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Sugar in Your Coffee? (4)

Caladon in the Mondego River, down below us, on an early autumn day

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There was no one at the school bus stop on Friday.

There were no teenaged children on their own nor young children with their mothers and grandmothers. Caladon and I did not know what was happening. Were we late? It was 8 a.m.; the bus had been arriving at 8:10 a.m.

We noticed that there were fewer cars on the road. Could it be a holiday? Oh, yes. I remembered that, last year, October 5th was a national holiday. Would it be on the same day this year? There was no one around to ask. We waited and worried only a few minutes more though it seemed longer. A car on the opposite side of the road stopped before making a turn, and the driver told us that it was Republic Day, a bank holiday in all of Portugal. This was confirmation enough for both of us. Caladon was ecstatic about the holiday and wanted to spend it on the land with us!

Why the change?

We had bought a wheelbarrow, an item that Caladon had insisted we would need and one with which he had worked voluntarily, many times, on Ute and Peter’s land. So, we packed up our tools and the wheelbarrow and changed our work plan for the day. Huw continued to whack away the bramble in the courtyard. Caladon and I began to organise our first bonfire. October 1, or after the first rains, is the official opening day for burning piles of bramble, bracken and broom.

I filled the wheelbarrow; Caladon wheeled it and dumped it on the designated pile. One of our neighbour’s kittens decided to spend the morning with us. “Bonito Cinzano” (Pretty Grey One), Caladon said he would call her. He picked her up and played with her when I was busy. In not too long a time, we had a large enough pile. Then, Caladon amazed me by showing me what he had learned from working with Ute and Peter.

He drew a circle around the pile. Inside the circle, we needed to clean the ground to bare earth, he said. I hoed the grass and threw the sods into the wheelbarrow. Then, we took them to the far side of the quinta. We took three trips.

Now, we had to dig a trench where the circle had been drawn. Caladon demonstrated by using a pitchfork to break up hard earth and then lifted out a shovelful. It was hard work. He already had warned me that making a fire circle would be two days’ work. With his help, I knew how to dig the trench.

I was very proud of Caladon’s expertise and confidence.

After the weekend, I continued our work. An hour and a half later, I had completed the trench. It looked good. I felt proud. I thought how much this work differed from work I had done in the past.

For one thing, it is physical work. Digging was tiring. I wanted to stop and take a break several times but kept pushing myself to finish before sitting down.

It is also work that we set for ourselves and most likely have not done before. We certainly have not done it in Portugal. So, it feels good when we accomplish a task. A small triumph.

I emailed a few photographs to my sisters, Dorla and Julie. The photos were labeled “Work” and “Play” on the subject line. One photograph showed Caladon, barefoot, peeling potatoes on the patio. He had asked to make dinner that day and enjoyed doing it. Before sending it and the others, I questioned what was work and what was play. Peeling Potatoes became a “Play” photo along with a picture of Huw teaching him how to whittle with his knife, and one of him in the pool.

The “Work” photos showed me cutting bramble in the overgrown courtyard, Huw down in a well, and Huw holding up a bear rug of vegetation that had grown on the wall of one of our wells.

Dorla, who lives and works in New York, emailed that I seem to have a balance in my life. Yes! For the first time in my life, I have a balance between work and play. At 58, I finally have balance in my life.

At 28, I had an extreme relationship between play and work; I worked very hard for someone else, and I played very hard for myself. Now, I am more in control of what I do. Huw and I have chosen to work only mornings on the land. We reason that we will not tire of the work, and the work will not tire us out.

Somewhere along the line, work acquired a bad name. When I told people I worked at a newspaper, I added that it was not like work because I loved it.

Now, I love my work – physical work clearing the land and my lifelong work, writing.

So, on the bank holiday of Republic Day, I worked, quite happily.

*** *** *** ***

For one week in late summer, we had been surrounded, but not affected, by forest fires. We were not worried because, we figured, what can you do? Perhaps, being naïve served us well.

One Monday morning, at about 7, a red sun was wreathed with dark smoke. There was a fire in the nearby town of Seia. The next morning, the smoke had shifted west, and the acrid smell increased noticeably while we worked on the land. Every day, we saw one or two fire-fighting airplanes or helicopters carrying water. On Wednesday morning, we drove through Povoa do Midoes, whose green hills and few surviving trees were blackened. There were still some small smouldering patches. A Portuguese fire-fighting helicopter crashed near here with no fatalities. We understood from the news that Portugal had requested and received fire-fighting equipment from European Union countries.

