis looked at me and said, “Ready to begin River” and I looked at him and said “Let’s go Memphis”. I think the names help, its like watching a story unfold. Andy and Von are fairly set as who they are but Memphis and River are highly adaptable new beings who would know how to tackle any situation. The good thing about having been here without building the house for so long, is that we have spent a lot of time doing research on just about everything to do with house building. While we were demolishing parts of the three houses and also visiting hoards of other local derelict buildings, we were able see how these old houses were originally put together, piece by piece. So that’s what we are doing with the first house, rebuilding it section by section.

In the last two weeks we have had a great deal of encouragement and advice from our neighbours, and a special thanks has to go out to some people who have come and really gave us a boost; Senior Lucas for sorting out our electricity so smoothly. Senior Julio and the bore hole guys who drove up in their fantastic 1950's van and just dug the bore hole in a day, gave us lunch and shared their wine with us. Finally, our architect, Phillipe, I am gives am always so relieved now to see him walking down that hill. He is mostly quiet, listens beautifully, gives us things to think about that we never would have and usually leaves us one piece of style advice. This style advice is the best, it reminds me that these stones, clay, straw, sand and lime are coming together to form a building, so keep your eye on the big picture. I find myself working harder now wanting to have something for us to show him so he can test us on it. So we have the advice of some experts to help us but ultimately we are on our own.

It’s wonderful I have loved it so far. We have hiked up and down our land looking for Eucalyptus to cut, skin and lay as beams. We have sifted huge sacks of clay from our land and hauled them down the hill on our backs and than hiked up again. We have carried hundreds of planks of wood down the hill and up the stairs and round the corner and careful you don’t bash into the god knows how old terrace. We have lugged stones and laid stones and cut ourselves on stones. We have hauled sacks of cal (lime) and barrows of sand down the hill only to carry it up the stairs in heavy black buckets. We have been made cold by the wind, wet by the rain, overly hot by the sun. We have assembled all these materials and made all this effort to create a room that will be our bathroom, a ground floor that will be the kitchen and Moroccan lounge, and today I have been digging trenches and laying stones to create what will be our water channel around the house while Andy has been building a stone box for new bore hole. And we are doing it, and I am loving it.

Sure I get really tired and fed up but the occasions are so fleeting and that verse my friend Shanti B gave me has really been an encouragement. My hubby is happy, my kids are happy and I am happy all I have to do is keep flowing like a River. Keep moving with life, keep accepting, keep shifting, keep being in the flow and just work at it bit by bit step by step, Shanti Shanti whatever it brings.

We have had one sad occasion this month, our lovely friend Raquel (here with her Mom at her leaving do last week) has finally left Oleiros to work nearer Lisbon. I am happy for her the work sounds exciting and she can now live in her home in Abrantes and who knows what she will do with all that time that was taken up driving to Oleiros every weekend! But, I am also sorry for too for our little slice of heaven is less brighter without her here. Fortunately Abrantes is only maybe 45 mins away, virtually neighbours in these parts, so whether Francisco and Raquel like it or not we will be making a point of visiting.

At the moment there are the most enormous dragonflies everywhere (yes this is a butterfly because we dont have any pictures of the dragon variety). They seem to perfectly match their surroundings and sparkle them up a bit. There is sky blue, sunshine yellow and grass green ones. I don’t know if Hari’s House is in their flight path but I have seen them quite a lot here. I have seen them at Cocoa’s new house, at Eugenia and João’s, outside our house at Moses, at the school, at our neighbour´s Steve and the list could go on. They are beautiful and where ever I am I have to stop and look at them. I am learning that every now and again, you have to stop whatever you are doing or saying and just watch as the dragonfly passes through. Inside our homes for a spell and then out. Off to see the world.

Digging for water

First thing to say is that Falcon and River have written great blogs. But as usual it takes a while for them to choose their photos and upload them. Josh however has an excuse. He is working well hard at school learning Portuguese at an alarmingly rapid pace. 3 weeks in and both he and Eloise are doing fantastically well their and really enjoying the whole experience. They leave before it’s light and return at 6.30 in the evening still full of life but can only really manage to eat, tell us the stories of their day and then go to bed. Anyway, watch this space, their contributions are coming shortly.

So what’s new? We have a bore hole. 93 metres deep and apparently with loads of water in it. A few weeks ago an old guy from Oleiros, senior Julio, came along to find the best place on our land to dig for water. Good old divination. But instead of a forked branch, he used a metal measuring tape, held so that it formed a stiff triangle in the air. When he walked over a line of water the tape just folded down, then rose again 2 paces later. He did this for an hour or so in various places until he informed us that we have 3 good sources of water underground. We chose the highest point to give us the most number of uses for water – good pressure for our drinking and showering water in all the houses 40 to 50 metres below, as well as a source for all the irrigation and emergency watering systems we want to build. So much easier to start with your primary origin of water at the top – no fussing with pumps and electricity, except to bring it out of the ground then let gravity do the rest.

When Sr Julio bought his mates along on Monday, it was a trifle odd, cos their lorries and machinery could have come straight out of the 1930’s. The 2 videos below show what I mean and also our excitement at the moment the water started spouting into the air, proving the old diviner was bang on. He better have been, cos the ‘no water, no fee’ deal was pretty reassuring.

Der’s sure gotta be oil in dem hills…

Now all we need to do is work out where to run all the pipes to, then employ our trusted local electrician, Sr Lucas, who also works at the school, to sort out the best pump and automatic system to install. Will fill you in when we have any idea what we are doing. Although today I built a cute little stone box around the top of the bore hole, like the ones you see around the top of a well. My first walls constructed in stone. Felt terrific. Gathering long heavy pieces of slate scattered around the place (mined from the road and terrace building work in July) driving them to the top in our jeep, laying them out as 4 dry walls around the top of the bore hole where the tube sticks out of the ground and the old guys screwed a paint can to the top to keep the water safe, then mixing a lime, straw and river sand grout in the cement mixer next to the house right at the bottom where there’s electricity and having to carry 5 enormously heavy buckets of the stuff back up to the top again to secure the structure with a minimal render inside and out of the walls. Took me most of the day and now I am knackered. Yet most satisfying.

A beautiful by product of the bore holing is we now have loads of slate dust. Dark bluey grey metallicy slate dust. A perfect material to add to our lime floors to tie in the slate outside with exactly the same colour for the floors at the bottom of the house. We did a test mix yesterday and laid it in a corner next to the exposed bed rock. It’s a sumptuously gorgeous colour and we’re really looking forward to laying it once the final coat of earthen plaster goes on the walls. Will show pictures soon.

Last bit of news is that Josh and I have played another couple of games of cricket against touring English sides. He is now regularly getting wickets when he bowls and loving the thrill of it all. Last week we had the chance to bat together and even managed to be there at the end of the innings, not out. This time though we have proof thanks to one of the tourists. Cheers Tony.

Well that’s all for now folks. Leave a comment or two and let us know how life is treating you all. Night night. I will leave you with this pic of Laurinda who runs the cafe in neighbouring Abitueira, picking us a bunch of ginormous grapes from her back yard. Sweet.