Liberation Can Find You at Any Age (2)
The three of us loved this abandoned granite ruin on first sight; one of its walls had tumbled down, and the 1.3 hectares, or 3.2 acres, of terraced land, was so thick with vegetation that we could not walk through it all. Heaven!
Huw, Caladon and I have returned from our second scouting expedition to Portugal in March, four years after our first. We flew to Lisboa and drove three hours east toward the town of Oliveira do Hospital. One week and 12 properties later, we have not found the perfect place, but we have found two almost perfect ones.
While we looked, we encountered the kindness and generosity of the Portuguese.
We arranged to meet an owner's representative at the house we were to view. Seeing that it was the former bakery, we thought that it would be easy to find, but we were wrong. We drove in and out of the village several times before asking several villagers who were talking at the side of the road. When I gave the name of the house, Villa do Sol, or House of the Sun, it was received with blank stares. When I said "padaria," or bakery, one man's face lit up with recognition. He told us to follow him, and he drove us near the house. He stopped, got out and explained that it had a very narrow driveway. He pointed out the house, and we thanked him.
During the week, we met with an English property specialist, Diane Colby of Aquarios (www.aquarios.co.uk), who has been living in Portugal for 12 years. When we met her at a cafe in Coja, we thought, to show us two properties, she said that she had seven to show us! Over a bica, or expresso, for Huw, cafe com leite, or white coffee for me, and a galao, or steamed milk stained with coffee for Caladon, we whittled down the list. After all, we were looking at property within a 20-mile radius. Driving around Beiras Alta takes time because of the many winding roads. They are beautiful drives, looking down on the sinuous Mondego River and thick forests, and past granite boulders that could be giants turned into stone. But we had only one week before Caladon returned to school.
We decided on three properties, but we would stop at one where Diane needed to pick up documents. We arrived around 12:30 p.m. at the well-cultivated terraced farm situated on a steep slope near the River Avo. "Have something to eat," said the older couple to the five of us, as Diane's nine-year-old son was with us, too. Two, three, four times, they asked us. They were not just being polite; they were being kind. The woman lifted the cover off the black pot that was cooking outside. "Feijoada," she said. An aromatic white bean and sausage stew. Diane, who is a vegetarian, refused the food, and we followed her example as it was her business visit.
Then, we refused the man's offer of something to drink. As we drove off, we saw the couple and the young shepherd eating their lunch.
We stayed in a cottage built from a stone ruin at Quinta de Sete Pocos, Farm of Seven Wells (www.pureportugalholidays.com/property/quinta-dos-sete-pocos). If you ask Caladon the best part of the week, he would say it was the three dogs there who were part Serra de Estrella, which is a local breed. The dogs were as big as little ponies and loyal. When we went out, he would be eager to return because the dogs would miss him.
This was our second trip to the Beiras mountain region of central Portugal. Four years ago, we visited shortly after putting our house on the market. At that time, we looked at ruins with the intent of building. Now, we feel the tug of time much more. Caladon is 9 now, not 5. I am 57, and Huw is 51. At this stage in our lives, four years makes a big difference. We want to be settled in a shorter period of time.
Also, we have far less money than we had budgeted years ago when the property market boomed and showed no sign of quieting. Our Cornish cottage first went on the market for £340,000 but sold for £240,000 four years later.
I admit that we came to this conclusion of wanting to settle quickly after this recent trip to Portugal, where we did see some ruins and plots of land, one on top of a mountain with a 360-degree view. On top of the world!
After this trip, we decided that we will take on one job, not two. We can move into a place with a finished house and land that needs love and attention. Or we can move to a place with well-cultivated land and build a home. We do not want to do both.
We met several people selling property or representing the owner. None were Portuguese. The agents were American, British, German and New Zealanders. The Beiras region has been discovered by foreigners looking for a place to live cheaply and, for some, self-sufficiently. To get there, we flew to the capital, Lisboa, and rented a car for the two and one-half hour drive east. It takes awhile to leave the concrete structures of urbanity, then more time to reach open spaces. Once there, however, the climb begins on sinuous highway overlooking bucolic scenes of rivers and looking up at overhanging cliffs. Leaving the highway, the drive travels through villages of houses with terracotta roofs and granite walls. When you break the speed limit of a village, the traffic light turns red and stops you.
We drove to Seixo da Beira, parked on the side of the narrow road and telephoned the owners of our rented cottage. Although Ute and Peter lived 10 minutes away, their property is at the end of an unmarked road that would be difficult to pinpoint on our own. Peter, who has lived in Portugal for 20 years, has five hectares of land on which there are three houses.