After the fires began, there had been a strong cool wind in the mornings. At first, I thought that it signalled a potent hurricane as we are a couple of hours from the Atlantic Coast. Then, I thought that it might have been caused by the fires. Whatever the cause, the wind felt eerie. It stopped after several days.

If I had a penny for every time wildfires have been mentioned by foreigners here, I would have a pocketful of change. Because of my limitation with the language, I cannot say how often the subject creeps into the conversation of Portuguese.

While looking for property, we learned of someone who had had a buyer until a fire struck, days later, and destroyed the deal. Several years ago, there had been a fire at Peter and Ute’s place. At the first expatriate market we visited after moving here, we met a woman who had just lost her land to fire. In none of these cases were houses affected as the houses were stone.

After shopping at a hardware, or DIY store, a Belgian followed us to our Mazda Bongo to ask questions about the Japanese import. Seventy and hearty, he had lived here 20 years in two different quintas, or farms. The second quinta, he had bought five years after it had been burned in a fire. He had raised his children here; his daughter still lives here. However, after he and his wife watched the journey of a fire nearly choose their land as its course, he sold his quinta. Now, they rent a house nearer the ocean in the summer and another across the road from their daughter the rest of the year. They rent out their house in Belgium.

Fire is a genuine natural disaster in this area. There is no disputing this fact. However, it does not touch everyone all the time. In California, earthquakes are a part of life. They are unpredictable and, potentially, destructive. People coped with them. Earthquakes did not come up in conversations. Often, newcomers asked about them. Californians always had stories, some tragic, some comic. They gave advice for staying safe in an earthquake.

If I spoke better Portuguese, I might be getting that advice from local people. Instead, I am speaking English with British, Dutch and Belgian people.

In Britain, weather conversation revolves around rainfall. There are occasional floods in specific areas, but they are occasional. When I lived in Britain, I sometimes hankered for real weather – a snowstorm, a hurricane, something extraordinary. Perhaps, Holland and Belgium are similar. People in Britain do not understand natural calamities; they do not understand people living in a place where they might have to grapple with one.

It is a fascinating mental construct. The British really seem to believe that no harm should come to them if they obey the laws and do the right thing.

*** *** *** ***

Today, the 16th of October, would have been Daddy’s 86th birthday.

Daddy always had a joke ready for people. He would sing lines of a song named for someone. We had a neighbour named Maria; he would sing the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim classic from “West Side Story”. He always elicited a smile from people. He had the gift of making people forget their troubles.

Daddy was kind. We lent money to friends and family, sometimes hundreds of dollars at the time that we lived in low-income housing projects, or vertical council housing. We lived frugally because we were saving to buy a house. When I was 11, we bought that house in Hempstead, Long Island, for $17,000. Everyone paid him back, except one or two. Daddy’s attitude was a shrug of the shoulders: that’s life.

It was not money that he was doling out. It was love.

He has a half-sister, Cynthia Marie Kirkwood, who knocked on the door one day after disappearing from our lives for years. She had two daughters and was nine months’ pregnant with twins. Could she stay with us and give birth to the babies in a hospital on Long Island? Yes, of course.

My mother’s brother, Lloyd, broke up with his son’s mother. His son, who was about 10, was in a school that did not place a premium on education. Could he come and live with us and attend St. Ladislaus with his cousins, Clive Jr., Paul, Dorla and Julie? Yes, of course.

When we lived in the housing projects, people seemed to visit our house for respite.

In the projects, the aroma of food from Central America, the Caribbean, the South and Europe filled the hallways. It was the 1950s; everyone had just arrived. On weekends, Daddy and Mommy opened our two-bedroom apartment to a crowd of family and friends who sought a break from the United States. They spent their leisure time with people who understood what they said the first time, with people who saw the world the way they saw it, with people who cooked and ate the same food.

