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Monday, 01 May 2017

A Labor of Love: Living & Renovating in Portugal - Page 4

Written by Jeannie Pontet
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Curtains twitched, middle-aged mothers scoffed, young men wolf- whistled at the new floozy with the flashy cabriolet and high heels! This quiet little village knew not what had hit them! “What does she want here? Where does she come from? What does she do that she is so rich she is spending so much on that cottage, didn’t Louis make it good not too long ago? 40 years ago already?


But she has no husband or son with her. She walks out in the hills from one hamlet to another with a stick and heavy boots and little else on her bony body. Does she not have anything better to do with her time? Have you seen how she speaks with Mário the builder, laughing and teasing? And have you seen recently the car of our esteemed Doctor outside her house? Where does she go with that suitcase? Does she really own that villa up on the hill? Maybe she is widowed. But she doesn’t wear black as we do. She is not one of us, she is too racy. She does not even speak our language; she speaks French with Christina and German with José, what good is that to us? See she makes fools of us, now our husbands must paint the outside walls so our homes do not look so shabby in comparison. Joaquim needs a new wife……. Perhaps……..but no, she would be too much for the poor widower.


On a sunny April morning, dressed in bikini top and shorts, the terrace gates opened wide, I set about painting the dirty brown gates a shiny black. Eight-year-old Carlos playing with his tractoro along the narrow lane kept me entertained as he endeavored to converse in English and I in Portuguese.

Laughing at our efforts we were quite relaxed sharing his favorite chocolate biscuits and a jug of fresh grape juice, there was no real need to converse.“Tractoro! Tractoro!” he cried in excitement at the prospect of the oncoming tractor, trundling up the lane parallel to mine. As it came closer I heard the engine slack, the brakes squeal and the engine stall. It rolled back until the driver could see my gate, and me. Dressed in tatty blue overalls, his dark silky hair flopping over smiling eyes and a grin from ear to ear, the farmer took a few seconds to appreciate what was before him before starting up the engine and rattled towards his mother’s dilapidated home.
The next morning, skipping down the same track en route back from the post office, I came across the same young man walking away from my house, carrying a white plastic bag. Seeing me his face lit up and he quickened his step. Proffering the bag he stuttered words I could not understand, but I understood his gesture, inside the bag were two freshly picked lettuce intended as an offering to make my acquaintance. I did not know how to explain that I was off to work the next day and I would not be around for at least a week and therefore could not accept his présent. I did not want to encourage his advances either. Somehow he understood and with a forlorn face retraced his steps to his farm.


As it happened I didn’t go to work the next day, and so I went to the early-morning market to buy fresh provisions for my evening meal. I came upon an elderly lady stooped over her tiny stall and, recognizing her from our village, selected my salad from her batch. As soon as she saw who was buying her produce she leapt up and began ranting and gesticulating in rage, her tiny thin arms flaying, the lettuce thrown to the ground. Other stallholders giggled and tittered shyly behind hands, as I stood rooted with embarrassment, not understanding what I had done to upset her so. Finally a translator came to my rescue telling me that I had declined her gift of fresh lettuce just the day before, and I come now to insult her by offering to pay for the gift she had sent with her son Jorge!

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(Page 4 of 6)
Last modified on Monday, 01 May 2017

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