Our two-story, two-bedroom cottage was built of granite rock, not unusual for houses in this region. A wood-burning stove kept us warm downstairs in the open-plan living area. Upstairs, the bedrooms and living room gave us even more space. The self-catering house had all that we needed for our one-week stay.
Both Peter and Ute (www.sevenwellsherbs.com) helped us to evaluate properties by asking pointed questions about road access, available water, flammable eucalyptus trees and other factors.
Of the 12 properties we viewed, Huw and I were sold on 11 of them while we viewed them. Each of us finagled a way to turn disadvantages into advantages. We were much too flexible. By the end of the week, we had only two properties on the short list, each of which we rejected: one because of the house, and the other because of the house surroundings.
One of the short-listed properties was set on the edge of the village of Aldeia Formosa. It consisted of an imposing habitable manor house. Built of granite in the 1930s, it is in need of renovation. It sits on a small hectare of land that still has granite posts for grapevines set out in rows behind the house. The adega, underneath the house, and the attic are huge spaces that could be converted into separate living areas or work spaces. The attic leads out to a magnificent terrace overlooking the land and a forest beyond. A large stable block stands near the courtyard behind the wrought-iron gate. The house has its own water source: a granite culvert system provides irrigation.
The German translator showing us the house also pointed out the local primary school in the neighbouring village of Ervedal da Beira, EBI Cordinha, which she said is popular with foreigners.
However, in front of the house on the opposite side of the road stands an eyesore of a two-story modern apartment building with two vacant shops downstairs. Two bland new villas hem in the property on either side, one laid to lawn with permanent residents and the other, a holiday let. Also, it is nearby a new industrial zone, empty at the moment but which worries us for the future.
The other shortlisted place is located outside the town of Santa Comba Dao. It has only two neighbours: one, a fancy holiday let, and the other a home to be built by an English couple. Every inch of the .6 hectares of land has been cultivated by the French couple who own it. There are grapes for eating and for making wine, olive trees, orange and lemon trees, and an array of vegetables. They seem to grow everything and use everything. In the adega, on a bedspring, there were drying apples. The property has its own water. The summer kitchen was a separate building with a traditional outdoor bread oven. The unobstructed view of the winding river below us was breathtaking.
However, the cement two-bedroom house was unattractive and pokey. Huw and I kept trying to find ways to make it work by expanding it. But we have decided that so much effort means that the house is not right for us.
With regard to schools, I have not been able to find the location of many. We do not want Caladon to have an hour bus ride to school. We understand that children are bussed to school in Portugal.
Many of the British expatriates home-school their children. So, they know nothing about schools there. I asked one why she home-schools her children. She said that she wanted to be more in control of what her children learned at this time. If she were living in Britain, she would home-school them. Therefore, home-schooling was not a comment on the Portuguese educational system.
Being an American who is living in Britain, I also carry an assumption that the quality of schools can vary greatly in a small radius. I am beginning to see that this is an urban American and British attitude based, partly, on truth in both those countries.
So, we continue to troll the Internet for our home in Portugal. We have booked a return visit for two weeks in April during the Easter school break. With double the time there and our previous visit fresh in our minds, I am certain that we will find our place.
*** *** *** ***
My father’s mother’s mother was called Marguarite Lauriano. I do not know how to spell her name, but it sounds like that. She was Portuguese.
When I was young and in New York, where all of us came from somewhere else, I would describe myself as a Belizean American, which for me meant Creole, African, Spanish, Mayan Indian, “East Indian” from India, Scottish and Portuguese. I did not know quite what to do with Portugal. It was not Asian or African, but I did not see it as European. It seemed too exotic to be European. This was my bias at the time.
At university, my ethnic identification switched from blood lines to political ones. I identified myself as a black American. During those heady years of the 1970s, there was no room for ethnicity. At that time, you were either black or white.
I am embarrassed by those years, especially at Williams College, of associating with blacks only. I lost out on friendships with people. Five years after I graduated from Williams, I met someone in my class of 1976. He was living with a colleague of mine at the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He was furious that blacks had instilled segregation at Williams. I was stunned. I never thought that we were hurting people by acting in a separatist manner. Yet, what I was protesting was that very thing. It took some years and maturing to accept it. If I had been confronted at Williams, the political wall would have been too high to scale and break down. I apologised to him and explained our rationalization to him.
