Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The colour green

School’s out. The kids and I finished term on Friday. Our final week was spent here all by ourselves as Von has popped over to the UK to build tipis with Ian and Merle at Glastonbury. Missing her terribly. But surviving. She is the air we breathe.

In that final week, apart from all the pining obviously, Josh and Eli got their marks from their exams. Both got A’s. National Exams are only in Portuguese and Maths for their years, but twas still an absolutely awesome achievement (note the alliteration in A’s) for the first year in Portugal. Only 1 other pupil in each of their year groups got 2 A’s, so they weren’t easy papers. How proud? Academic achievement isn’t everything in life but they love it and are flying. Both looking forward to being in new parts of their school next year. Eli in the second ciclo (Year 5) and Josh in the third (Year 7). But for now, we have begun the 3 month summer holiday til the middle of September and are busying ourselves pottering around the house and garden, beginning my Portuguese lessons from the kids and swimming as often as possible in various rivers to cool off from the 40 degree sun. Boy it’s been hot.

Today we took Moses for a dip in the River Zezere and the kids swam to the other side and back all by themselves. It’s a big full wide river at the moment and although we have swum it a few times together it took a fair bit of courage to do it on their own. Nice one kids. Anyway, while we were there today, I noticed, probably for the first time, how utterly green the surrounding landscape is. Not just one green either. A myriad of greens. The mass of emerald of the deep slow moving wind rippled river. The dark established, near silhouettes, of the pines and eucalyptus against that perfect blue Portuguese sky. The occasional olive trees with their silvery leaves sprinkled sporadically on the higher parts of the steep folding hills nearer the villages. The golden yellowy mottled foliage of the mato or bush of the forest shrubs. And where the forest stops and the river banks begin, there’s a series of clearly demarked variations aligned in stripes of pea green with vivid bright, almost lime green of young meadow like growth on the banks.

Words just don’t do justice to the spectacle I'm afraid. Nor do photos or videos. It could be painted I guess. Although the experience is one of being surrounded on all sides, above you and below. Yet the most surprising thing for me is that I discerned the greenness of it all in the first place. Remarkable actually. Seeing as I’m colour blind. Mainly in the spectrum of greens oddly enough. So for those of you with non dysfunctional sight, it must be an even more impressive breath-taking display from good old mother nature. Gawd bless her.

On the way back from our afternoon splash, we stopped off at our favourite café. Laurinda’s.

Laurinda’s Café in Abitureira

As you know, many of our neighbours are getting on a bit. And as such, they carry a wealth of knowledge and insight that they are gladly passing on to us, green as we are (sorry, had to keep the topic alive somehow) when we need it. But more interesting than what they can teach us, are the people themselves. Real characters. They’ve seen a thing or two. Sometimes, in our chats over a coffee in their houses, or in a stop off for a quick chinwag in the villages, or longer ones over wine in their adegas, or even longer ones like on our fishing trip to Proenca yesterday (where by the way, Eloise caught over 30 fish, more than a kilo, single handedly – Josh would point out here that he’d have caught more but for the fact that he was at a sleep over at a mate’s house) it feels like there would be some pretty interesting books or screenplays that could be written about the drama of their lives over the years.

The variety of interconnectedness in their families, their work at home and abroad, all lived through the changing Portuguese political dictatorships, revolutions, and wider European, African and other historical conflicts, evoke a mysterious realm outside of our own inculcated cultural understanding and experience.

Our arrival here in the midst of them is just another saga to add to their own rich heritage of existence. We are a phenomenon. The English family choosing to move into their neighbourhood (or more accurately, their forest), while their own offspring have chosen to live far, often very far away. To us they are fascinating, intriguing and alluring. And nice. As I expect we might be to them. Although it is not our differences that warrant any specific mention. Our similarities seem to be the underlying force at play here. Our desire to learn from their ways, learn their language and customs. Our predisposition to converse and to help whenever we’re asked, whenever we can. Our passion (well Von’s actually) for growing vegetables and flowers and all things green (sorry couldn’t resist, won’t mention it again, carry on).

One of these cherished neighbours of ours is Laurinda. And as I just mentioned she runs one of the 2 cafés in the nearby village of Abitureira. Laurinda is 72, sprightly with pretty twinkly eyes and an elegant demeanour. Vonnie says, she would be well happy if she could develop even half the gardening skills and energy that Laurinda seems to have. Her husband, 91, is as you’d expect, quite deaf. But instead of shouting to him, she relays the nature of our conversations, when they concern him, by leaning into his vicinity and tenderly whispering into his oversized ears. “Too sweet” as the Bajans say.

Laurinda’s café probably hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years or so. And as such, is a den of quite charming disposition. We visit her weekly, sometimes more often, since she is also our nearest grocery store, where we buy emergency supplies of milk, juice, tinned food, meat or fish from her freezer, or toilet roll to go along with the obligatory coffee and more often than not, a glass of their home made sweet sloe gin beverage known here as Ginginha. But each time we go in, as those who have visited her café with us will remember, the joy of the experience is in the conversations. Each coffee / shopping trip usually lasts at least half an hour, sometimes twice as long, depending on what we find ourselves talking about. She is always so excited and enthusiastic when we take the kids, and when we take our visitors too, especially when they have babies.

There are no babies in her village now. There are no children either. In fact, the youngest resident must be in her late fifties. It’s a shame as she has recalled many fond memories of Abitureira being full of kids and family life. Even had its own school at one time not so long back. Now bereft, she lavishes her affection on our two, and on us as well. It’s an experience to be savoured and one we’ll miss tremendously when the day inevitably comes for her to no longer run it anymore. But while she is, we relish it. And her. Gawd bless her.

Loads else has happened since our last blog entry including another wonderful joint 30th birthday party for Francisco and Raquel (8 months preggers and looking fabulous) at their place down in Gafete, plus the rather posh and extravagant wedding of Pedro and Inês (they own the bar Calado and run the campsite) with 420 people, was a big one. But nothing more on the restoration work on our other houses. Portuguese builders. Gawd bless ‘em.

This week I’m doing teachers’ meetings at the school where I’m having to write reports on each child in Portuguese. It’s stretching me. And that can only be a good thing. Josh is being terrific in making corrections. Looking forward to a summer of improving the lingo with him and Eli.

Von arrives next week and I’ll be able to breathe once again.

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