Amidst the pot stirring and tasting by the women in the kitchen, I gleaned advice on raising bread, becoming independent and getting an education. In the living room, the men swapped Belize newspapers, exchanged tips on job openings and talked politics. As a child, I floated easily between the two rooms. Eventually, we all sat down together to a meal, which assuaged homesickness by its very occurrence.

When we moved to Hempstead, people still came but tended to stay for the night or weekend. Often, Daddy drove to Brooklyn, Manhattan or the Bronx in New York City to pick them up. Traveling outside of the city environs by the Long Island Rail Road or the New York Transit Authority presented a mental block for some which increased with age. All people had to do was call, and Daddy would drive to get them.

He died nine years ago. I still miss him terribly.

*** *** *** ***

How do we get the lights turned on?

Our house is derelict but, soon, we hope to have builders taking some of it down and putting it all back up. Builders will need electricity. So, Huw and I decided to get connected before the builders got on board. As soon as one week after we arrived, we asked one of our architects if he would ask the Council what documentation we would need to accomplish our seemingly simple task.

It seems that we have spent most of September trying to take the first step toward electrification. And we have gotten nowhere fast.

We asked an electrician who did work at our rental house to come with us to our house. He said that he could install the electric housing box on the side of our house. He, unlike expatriate websites, said that a pole would not be necessary even though the nearest electricity is across the road from us. All we had to do is notify the electricity company, EDP, that we need an engineer to inspect the site and give his or her OK. He said that it would take one month, and it would cost us about 140 euros (60 for him and 80 for EDP).

Huw and I were happy because we were, we thought, getting somewhere. Our next trip to Oliveira do Hospital, we told ourselves that we would find EDP and proceed with getting connected. We decided to approach the Tourist Information office, which had taken us two months to find but was well worth it. The woman there directed us to an EDP booth in a bookshop. We knew it well because we had spent 250 euros there on schoolbooks and supplies for Caladon a few weeks earlier. Our second time there, I had noticed a long, isolated queue inside the shop. This was it. Apparently, EDP has found a way to cut down on expenses.

I joined the queue.

Most people seemed to be paying their electricity bill. There were some, however, who held long involved discussions and seemed to leave disappointingly with shoulders slumped. I rehearsed my Portuguese while I waited, reading it silently from my notepad. I reached the front.

“My house has been abandoned for many years. It is going to be renovated. I would like to have electricity.”

“You have to get a certified electrician to write a letter saying that the house is fine for receiving electricity,” said the same woman who had ordered Caladon’s textbooks three weeks ago.

“Huh,” I thought.

I said, “The electrician told me to go to EDP first.”

“He has to write the letter first, or you can bring him here with you,” she said in Portuguese and, then, in English.

“Obrigado. Thank you,” I said, as I turned away and walked disappointingly with shoulders slumped.

Her advice did not sound right. We thought that we would go to an EDP office that was thoroughly dedicated to EDP. Steve Hughes, our project manager (, suggested the office in Tabua. He even volunteered to take us there. But we decided not to take up more of his time and go there ourselves. Steve also said that we should apply for temporary electricity for construction. He explained that there were different types of electricity: house, temporary for construction, and agricultural. We had heard this before from other people.

After seeing Steve in the morning, we drove to Tabua in the afternoon. We had neglected to ask him the location of EDP, so we headed for Tourist Information. The woman there said that she was ever so sorry because there once was an EDP in Tabua but no longer. She said that there was a Pay Shop in the frutaria across the street where we could pay our bill, but that was it.

The frutaria was still closed for lunch, but I am sure that they would have told us inside that they only accepted payment in the Pay Shop.

At this time, we had lost our telephone and Internet access for two weeks. We could not try to answer our questions by going online. It made the situation even more frustrating. In fact, before we left Tabua, I used a telephone booth to call Portuguese Telecom and report lack of service. A few hours later, we had telephone and Internet service the rest of the day and the next morning. Huw found the EDP website, which I had seen before and which had dazzled my eyes. He gave me a telephone number for customer service.

I telephoned and asked for someone who spoke English. Soon, I was talking with someone who told me that I needed a construction permit and a house plan, which I could get from the Camara, or Council. EDP could not supply electricity for work, or obras, without those two documents. As I spoke with her, Huw found the page on EDP’s website that said the same thing.

We were still waiting for Council approval. Our idea was to get electricity before approval because electricity would take several weeks to install, and we wanted the builders to start work immediately.