As a new minority, we felt the responsibility upon our shoulders to ensure that we would not be the only ones in future. As a consequence, we spent our years there fighting for ourselves and for our race. Often, the only bond among us was race; our ethnicities, religions, social classes and histories diverged greatly. We accepted a classification that seemed inescapable, one that would have denied us entrance to Williams just two years earlier. It was far easier to exclude an entire group of people in our struggle than get to know individuals. Those of us who did reach out to people outside our group were considered traitors to the cause. They were brave. I was not as strong then.
My parents did not understand my actions at all. They pointed out that we had relatives who were white and not slave masters. I had white aunts and uncles, who I knew in Belize and in the States. But I also knew of one of Daddy’s cousins, whom we had visited once in New Jersey when I was a girl. I played outside with his daughter, who was my age. We never saw them again. He begged Daddy not to come back because he and his family were passing for white. He would have had to have been very strong to resist the ignorance of his neighbours in his segregated neighbourhood. Indeed, it would have been dangerous for him.
It was far easier to draw clear lines.
Race is an artificial construct, conveniently devised to rationalize slavery.
We are not immigrating to Portugal because the mother of my grandmother, Miss Adina, was Portuguese. It is not the first thing that came to my mind when Huw and I considered Portugal. However, this fact of my heritage always hovered in the background. It feels good, solid and substantial.
*** *** *** ***
I heard the second cuckoo call in my life in Beira Alta.
The first was in the New Forest 15 years ago. An Old World bird that is vanishing in Britain, it excited me. The first I heard when Huw and I camped outside Southampton, and I felt fortunate that I heard it many times that day.
Here in Portugal, on our second house-hunting expedition this year, a cuckoo calls shortly after I wake at 7. But I hear cuckoos all over this area. They do not seem to be disappearing. When I mention them to people who live here, they shrug their shoulders in acknowledgement of their existence. Our friend, Ute, whose house we are renting, has said that she has seen a cuckoo here, her first after years of only hearing them in the mountains of Germany.
As we look at property here, I am relieved, encouraged, excited, comforted by the abundance of lichen on the trees, an indicator of the cleanliness of the air, Even if we dismiss a property for being boring, expensive or inaccessible, there is always lichen.
Huw and I loved a 4-hectare quinta, or farm, two hectares woodland and two hectares fruit orchards on wide, flat terraces. It had a derelict house and permission to rebuild it. It was located off the main road from Tabua through the narrow roads of the picturesque village of Vila do Mato, then 1.6 kilometres of dirt road to the land. It was a hidden paradise. Interestingly, the dirt road was good; it was flat and not full of gouges caused by rain. We worried more about the village traffic. To and from the land, we met up with a car and two or three behind. With parked cars in the village, it made driving awkward. Driving, frequently, could mean some hair-raising experiences. In the future, when Lisboans rediscover the beauty of the countryside or return to their home village on holiday, driving may become a logistical nightmare.
Huw and I were reminded of the Tamar Valley in Cornwall when we first moved there in 1996, nearly 20 years ago. Only one tractor and several cars passed our house in the morning. Six months ago, the tractor sounds no longer stood out among the many cars, many of which were on the school run.
We do not want to do the school run. We want to find somewhere to live where Caladon can walk to school, cycle or take the school bus. The school day, already, is eight hours, 9 to 5, two hours longer than in Britain. We do not want to further lengthen Caladon’s day with long transport time.
Also, pertinently, that 4-hectare quinta cost 100,000 euros! It was beautiful land that would cost us all our budget of 170,000 euros. This would be a potentially disastrous situation as house building, no matter where in the world, always runs over the budgeted cost.
Aside from cost and access, the third argument against the property was actually what we once categorized as an asset and that is the expanse of wood. In Britain, a wood practically cares for itself. In Portugal, in order to reduce the risk of forest fire, a wood must be maintained regularly. At least once a year, the undergrowth must be cleared away. In some districts, eucalyptus must be removed because its oil makes it a tinder box. Clearing out two hectares of woodland is a substantial job.
This time, we visited for two weeks, not one. One week after we arrived, we met with a Portuguese estate agent, Sandra Belo, who has her own agency called Serimobi (www.serimobi.pt). We wanted to see a property advertised on Pure Portugal, which is an internet clearinghouse of houses, ruins and land in Portugal, mostly central Portugal, near the rivers Mondego and Alva, and the Estrella and Caramulo mountains. Pure Portugal forwarded my email requesting a viewing to the owner who emailed me to say that he was back in the U.K. but that Sandra, who spoke English and Portuguese, could show us his property. We knew nothing else about Sandra.
