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Monday, 01 May 2017

A Labor of Love: Living & Renovating in Portugal

Written by Jeannie Pontet
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Nestled between two unkempt ‘rusticas” down a narrow lane that cuts through the rock-faced hills lined with weather–beaten cottages and stray cats, she resembles a well preserved but rejected woman with low self-esteem. In passing, the public perceives her freshly painted white washed walls and yellow window frames, putting on a brave face albeit a little tired. Step over her threshold and behold one little-used and unloved ‘pequena casita’; one is immediately confronted with the ‘parede privado’ a privacy wall blocking view into the living room from the lane outside, a case of “speak to the hand – this house is tired”.

Built atop and carved out of the edges of an elevated sandstone rock, a sturdy foundation supports walls 60cm thick that keep out the heat of the sun and maintains the much-needed coolness. This room, measuring 8m² was once four tiny quartos comprising minuscule kitchen, living room and two bedrooms - the total living accommodation for a peasant farmer and his brood. In the far corner the blackened hearth of a small fireplace represents the only source of heating of times gone by. Where there was once a back door that led to the outside is now an interior archway linking the house, via a corridor to a bathroom and two double bedrooms that were once grain store and cattle shed. The narrow hall also leads off onto a sprawling terrace from which, had it not been blighted by the ugliest of timber sheds imaginable, one could take in the breathtaking views over red terracotta rooftops to vineyards, pine forests and the sparkling, still waters of the reservoir.

Shivering in the cold October breeze coming up the valley from the lagoon to the west of the village, we stood close together leaning against the rusty railings of the terrace taking in the autumnal landscape. He turned to me, his soft brown eyes penetrating mine, searching my heart for a last minute change of plan; “It’s got your name written all over it” he said, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, knowing with a love-leaden heart that he must relinquish me to a new life a thousand miles away from him.

With an anxious knot deep within my stomach, my heart racing with excitement mixed with anxiety of what this future might hold, I knew that, in buying this darling little cottage, I was cutting loose from all that was precious back in England. My son, now independent of me, had moved to London leaving the nest bare and for me a new life beckoned, where and with whom I knew not, but I felt the need to move away and start afresh. My former lover, best friend, soul mate now stood stoically encouraging me to take up this challenge. I had to take the risk of losing him altogether and at this stage in my life, with no commitment for a future together I was prepared to make that sacrifice.

I had been to and fro over the past year, having bought a holiday villa nearby, but a life-changing move was upon me, this little cottage was to be my new home. I knew very few people, did not speak the language and wondered how on earth I was going to renovate a property in a foreign country not knowing the first thing about such matters.

Within 4 months, as the sun burnt away winter clouds and fresh green leaves fluttered in the warm breeze, I inserted the key into the front door of my own sweet little cottage christened “La Casita”, the first home I had owned for nearly 20 years. With boxes and suitcases strewn across any available floor space, the entire contents of my life assembled around my simple furniture brought over from the little house I had shared with my son in Sussex. Nursing a glass of Quinta São Francisco d’Obidos, a box of tissues close at hand, I sat beside the burning embers of my little fire nestled in the corner of the sitting room and, not for the first time, through anxious tears, realized the enormity of what I had lost and the challenges that lay ahead.



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Last modified on Monday, 01 May 2017

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