welcome to emmas housethought

hole in the wall: building update

I know, I know. It’s been a long time. Life gets in the way sometimes.

At the end of the last series, Emma was in Australia, working, recovering from back injury and suffering from the saudades.

Well, she finally got home again, reunited with The One and back trying to make a palace from a ruin.


The trip to Oz was successful on the work & financial front. With the winning combination of a bouncing economy, a supportive friendly and familial network and some good luck, I found myself with three jobs that were enjoyable and memorable. The cooking was great, then I did some writing and internet stuff, then a four month photographic project for a government publication on compost which morphed into agricultural field work.

Talking to Australian farmers, watching the extraordinary quantities of waste we create being transformed into the very substance that could save the Earth, and being in the wide open expanse of beauty that is Australia cracked open my mind. All that space made way for some big thoughts and I had an epiphany about why to build a house in Portugal. Emma’s House in Portugal, the book, now has its reason to be. It has, like, depth, man.

And now I’m a published dirt photographer as well. Awesome.


Meanwhile back in Cú de Judas the winter had wreaked havoc on this half built half ruined farm house and now the renovations needed renovating. A dirty rotten secret little hole in an outside wall had made an enormous bloom of black mould inside, and lo! if there’s a good reason to reject everything I’ve said about lime walls in the past, this is it. You can’t wash mould away from lime render with a stiff bleach, não é. You have to cut it out. And then there’s the rain that came in horizontally (Central Portuguese rain does, literally, pour horizontally, and even upwards, given that it never comes without hurricane-like winds. So it’s quite normal to find rain coming down your dome-hatted chimney. Quite normal)… through the windows and lo! if there’s a good reason to ignore everything I’ve said about fabulous old windows in the past, this is it. And so the render under the windows with have to be cut out too. The windows themselves will be cut out and placed without ceremony upon our private tip, aka the garden.


At least there’s that to be proud of. A dump of my own. Very interesting how little you call rubbish when you are using your own garden as a tip instead of some nameless hole in the ground somewhere else. Furthermore I don’t have to feel so bad about the house looking like a building site, because I’m just gloating with noble responsibility here (although it’s probably a crime of some sort). When it’s going in your front yard you quickly find there’s almost nothing that can’t be recycled or eaten by the neighbour’s dog. Naturally I care about my private hole in the planet and what goes in it – nothing leaching, nothing toxic, nothing a tree won’t grow on top of. Prawn heads still go in the regular garbage I confess, because of the smell. And cigarette butts. The garbos have to keep their jobs after all.

2a-hole  hole-2

Enough chit chat. We have made a gorgeous hole in the wall! While in Australia The One was clearing out the basement, moving a huge trunk outside and come upon one of those holes in the wall that people in olden days used to stash stuff…like cash or jewellery or crystal meth. At least I presumed that’s what it was because these walls are full of cavities with small jars in them. But The One reported that he removed all the loose stones as a measure against curiosity killing the cat (see final pic). And so more and more stones came out until he reached what was unmistakably a large flat shelf and above, a well rotted lintel. So then I presumed it was a filled-in cupboard, because we have those too. Except you could see light coming in from outside, where the exterior render had failed. I was well worried about the house falling down on husband’s head by this stage.  I didn’t actually believe that there wasn’t any clay mortar between the stones until I saw it with mine own eyes. The exterior render was simply stuck to the loose stones on the outside, and ripping it off revealed another ex-lintel. Although our hole wasn’t precisely in the right spot, there had definitely once been a window there. A neighbour told me that it was the father’s shoe repair shed (I had all kinds of shoe-making curiosities like stone heel moulds and huge needles and innumerable strips of leather) and when the son took the house it became the adega, where dark and cool took priority over a finely crafted piece of stone engineering.

Some of you have probably gone to sleep by now, but those of us who can hear the stones speaking, these discoveries are better than sex. I might be in dead set boring ordinary nowhere’s-ville, but this old house is still alive with intrigues and stories and hidden little secrets. If only just a hole in the wall.

Thus, with the perilous work done by The One and catastrophe avoided, I fixed the hole up into something nice and now we’re about to launch into some wall framing, followed by a bed, furniture and cupboard buying rampage. One day shortly they’ll be a nice room for the cats, because there sure ain’t enough space in our bed no more.

So while in the throes of hole making, we’ve made several new steps, grown some plants, fixed two major plumbing issues, re-worked the grey water system, siliconed the bath and broken the microwave, one of the last two remaining ‘kitchen’ appliances. I now have one electric frypan with which to produce miracles. “Ode to the Electric Frypan” post coming up.