We arranged to meet at Sandra’s office, which is in the administrative town of Oliveira do Hospital. Her office was easy to find. It was located in a small business complex across the road from the car park we usually use and downstairs from where we had had coffee with Peter, Ute’s partner, earlier in the week. We saw that she was, indeed, an estate agent. Sandra is a ball of energy, ideas and enthusiasm. In her 30s, she has drive. During her childhood, her family lived in Britain. So, she knows the English and Portuguese languages, and she knows the English and Portuguese people. We liked her instantly.
What do you want in a property, she asked. She had pulled the particulars of properties similar to the one we would be viewing. We explained that the requested property was a compromise; it had only one acre and was 10,000 euros more than our budget. We felt that we were running out of choice and had begun to look at finished properties with less land, more suburban properties than farming ones. We met Sandra at 10:30 in the morning and left her office at noon. We climbed into her car and viewed the house we had thought would be perfect. It was, however, one of those Internet perfect houses that do not live up to their description or photographs. I found the house lacking and the land more impressive with its 30 quality galego olive trees on flat terrain. Unfortunately, the house sits near enough the Oliveira-Tabua road that the traffic can be heard on it. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It is an intermittent sound, mind, but it is an intermittent sound. At the house, I told Sandra that I liked the olive trees and the granite slab threshing floor.
On our way back to her office, she stopped outside several properties that we could see the following Tuesday (it was Thursday). In the village, Fiais da Beira, she stopped her car on the way out and reversed to the turning she had just passed.
“Hold on,” she said, “There may be something here you find interesting.”
We drove a few hundred metres down a narrow road covered with what looked like white granite filings which resembled beach sand. She parked in a bay across the road from a three-story manor house, much like the one at Aldeia Formosa in its questionable location. We so liked that house that we still had it in our minds as a possibility. This house was located in the back of the village, not squeezed into a plot with houses on either side. There was a handsome granite wall and metal gate leading to an overgrown courtyard. We entered the adega, the downstairs where the makings of wine are stored along with other produce and animals. A tremendous granite trough for the grapes swallowed one corner below a window, specifically, for the grapes. The adega is in the original granite house of 10 x 10 metres.
Back out on the road, we walked along the house to the roofless sheep pen, which we already mentally had converted into a wet room/utility room. We walked around the house where a wall of the annex was tumbling down. I said that we could replace some of the wall with glass.
And when we turned round and faced the land, 1.3 hectares of gently sloping terrain composed of seven wide terraces with five wells, a dozen olive trees and other fruit trees, we were in awe. I saw two of the terraces bordered with granite stones as Sandra led us through a narrow passage of greenery. “This reminds me of the Romans,” Sandra said.
Yes, yes, that was it! The land looked as though it had been tilled on those terraces for as long ago as that and longer. The granite walls around the property, the granite terraces, and those narrow, almost secret, passages seemed Roman.
I had no reservations about this property; neither did Huw nor Caladon. The more we saw, the more we felt grounded and at home. Could we afford it?
“About 30,000 euros,” Sandra told us the price.
How lucky we are, we thought. We can afford to buy it and rebuild it!
*** *** *** ***
Years ago in San Francisco, I consulted Donna Parks, a psychic. It was two years after I began writing fiction.
“When will I be published,” I asked her over and over again.
She finally said that this habit of mine of hiding myself from people, this need of protecting myself was getting me nowhere near recognition. When I revealed myself in queries to literary agents and publishers, I would be revealed in black on white.
Twenty years later, I am beginning to understand those words.
I do not know where my hiding originated; I always have felt comfortable with it. Until now…
At 57, I want to show myself to others. I want to share more of myself with people, strangers and friends. Why wouldn’t I? What was this protection I sought from secrecy? I ended up losing possibilities of friends and publishers by remaining silent.
When I worked at newspapers, I did not broadcast myself as a writer. Yet, I had no hesitation in revealing my education, which was considered prestigious. It is easy to hide behind prestige. The schools I attended have their own image. The places I have lived and New York, my birthplace, again draw up images for people. It is not easy to be true. I have reasoned that most people do not want truth; they want easy.
This is not true.
I have been unfair and judgmental. I have not given most people a chance, which is wrong. And I have found that this hiding permeates, thereby poisoning, other relationships. Close ones. Over time, I have hidden from everyone, it is clear to me now. It had become the de facto way of relating to people. At first, I hid from schoolmates, then workmates but not from a select few friends and my husband.
