Monday, 26 November 2007

Oleiros the Party Town

Before I put you in the picture on the subject of partying, let me prattle on about the weather here; because I’m English and it’s my birth right to talk about it. Apart from a couple of days in November, every day has been gloriously sunny with brilliant blue skies. Although the midday temperatures range from 15 to 22, and even yesterday shirts were off in the heat of it, the nights are a different story. Without the clouds to trap the heat, just like in the desert, it drops to well below freezing. Minus 8 the coldest so far. We’ve also had rain for the first time in 2 months, which has swelled the rivers and brooks, raising the volume a notch from the cascading waterfalls, especially the little ones bordering Móses.

Autumn has well and truly kicked in, transforming fragments of the landscape into beautiful shades of golds, oranges, coppers and rubies. The leaves of the deciduous trees, found sprinkled along these rolling hills, are turning through their spectrum of colours before dropping to kindly enrich the earth for the following spring. However, the majority of trees are pine and eucalyptus that in contrast drop nothing, give nothing, only take. Their prevalence creates a forestry monoculture, which people say, was one of the major reasons why the devastating fires of 2003 and 2005 spread so quickly and unbridled through most of Central Portugal. So when you catch a glimpse of the autumnal trees they convey something much more significant than simply a picturesque rural scene. Their dying leaves are a beacon of hope, albeit a melancholic one. As the rising winds whistle through stirring the branches you can almost hear their cry before the long winter sleep, “We are here. Do not forget us. Do not let us be ousted by the eucalyptus and their insatiable thirst. Stand with us. Protect us and we will surely protect you.”

Moses, of course, has been in his element. Pile driving himself recklessly through the mounting heaps of leaves and at high speed along the rivers’ edges frequently daring little forays into the frosty waters. One happy dog. While he’s been playing, we’ve all been working hard clearing out (“limpar”) the junk and the old clothes left in the houses. I bought a chainsaw (most cool), and also borrowed a truly rapid, ferociously bladed, gas fuelled, professional strimmer. We have begun the gigantean task of chopping down any erroneous trees and clearing (also “limpar”) the shrubs and bushes from the forest. Consequently, we’ve been able to open up some old paths and discovered yet more beautiful areas on and adjacent to our land. The enchanting water pools in these photos are carved out of granite and unexpectedly hidden at the bottom of two pretty valleys. They are surrounded by overgrown but superbly crafted old stone terrace walkways that appear not to have been in use for decades. Astonishing really that we still keep finding more on this little patch of land. I’m sure Von will tell you the magical tale of how she came upon them in her piece.

Farewell and thanks a million
to the magnificent Mosiemobile

It’s been 2 months since we stopped travelling on our European tour and have been residing in the village of Amieira. We bought ourselves a fairly knackered 10 year old 4 x 4 for the frequent journeys up and down the dirt track to Mos. We were able to park the Mosiemobile permanently outside the old café by the entrance road to the village. The thing about motorhomes is that they’re cool for travelling around. You drive to a new town, jump out, explore, come back, cook, wash and sleep. Sweet. But to live in it every day, in the same place, without moving is not really what they’re made for. You can read between the lines here, but as a stationery house it just became a tad too small. Then when Michelle arrived from Italy on the 9th November, and we became 6 in the Mosiemobile (cos it was way too cold for her to continue bunking down in her new house without heat, light, water or electricity although she tried valiantly for a week), it kind of precipitated a conversation with Von that went a little bit like this. “Andrew, we’re renting a house.”

So last Saturday night we asked Sara if she knew of anywhere available. 15 minutes later we were standing in a large detached 3 bedroom house with huge garden, big open fire in the lounge, next to an old bridge down by the river in Oleiros and were agreeing terms of 270 Euros a month, with Angelica, the mother of the lifeguard that works with Sara at the swimming pool. Touch.

The Mosiemobile, is now cleared of all previous contents (you would not believe how much stuff we’d managed to cram into that vehicle – took us 2 days to empty it) and is parked alongside the house waiting for its final journey with us to London next week. It’s a little sad in a way to look at it just sitting there all alone. Parked. Abandoned. Cos for 8 months it was our home. On the Poop In Europe tour our environment changed daily, but the Mosiemobile was the one thing that remained constant. Always there when we needed it. Always hospitable, kitchens open 24/7. Obligingly turned itself into a night club once on the way home from that Bread Festival in Tuscany. Never once complained even when it was woken early to run away from a few dodgy predicaments we got ourselves into. Never grumbled even when it was always just slightly wider than the average Italian street. “Thank you Mosiemobile. Without you none of this would have been possible. We will always love you. But now we’ve reached the end of an era; please forgive us we have to move back into a house.” A house we will be renting probably with Michelle, "Tom and Jerry" til at least next October when the work on our houses should all be complete. So when you visit us next year, forget the tents and roughing it. Hot showers and beds await you.