I telephoned Lionel, our architect at Vilargus in Arganil. Had he heard anything from the Council and what could he tell me about electricity connection?

He had heard nothing. We were hoping for a quicker than three-month typical wait, so I asked him to please telephone the Council. As for electricity, he had a completely different slant. He said that the property had had electricity before; all we had to do was ask for it to be reconnected. Lionel said that electricians carry this particular form with them; ours simply had to fill it out and take it to EDP. May I ask, Lionel, how it is that you know that the property had electricity? He said that he remembered visiting it years ago with the previous owner and seeing housing for it downstairs and in the bedrooms.

That changes everything, I thought! But wait, Huw said, let’s go there and look for ourselves. We went, and we found housing, but the cases had no cabling in them. Similar to the toilet in the bathroom, which had never been plumbed in, the electrical cabling had never been installed and, so, not turned on.

We went to Oliveira do Hospital’s Camara to ask about the progress on our house. It is with Technical, or the architect, who will be speaking with your architect today for more information.

“When do you think a decision will be made,” I asked.

“In days,” she said.

I ran the latest electricity scenario by her, and she also mentioned the building permit and the house plan. So, we put electricity on hold.

*** *** *** ***

On Halloween, last night, we had our first indoor fire of the year.

The stove heated the open-plan living room and kitchen, and two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The past two weeks, we had been going to bed with hot water bottles. Huw and I decided to enhance the ghoulish festival with a log-burning fire.

We bought two bags of sweets to protect ourselves from tricks. Unsurprisingly, no children came to our door. As in Britain, Halloween costumes, and trick or treating are American imports. One supermarket sold a few costumes and Halloween candy. Caladon said that one schoolmate said he would dress as a ghost. On the day, however, all the schoolchildren dressed in track suits for a cross-country run that had been postponed, previously, due to rain.

On Halloween night, Caladon suddenly remembered that a teacher had told him that there was no school the next day on the 1st of November. His teacher even wrote it in Caladon’s book, which was thoughtful. If he had not, we would have been waiting for the school bus in vain – again.

On Halloween, we noticed many parked cars outside cemeteries, where family cleaned graves and brought flowers. November 1 is Dia de Todos os Santos, or All Saints’ Day. Today, more cars are parked outside cemeteries, where relatives are placing flowers on the graves of loved ones.

Rain is forecast for today. We will spend it inside in the warm in our second rental home in Fiais da Beira. This log cabin has insulated walls, which makes it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Roof insulation alone is not adequate; unfortunately, most houses built 10 or more years ago only have roof insulation. Also, most of them use oil for heating. They were constructed at a time when oil denoted comfort and luxury, not exorbitant bills and scarce resource.

We were lucky to find this house. In the spring, Peter, the owner, was selling his present house. While showing us around, he mentioned that he owned another house in Fiais. He and his family lived here previously. Huw remembered the comment. I contacted Peter by email, and we agreed that we would move here in September until our house is finished in a year or so.

I was relieved at the news. We had some stability while we waited for our new house. Then, I set out finding accommodation for the month of August. Because I had been emailing the wrong address for a landlord, Herman, who opened an art gallery, Patio Velho, this year near Povoa Sao Cosme, I must have researched every camping ground, house for rent and hotel in a 20-mile radius. The weeks before we left Britain were cloistered with the worry of not finding accommodation at reasonable cost. August, after all, is the popular month for southern Europeans to go on holiday.

Of course, we would be able to find somewhere to stay, but I also wanted it to be comfortable. I figured that our first place would inform our attitude to Portugal.

Well, finally, I telephoned Herman who had not received my emails. Yes, of course, we could stay at his house in Fiais. Because we would not be staying long term, he increased the rent. I was happy to pay it for one month and be a 5-minute walk from our house. We also met our neighbours and enjoyed the shade of a huge fig tree in the garden.

When September arrived, however, we moved to the outskirts of the village, a 15-minute walk from our house, to this second house. We have more space, about ¾ of an acre, with fruit trees, sheds and a swimming pool at 250 euros per month. It is so well insulated that on hot September days, we sometimes dressed too warmly when we went out.

It is good to be in a house about which we feel good.