It becomes difficult to sustain friendships when we marry and have families. It becomes easier to hide behind the image from the past, posturing or breaking communication entirely. I have done this and regretted it when I have been in need of an ear. I have felt that breaking the silence, after years, would be unacceptable to others. This is not true. It is a rationalization that allows me to keep hiding.
How has it taken me so long to realise this?
It has been buried under the laundry, school lunches and stuff of life, and the facileness of lying to myself.
In Portugal, I have met people and found myself talking about myself to them. Early on, I realised that moving to another country is an opportunity to present myself as myself.
Liberation can find you at any age.
*** *** *** ***
What are we angry about? Who are we angry at?
I remember women guests on television talk shows angry at their husbands for not knowing that they were exhausted from a day’s work at home. How could they be angry at people with whom they were not truthful?
I am a bit like that. Many women share this tendency. We assume that other people, such as husbands or partners, know what we want and are maliciously holding out on us. We, then, consider ourselves good or loyal or conscientious because we continue to do those tasks which we wish others, such as husbands or partners, to do sometimes. We do them, however, under protest, except no one knows that but ourselves. Eventually, our anger explodes to the astonishment of our family. By this time, our concerns become accusations and sputter irrationally:
“You don’t even do the washing up!”
“I do, sometimes.”
“When was the last time…?
This is not the poin,t is it? What should have been discussed, calmly and rationally, a long time ago was a reassignment of household tasks due to changes in schedules and desirability, irrespective of past assignments. We should not allow dish-washing to become emotive.
If we treat housework like work outside of the house, we would be happier with our lives.
In the 1980s, before I married and had a child, I did not imagine married life’s effect on me. I worked at the San Francisco Chronicle with mostly men and a few women, even fewer women who had children and husbands. These mothers were pioneers. I had no idea. I never considered the practicalities of children, husband and job. Now, I look back and realise what a struggle it must have been for one woman, in particular, whose lawyer/husband insisted that he could not care for their two young children as much because of his demanding job. She loved her job; she was an excellent copy editor. She had worked hard to get her position, but she always lacked confidence. Eventually, she worked part time. She and her husband may have come to a different arrangement if he knew how much her work meant to her.
I asked her once whether her husband liked his job, and she could not answer the question. Had he pigeonholed himself in the role of husband/provider/lawyer? How can decisions be made about work if neither partner knows how the other feels? So many of our decisions, still, are based on gender and gender alone.
It does seem to be a stranglehold.
*** *** *** ***
It is one week before we return to Portugal for the escritura, or signing, for our property in early June. It is exciting and nerve-wracking. There are so many details to manage while we are there. And, this time, the third visit this year, we are only there for one week during Caladon’s half-term holiday.
On this visit, the escritura is the most important task. During our last trip, six weeks ago, we engaged a lawyer, Pinto Correia, who was recommended by our friend, Peter. We met with Pinto and gave him a deposit of 100 euros for his conveyancing work. We have communicated by email with him. He has been succinct and thorough in his messages. I have asked him for a meeting before the signing so that we may read the final deed before the escritura.
Sandra, our estate agent, has been given power of attorney for the vendors, who now live in Somerset, not so far from us in Cornwall. One person signing takes away all the worry of uncooperative family members who could thwart transfer of ownership. So, we are lucky in this respect.
The current owners are an English couple who bought this property in 1994. They managed to consolidate four plots of land by buying the plot in the middle. The result is an interrupted swathe of land for the quinta. We are grateful for their foresight.
Huw and I have agreed to pay the vendors in British sterling. Payment in pounds will save them and us hundreds of pounds; they will not lose money converting euros to pounds, and we should benefit from the weak euro. All the scuttlebutt is about Greece defaulting on European loans and exiting from the euro.
Six weeks ago, paying in sterling seemed to be an awkward point. We each wanted to do it but did not know how to do it. Now, we have agreed, but we still have not received the bank details of the couple, which we need to pay them electronically via computer. So, on Monday, one week before we left, I telephoned Sandra on the telephone.
No matter how straightforward the transaction, there always seems to be a snag when purchasing property. Sandra said that she would email my message requesting bank details to the vendors.
Monday went. Tuesday came and went. Wednesday came…Huw and I talked about the possibility of contacting our lawyer. We thought that if we still had not heard from them the next day, on Thursday, we could set up a more orthodox means of payment.