Hermitdom? Au contraire monsieurs.As you know by now, our quest was to find tranquillity away from the hustle of working life in the city. But Oleiros is a busy little place. Surprisingly so. For the past 3 weeks we’ve been out almost every night. Til 1,2 even 3 in the morning. Either at people’s houses for scrumptious local cuisine. Or at a few “magustos” where at this time of year the Portuguese bake chestnuts in bonfires, drink and eat vast quantities of vinho, meat and cod fish and dance a wee bit too (the one in the picture was organised by the dance society in Oleiros even had fireworks). Or the most common place you’ll find us is in a cool bar where all the young things hang out (and kindly let us share it with them) called Calado (meaning “Shut Up” in Portuguese). Anyway, all way too late for me at my age. Way too much socialising. I don’t think I went out this much even at Uni.

We have, as a result of all this partying, made lots of new friends. Really really lovely people. I thought you might like to be introduced. So here they are. The cast of Oleiros - at least the ones we’ve had the pleasure of fraternising with so far.

The Party Cast
Sara Nunes. Yoga teacher. Works at local swimming pool. Just like the cadbury’s bunny but without the ears. Just got engaged last week to Antonio. We’re throwing them a party at our new pad next Friday.

Belita the English Teacher who is kind and generous, and who although overstretched at school (same the world over) has consistently made time for us and the children. She’s even negotiated with the school that the kids can come to her Year 5 English classes this week.

Raquel, a whirlwind of energy and drive in her quest to save the planet by protecting the land in Portugal, by introducing new ZIFs (forestry copperatives), by evangelising the world about the potential of a small bush called Medronio (from which they make the potent cocktail Aguardente). She oozes warmth and sunshine, and can speak English so well and so fast we have to tell her to slow down just so we can understand it!

To’ and Monica. To’ works with and lives in the same apartment as Raquel. His sense of humour is pretty dry. He wore his England jumper the day after England were knocked out of Euro 2008 just to kindly remind me. Monica, his girlfriend, is another English teacher and keeps To’ to heal most of the time.

Pedro, Sara’s younger 26 year old brother that runs the Calado bar. A returnee from Lisbon who’s proved lots of fun to be with already and has given me the low down on a few of the essentials about life in Portugal.

Umberto. Is worth his weight in gold with his invaluable tip off that protective fathers here check the school registers each year to see which boys are the ones performing badly and so need to be kept along way from their daughters. Good thinking. He’ll also be the potato and wine supplier for the party on Friday.

Anita and her kids Joao and Soria. Returnees from France, Anita lives in a beautiful house that we were delighted to learn was designed by the architect we’ve hired, Filipe. Dinners happen regularly there. Joao is 13 and has taught the kids how to play the card game Trinca. Anita and I are negotiating terms for Eloise’s dowry. I’ve suggested she pay 20000 goats as minimum first instalment.

Barbara and Jared we met yesterday. Barbara is a Portuguese friend of Mike Love in Leeds, who suggested we should meet if we ever went to Portugal as he knew she was doing a cool community thing with the land. But we lost her contact details after the Bilbao job and so it was another incredible coincidence to find that her place is only an hour’s drive away the other side of the mountain near Fundao. Jared, from North Carolina, is staying with her for the winter. Lovely lovely lovely people. I am sure we will spend a lot more time together next year.

And there are more that Von or I will have to tell you about later. The delightful Carlos and Theresa, Sophia from the Pool, Marinalva the nurse from Brasil who first introduced us to Sara, and many many more including Ines, Ines and Ines!

So I’m unexpectedly knackered and in need of a holiday to recuperate. We head back for London in a fortnight. But not before we sign ownership papers on Monday December 3rd. Hopefully submit our plans for our houses to the council on the 4th. Go for another dinner Tuesday night at Anita’s (their Christmas one cos we’re leaving early – bless). Kids jump on a plane from Lisbon with Michelle the next day on the 5th. And Von and I drive Moses in the Mosiemobile back via Madrid, Barcelona, and then through France for its last journey with us before we sell it on our return for my Dad’s 70th on the 15th. Phew!

The recently erected Christmas lights in party town look way better than the ones in Oxford Street last year. We’ve heard they switch ‘em on around December 1st (photos when they do, promise.) Although we’ll miss this festive season in Oleiros, we’re already looking forward to spending the next one here. I suspect it will be the first of very very many. In so many ways, this place and its wonderful people have made us feel completely at home here. And so it has become. Our home.