This year, while looking for property and after buying property, some expatriates have shared war stories about the wait for Council, or Camara, approval and house construction. Huw and I do not expect big problems. However, we are well aware that one year is the fastest we can expect our house to be ready after the Oliveira do Hospital Council approves the plans.

Our architect submitted the plans in late August.

We await our house plan approval.

*** *** *** ***

Wearing our best clothes and with scrubbed clean fingernails, Huw and I returned to Oliveira do Hospital’s Council offices one rainy day after Halloween.

This time, we did not take a number and sit and wait for one of three workers to look up our project on the computer. Instead, we remained standing in the impressive foyer with its vaulted ceiling and exposed stone wall. I asked the receptionist to see Odette, the person that the architect had said was responsible for our project. Odette came out to us and was very sweet but said that she only handles public works. She gave the receptionist the name of the correct person. A few minutes later, that person came to us with our thick file opened in her arms. We introduced ourselves, and she began to talk about our project.

She said that a letter would be sent to us and much else that I did not understand. Then, she pointed to the words “seis meses”, or six months, on the page, and I began to panic.

Six months before we begin, I asked.

Yes, she said.

She was answering a different question than the one that I had asked her. I realised that I did not understand, so she led us into the large room with the three workers who answer questions to ticketed people. One of the three speaks good English. We stood waiting for him to finish helping the man on the other side of the counter. After a few minutes and help from Huw, the light went on for me. The house plan had received approval; we had six months to submit the technical plans.

We have approval! We have approval! We have approval!

We thanked her and walked out of the Camara feeling light.

Once outside, we telephoned Lionel, our architect. He had received the letter of approval a few minutes earlier. In order to answer questions for the technical plans, we arranged to meet him the following Tuesday with Steve, our project manager. Lionel said that he only needed to know whether the position of the septic tank would change, but what it was before for the previous owners, we did not know. Second, he said that he needed to know whether we would be connected to gas. No, I said on the telephone. When we met, we realised that he meant bottled gas. Yes, we would be connected for that.

Thirty minutes before we met with Lionel, we met with Steve at a café in Arganil. We brought up nine points, including the septic tank and gas connection. The others were drainage, well water, solar panels, telecommunications wiring, floor material, thermal barriers and ventilation.

Though Steve, Huw and I met with Lionel for 90 minutes afterwards, he really only needed to know about septic tank position and gas connection.

Huw and I had thought that we would be answering questions about materials and pricing the project. When we asked about floor material, Lionel said that the plans already showed concrete, which was necessary as a cantilever to the balconies. Where were the cutaway plans that would show us such things? We will get them now that we have asked for them. The technical plans should be approved quickly. Vilargus’ part-time engineer would be doing the plans and submitting them in about two weeks.

Why two weeks? Why the engineer? Why didn’t we know that we had concrete floors?

It is difficult to understand the process of house building in another country with its own way of doing things. The Portuguese probably simply assume that we know what they are doing because that is the way that they do things.

We do not know what they are doing! We are so much in the dark that we do not know the questions that we should be asking.

After the meeting, Huw and I came home, had lunch and then went to our house to check the location of the septic tank to which we had agreed. We quickly decided that there was another spot that would be better. The spot to which we had agreed means that pipes will travel past the house. Any disagreeable smells, which may occasionally arise, will waft into the house. We found a spot that would take pipes away from the house and nearer the road for easier access for servicing. I emailed Lionel this information along with the fact that we want cork for insulation. Is insulation type relevant for the technical plans? I do not know. Lionel gave me the thicknesses required in the roof, walls and floor. Surely, thicknesses vary depending on the type of material. Was he assuming that we would use polystyrene?

All our married life, Huw and I have not fallen neatly into any forms, boxes or categories, coming from different countries from each other coupled with living in other countries. Now, we are building our house, we want it to have our stamp on it.

Never make assumptions, a renowned newspaperwoman, Nancy Hicks, had lectured us in the Summer Program for Minority Journalists, which was the program that she founded with her husband, Bob Maynard, and other journalists. If your mother says that she loves you, check it out first. We all laughed at this piece of advice, but I have found it to be incredibly perceptive. The trick is to know when you are making assumptions. When you cross into other cultures, you inevitably get caught out.

*** *** *** ***

“People are wearing leather jackets to school.”