Thursday morning came and went. Thursday afternoon creeped in. We still heard nothing but, somehow, we felt less willing to change our mode of purchase. Huw pointed out that we were the ones asking for the bank details early, a week before the escritura. Yes, he was right. We were asking for the details early; we wanted to do a test run by transferring one pound into the vendors’ account while we were still in Britain with easy access to our bank. To make matters more anxious, the two days before our departure on Wednesday were bank holidays due to Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, or 60 years on the throne. I cannot even remember another time in my 17 years here that there have been two consecutive bank holidays.
I felt anxious. I could feel the anxiety feeding into other aspects of our upcoming trip—what if we were not able to view the village rental property or, worse, not be able to rent it. The owners, whom I had emailed in Australia, had not agreed to rent their house to us. They had house sitters there. What if the owners were reluctant to turn out their house-sitters.
And school! We had told the school officials that we would return in late May. We had got the dates wrong of Caladon’s half-term. Now, we found ourselves going to Portugal in what was probably the final week of school before the school holidays. Even teachers and administrators would be on vacation for one month.
So, not hearing from the vendors on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday was frightening. On Thursday afternoon, despite Huw’s calm, I telephoned Sandra to ask her whether I should be worried. Coincidentally, minutes before I phoned her, the vendors, Nigel and Liz, had done the same. Things had gone quiet, they said, and they were beginning to worry. Sandra realised that her emails were being sent to the wrong address. She said that the vendor would call me in a few minutes.
Nigel did. After a pleasant and reassuring chat about the property, he sent me his bank sort code and account number. It was while I wrote this journal entry at the kitchen table, sitting on my right leg that I got up two hours later and sprained my ankle. At first, I thought that the constant throbbing pain would subside and go away. I had never sprained or broken any bones in my life.
So, Huw, Caladon and his friend, Matthew, and I sat down to tea. We each made our own pizzas on French bread. I stood and added the toppings for the first one – cheese, red bell pepper and olives. My ankle still hurt; I asked Huw to make the second for me. After the meal, the boys played “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a computer X-box game on television for 15 minutes. I retreated to the bedroom, where I extended my leg on the bed and elevated it on a pillow. I asked Huw and Caladon to walk Matthew home. The pain was increasing, not subsiding. My ankle was swelling. When Huw returned, I said, “I don’t think I can make it through the night.”
The three of us started on our way to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, 20 miles away, through twisty, narrow country roads with me in the back with my leg extended and propped up beside Huw, the driver. When we arrived at Tavistock, one of our nearest towns, Huw spotted the sign for “Minor Injury A & E”. “Do you want to try there?”
“Yes, please,” I said. Years ago, I had been in that hospital for exploratory keyhole surgery of my Fallopian tubes. It was a small, friendly hospital, where I was offered countless cups of tea. I liked it.
Huw pulled into the parking lot. He dropped me off at the marked entrance door. Then, he parked nearby. When he and Caladon joined me, we found the door locked. They walked and I hopped to another door, which we found was locked. A security guard came out of the first door and beckoned us. I hopped back there.
Once inside, I hopped into the room opposite the entrance, and the nurse on duty attended to me.
“Can you walk on your foot?”
“No,” I said. It was awfully painful.
There was lots of discussion about the implication of my answer. She would not be able to do anything if I broke something, and if I could not walk on my foot, I probably had broken something. If I had broken something, an X-ray would have to be taken. And the X-ray department closed at 5; it was past 7 now.
Finally, she motioned me to a seat. Thank God, after all that hopping and the throbbing of my ankle.
“Are you sure you can’t walk on it?”
Throb, throb. Think, Cynthia, think.
“Yes, I can.”
Right answer. Then followed an apology for the form she had to fill out. Name, address, surgery.
“How did you injure yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. I was sitting at the kitchen table writing for two hours with my leg tucked under me. I was writing, concentrating. I forgot about my leg. I forgot about everything. When I stood up, it felt like my leg had been asleep. I figured that it would recover. But when I walked, my ankle hurt.”
“You did nothing else?”
Huw jumped in at this point.
“I think that when her foot fell asleep, she probably hit it against the table and didn’t realise it.”
Still, there was a look of befuddlement on the nurse’s face. Later, Huw said that he thought that she was considering a case of domestic abuse. I thought nothing of the kind. I just wanted her to help stop the pain. Why wasn’t she looking at my foot?
Finally, she examined my ankles. Comparing one with the other, it was clear that the right one was swollen. Then, she felt around my ankle.
“Does this hurt?”
“Does this hurt?”
“Does this hurt?”
She wrapped my ankle in a compressed bandage that ended near my knee. Immediately, I felt less pain. She gave us the acronym, RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Caladon memorized this, and I obeyed it.
On Friday, Huw transferred one pound into Nigel’s account. And Nigel received it.
By Saturday, my ankle fully recovered. Good thing I had recovered because Huw caught a flu that made him feel nauseous. I took Caladon to the the Diamond Jubilee indoor picnic and circus games fete at Harrowbarrow and Metherell Village Hall. On Sunday, our friends, Rosie and Stelios, took Caladon and their son, Soteris, to Tavistock’s fete. I packed for our trip; Huw slept and recuperated in bed.
When transferring the pound, Huw read that his daily maximum transfer was £10,000. The purchase price would be about £25,000. Nigel agreed to receive the first transfer of £10,000 on the day of the signing, which was Friday, and two subsequent payments on the following two days.
I telephoned Sandra on Monday to let her know our plans. She said that she would have to talk with the vendors and get back to us. Well, we did not hear from her on Monday. We had talked with the vendors and trusted each other. We agreed that there had to be some trust between us. We wanted to buy the property, and they wanted to sell it.
On Monday night, against the advice of our lawyer, Huw set up two transfers of £9,000 each for Wednesday and Thursday before the signing. The third and final payment would take place at the escritura on a computer.
On Monday night, I caught the flu with the symptom of diarrhoea.
On Tuesday, I telephoned the vendors 30 minutes before we left for Bristol Airport, near their house, to alert them to the two early transfers.
We were ready to leave for Portugal.
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Tucked into my file, where once were particulars of 20 properties, is now only the final deed signed by Huw and me. I need to luxuriate in this and breathe again. We own our property. It is fantastic! Back in the U.K., I am beginning to gather myself again.
In Portugal, things did not work out as planned ever so carefully. Instead, as Huw says, we now have a story to tell people. The escritura was booked for Friday at the notario in Tabua, giving us time to sort out the bank exchange.
After arriving on Tuesday night at 8 in Lisboa, we drove to our friends, Peter and Ute, near Seixo da Beira and arrived there at 10:30 p.m. The symptoms of my bout with flu had ended, conveniently, at Lisboa Airport before our two-and one- half hour drive.
So, the three of us were well. We needed our health for the business ahead of us.
On Wednesday, we went to Barclays bank with utility bills and fiscal numbers to open an account. Then, we saw Sandra Belo at Serimobi estate agency and Pinto Correia, our lawyer, at their offices in Oliveira do Hospital. We confirmed the date and time of the escritura. We agreed to pick up Pinto and drive him to Tabua 20 minutes away. Interestingly, the escritura had to be in Tabua because it is where Sandra’s assistant, Fatima, had received power of attorney on the selling of another of Nigel’s properties.
After our meetings, I felt poised and ready for the transition to ownership.
On Thursday morning, we drove to Casa Vermelha, the holiday let in Fiais da Beira, where we hoped to live until we moved into our finished house. In conversation with Peter and Ute on Wednesday night, I realized that the Dutch Australian owner had two houses, her own and the rental property. I saw that my email to the house-sitters could be confusing. To which house was I referring?
Sure enough, there was no one at the Fiais house at the appointed time. When I phoned them, they were waiting for us, with coffee and cakes, at the other house. They told us that they would be there in 30 minutes.
We used the time to drive to our house to see it for the first time on the visit. Yes, it was still there, waiting for us. We spent some time walking around it and, then, quickly drove back to Casa Vermelha, where we met Fred and Vera.
I concentrated on talking Portuguese to the friendly, retired couple until they asked whether I was Portuguese or Brazilian.
“We speak only Dutch and English,” Fred said.
I could toss my notes with translations of relevant words.
The three-story house had been beautifully restored with a handsome checked tile floor at the entrance. It was attractive but somewhat impractical for year-round living. Advertised as two bedrooms, there was only one bed. There was no washing machine. There were, however, three desks, including a roll-top similar to my own that I have dibs on. Also, there was crockery, cutlery, bed linen, a cooker and refrigerator.
We liked it but with reservations.