“My classmates bring another set of clothes to wear after Physical Education.”

“Everyone else puts 20 euros a week on their card.”

I admit, embarrassingly, that I fell for the first two comments of Caladon’s a few weeks after he started school at EBI Cordinha in Ervedal da Beira.

Could he wear his black leather jacket, a Christmas gift from his grandparents, to school?

Yes, of course, I said. He wore it; he came home without it. For one week, it remained misplaced. Finally, after prodding, he found it on the football field.

The second set of clothes, which would make three sets for the day, including his P.E. kit, I believed but did not agree to for the simple reason that three sets of clothing twice a week makes too much washing and too much weight and girth in his P.E. bag.

Caladon’s last point about the money on the card bears some explanation.

There are no packed lunches here. I think not, anyway. There is a canteen for lunch and a snack bar. Lunches cost about 1.50. Students hand over money each week, which is placed onto their computerised card, which also is swiped on entering and leaving school grounds.

On the school’s reception day, which welcomes students and parents, I put 10 euros on Caladon’s card. During the next few weeks, it seemed that I was giving Caladon more and more money more than once a week. Every day, I was taking sweet wrappers out of his trouser pockets. What had begun as buying a large chocolate bar on Friday and sharing it with his mates, had become a daily ritual of buying and eating chocolates and cakes.

As for the hot lunches, Caladon insisted that they looked awful, tasted awful, and children did not eat them. Children ate the bread because they could not stomach anything else.

Huw and I insisted that Caladon buy the lunch and eat it. I gave him money for a day or two. Money on the card was too much of a temptation for him. He apologised for losing control; he is only 9. Huw and I assured him that we would rather he make mistakes now than when he is older and abuses, for example, a bank debit or credit card.

In the spring, I opened an account with Barclays in Oliveira do Hospital. It is a banking experience unlike any that I have had in my life. If I have to wait, one of the four bankers offers me a coffee. Good espresso.

In my account is all the house rebuild money -- enough to buy quite a few coffees. So, it is not my personality that garners the attention. Still, the bankers are attentive to my financial needs in a way that belongs to the past in other places. When Barclays changes interest rates in an account, for example, Joanna Nabais, one of the bankers at the Oliveira do Hospital branch telephones me and asks me to visit the bank for advice.

For a few months in 2001, I worked at Bristol & West as an employee of a temporary agency. I handled deposits of £50,000 or more for high-interest accounts. I never saw a customer. All transactions were done by post.

Customers posted their proof of identity and residence. I checked the papers, opened accounts and sent them an acknowledgement letter. The office place was an open-plan floor of a building similar to a call centre. Efficient and impersonal.

Personally, I prefer the coffee.

I have been giving Caladon weekly lunch money again. His card is in credit, and he has been eating healthily again. He has been relishing some school meals, such as fish fillet (an entire fish!), and tolerating others (mushy vegetables).

What will banks resemble when he becomes a man?

*** *** *** ***

“He doesn’t have a three-ring binder or three coloured pens!”

These were the first words that Professora Isabel Rosa, Caladon’s 5a class head teacher, said to Huw and me one week into the school year.

Isabel asked us to the Monday meeting by writing a note in his caderneta, or student handbook, on Thursday. I dreaded it. On Reception Day, she had addressed the 15 students and their parents in a classroom for more than an hour. I did not understand one word. It shocked me. She spoke fast for me, and she only stopped long enough to say, “pronto”, or ready, after she dealt with a topic.

I spent the weekend writing and translating questions, suggestions and ideas for her regarding Caladon learning in Portuguese and learning Portuguese. I also translated our reasons for moving to Portugal.

I was surprised that Isabel began the meeting with school supplies. I assured her that we had bought Caladon a binder when we realised that he needed one and that he had the coloured pens but had forgotten the red one that day. (Four times already, we had been to the bookstore in Oliveira do Hospital for textbooks at 200 euros and school supplies for 50.)

In Britain, Caladon had no textbooks. His teachers worked from many sources and photocopied the appropriate pages. Teachers distributed his writing notebooks of which there were many of different sizes. We bought only his pens, pencils and other stationery. In this regard, Britain and Portugal are extremes.

Isabel brought Carlos, a school administrator, into the meeting as translator. Carlos, who had registered Caladon for school in April was as relaxed and easygoing as ever. He prefaced the meeting by saying that Caladon would be fluent in Portuguese by April. He said that after the 1st of October, Caladon would have two-hour tuition in Portuguese each Friday. The school has had lots of experience with foreign students, he said. Currently, there are 17 out of about 250 attending EBI Cordinha.

We talked for an hour about our concerns and solutions – Caladon’s handwriting could be improved with writing lines, he did not answer maths exam questions that used : as the division sign because he did not recognize that sign which is not used in Britain, and I offered to translate Caladon’s texts for lessons.

The meeting was good. I was happy that Isabel invited us to talk about Caladon at the start of the year.

Since then, we have all worked hard at translating and figuring out how things are done here. Sometimes, we have all been stumped, but we are getting stumped less and less.

Caladon took evaluation examinations at the start of school, more in October, and he is taking another battery of tests in November and December.

After the second set, Caladon inadvertently (I think. I’m not sure.), arranged another meeting for us with Isabel. He said that he thought that she wanted to see us on the following Monday. While we waited for her, Carlos walked by with good news. Carlos said that Caladon’s teachers were happy with his work and his integration into the class. Wonderful!

Talking with Professora Isabel, we learned complex equations and caught up with Caladon’s progress in Maths. Afterwards, his Portuguese help teacher and Portuguese teacher showed us his Portuguese test, which he had passed. “Bom,” they said. Good.

It was all good.

While we were at school, I thought that I would find out what we needed to do for Sao Martinho, whose feast day was the following Saturday on the 11th of November. EBI Cordinha celebrates it. Weeks before, Caladon said that Professora Isabella was asking students what they were bringing to it. What are they bringing, I asked him. “Cakes. I’m not sure.”

Ute and Peter, from whom we had rented the holiday cottage while looking for property, had said that they attended Sao Martino every year. They said that the students sold things, and the community was invited to participate.

I had looked up Saint Martin on the Internet. I found that he was a Roman general who had cut his cloak in two so as to share it with a poor man. In Portugal, chestnuts are roasted and wine tested on his feast day, which falls during harvest time.

Professora Isabel said that we could bring anything. I showed her a muffin pan. Were little cakes all right? Yes, she said. How many, I asked. As many as you want. When do we bring them? On Saturday morning at 9 before the festivities begin at 9:30.

So, I made one batch of persimmon muffins and one of fork biscuits, which were basically shortbread. The muffins took much more preparation and experimentation. We have a towering persimmon tree on our property, whose fruit I began eating in October for my elevenses, or late morning snack. I pulled off the ripe fruit, which were red as tomatoes and split. Unripe fruit dries out your mouth. At that time, Huw looked for persimmon recipes on the Internet. We made persimmon cookies. They looked misshapen and tasted unspectacular. Also, I could bake only six at a time because we did not have a bigger tray for the portable oven, which sits on the kitchen counter.

One month on, we had bought a bigger tray and a muffin pan, and I had more experience cooking in the oven without burning the food. Two days before Sao Martinho, I made 30 muffins and 15 biscuits.

On Saturday morning, we went to school, where each class (each year has two classes) had a stall. Students sold savoury and sweet baked goods, harvested vegetables such as pumpkin and other squashes, dried beans and seedlings. Oher people also had stalls, where they sold jewellery, bread and food. It was like market day, but with entertainment.

The marching band of bombeiros, or firefighters, from Lagares de Beira marched around the stalls to a central square, where they entertained us. Traditional dancers, the women in long skirts and the men in jackets and hats, danced by and settled in the square where they emulated a wedding celebration. When there was a lull in entertainment, loudspeakers blared music.

One of the stall holders, who sold handmade jewellery, left his stall and spontaneously juggled, walked a tightrope and, then, taught the children some circus tricks.

Caladon worked at his class stall some of the time and ran around with friends. Huw and I inspected all the classes' merchandise. We talked with Peter and Ute, who had a stall selling plants, herbal salts and creams ( , and Herman, who exhibited some of his photographs. It was only toward the end of the fair that Huw and I discovered a long table, where 40 sat and ate and drank for a price.

Maybe next year.

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#livinginPortugal #babyboomersredefineretire #Belizeculture

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