After the viewing, we invited Fred and Vera for a coffee. It was, however, the feast of Corpus Christi and a bank holiday in Portugal. Cafes and other businesses were closed for the day. On this day, children receive their first Holy Communion, and their families have parties to celebrate the occasion. So, Fred and Vera invited us to their house. We followed them on the 40-minute drive and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon of coffee, biscuits and conversation. They introduced us to the books of Gerrit Komrij, a Dutch novelist who lives in and writes about the area.
The next day, Friday, was the big day.
In the morning, I telephoned an architect and builder with whom I had exchanged emails while in Britain. I left messages for them. We went to Barclays to see whether the account had been opened as yet. No. The cordial banker expected that it would be later that day.
We went to see Sandra who said that Nigel had received two transfers of money, or £18,000. We all walked to Santander bank to get the printed exchange rate of the day. The rate of sterling to euros was 0.81983. It was not a good rate for us. We would pay £26,334.56. We were expecting to pay less, but we had taken a gamble. We returned to Quinta do Sete Pocos for lunch and Caladon’s time to run and play with the dogs. Before we set out in the afternoon, I made a 6:30 p.m. appointment to see another rental property in Fiais da Beira.
We arrived with Pinto about 4:30 p.m. in Tabua. Because we were 30 minutes early, we had a coffee outside at Moby Dick café. Caladon had his traditional galao, which is steamed milk and a drop of coffee. Mind, some places make galaos stronger than others. Pinto gave us the etymology of the term, ‘bica’, for an espresso. He used a paper napkin to write the letters vertically. Then, he spelled out the acronym –Beber Isto Com Acucar, or Drink This With Sugar. He said that the term came into use when coffee was introduced to central Portugal. We all had a laugh about that. Even the server, who was from Lisboa, said she had not known the derivation of the word.
Shortly before five o’clock, we walked across the street to the notario. The door to the boardroom was closed for the reading of a will. Pinto took us for a sightseeing walk in Tabua. The library was named for a Robin Hood character in Portuguese history. We returned to the notario to find Sandra and Fatima but the door still closed. Sandra jokingly said that she had heard what sounded like a punch-up.
We all sat and waited. We waited long enough to look at Pinto’s photographs of his two dogs, one an Estrella, a handsome mountain dog. Sandra told us how she came to own an Estrella. Caladon, who had preferred slouching and complaining to reading in estate agencies and other offices, began to reread one of the Hardy Boys mysteries. I delayed our viewing until 7:30 p.m.
Two hours later, at 7 p.m., the door opened and a dozen people trailed out, one behind the other, with slumped shoulders and dour expressions. We filed in and took seats at a long rectangular table. We were ready to sign and pay for our property.
Then, I heard the notario say ‘doesn’t exist,’ words creepily similar to those spoken by Sicilian municipal officials, years ago, when a shy co-worker of Huw’s was denied a work permit because police did not find him at home and no one in his building knew about him. “Non existe.”
Portugal’s property records have been computerized since the previous owners bought the land and house. It turned out that the four relevant parcels of land had been entered into the computer system, but only two included the owner’s name. It looked like an oversight. The typist, paid to enter hundreds of records, may have taken a break for a coffee and assumed on his or her return that those records were complete. We had paper copies of the deeds. However, the notario could not proceed without authorization of the Conservatorio, which he was certain to obtain with a telephone call. At 7 p.m. Friday, however, the office was closed.
We rescheduled for 12 noon on Monday with the reassurance of everyone that this was an administrative glitch. Not to worry.
We believed them. Nevertheless, on our drive with Pinto to Oliveira do Hospital, we asked him if we could give him power of attorney, if the escritura could not be done before our flight on Tuesday. He said that power of attorney could be executed before Tuesday, if necessary.
For the weekend, we had planned to work at our house, removing mimosa trees from the front door and a wealth of bramble on and along the stairs, which barred the way to half of the house. We did not own the house; we had not signed the escritura. Should we keep to our plan?
Yes. As Huw pointed out, we had paid for more than two-thirds of it. Earlier on the trip at a superstore in Seia, we had bought gardening equipment. Armed with a pair of secateurs, a pair of big cutters and a band saw, and three pairs of gloves, we went home.
We focussed in our courtyard. Huw and Caladon sawed young, twinning mimosas. I attacked the bramble, pulling up by the roots as much as I could. We began to reclaim our property from nature.
The hours spent there, clearing away years of neglect, were the best part of our visit. No offices, no talk of money and exchange rates. Working on our land was real. The smell of stubborn soil clinging to roots, the feel of the sandy loam between our gloved fingers, the homey look of our courtyard were, after all, our reasons for being there.
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