What I actually came back to do is the kitchen. Which means the fix the walls, stain the floor, put skirting boards on and then do the kitchen. Even.Tu.Al.Ly.





  1. Valerie Curtiss August 28, 2013 8:31 am Reply

    I am so glad to see you back in Portugal, and hope to keep following you on your adventure. I also love old houses, they can keep the modern casa in a box! I love the history, the “finds” and the quirks of a well worn home!

    Stay well and don’t overdo it!! Keep the blogs coming!

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  2. Rosa Maria de Sousa August 28, 2013 8:38 am Reply

    Wellcome to Portugal
    Rosa Maria

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  3. Denise August 28, 2013 9:07 am Reply

    Parabéns for making it back to Portugal alive, with pockets lined. You are not alone. The walls of our restored casa de campo are constructed of weathered solid granite blocks…yet … the horizontal rain was able to seep deep into the interior. We have to spend muito dinheiro to coat the exterior with a special sealant. But hey, maybe we will run into each other at the Matosinhos IKEA on a furniture buying frenzy! (followed by days of exasperation trying to assemble the stuff). Keep us all posted.

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    Emma   Reply: August 28th, 2013 at 9:35 am

    not good when someone else’s leaks are reassuring, but HOW THE HELL DID IT GET PAST THE GRANITE? That’s just not right. At least my walls are filled with clay so you can imagine how it happens… but water vs granite??? That’s not fair. And yes, I’ll be in the kitchen section…

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    Denise   Reply: August 29th, 2013 at 2:18 am

    @Emma, You know that lovely DG (decomposed granite) that people spread on garden paths? That’s the stage just after weathered granite attains full sponge-like character. Perhaps it’s best NOT to sandblast off the 200 year old accretions to expose the glowing stone beneath???

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  4. Ad August 28, 2013 9:30 am Reply

    Epiphanies that lead to books? We like to hear that. Keep it up little builder.

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  5. Geoff August 28, 2013 4:35 pm Reply

    You are never boring Emma, keep up the good work, and I hope that your back improves!

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  6. jane mcbennett August 28, 2013 6:47 pm Reply

    Hello Emma – so pleased you made it back to Portugal. Look forward to more posts on the progress of the renovation

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  7. Katja August 28, 2013 8:36 pm Reply

    YYiiihaaaaa…. New season of Emmas House In Portugal. I’m so exited!

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  8. Chuck Tejeleiro August 28, 2013 8:58 pm Reply

    Hi Emma , it’s great to see you writing on your blog again! Got directed here by my wife a while back and i couldn’t stop reading it because it brings a silly grin to face every time i clicked on the next post 🙂 .

    I could also relate with alot of your stories , I’m Portuguese but lived for 10 years in the Netherlands (where i met and married my Dutch wife) , and a couple of years back we thought about moving to Portugal definitely (my wife’s ideia of course)…

    One would think that the fact that i’m Portuguese would make things much easier when it came to handling the paperwork… (Social Security , Customs , Taxes, etc…)

    Nothing further from the truth as it has only been a pain in my Cú… Long story short , my Dutch Emma is doing great (and is very happy) , loving Portugal and it’s pastry too ;)…

    Greets and the best of luck with everything

    (Next time you’re in Lisbon give us a holler , we’re in Caparica , the Riviera da Margem Sul)


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  9. Suzanne August 28, 2013 11:51 pm Reply

    Wonderful post as usual. Tenho saudades since we left last year and I went to buy your T-shirt but they’re all gone! Will you order more? Or maybe set up with a print-on-demand outfit? Please?

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  10. Colin August 29, 2013 9:37 am Reply

    Interesting that you go back to Portugal – leaving a boom to a bust?
    “So while in the THROWS of hole making”
    Your stay in Aussie has affected your English.
    Best of luck with the house and the budget.

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    Emma   Reply: August 29th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    shit! I knew there was something wrong with it! Thanks Colin. Edited 🙂

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  11. sarah August 29, 2013 6:11 pm Reply

    Lovely to hear from you again Em, missed your writing and news, good luck with book? keep in touch, I’m back in PT FTxxx

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  12. Cyril August 29, 2013 7:14 pm Reply

    Revolution comes in many guises, inspiration may be a catalyst; has Portugal ever had a female Prime Minister?

    Dirt photographer and the One… Excellent!

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    Emma   Reply: August 29th, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    they have actually, in ’79-’80.

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  13. Maoiliosa August 31, 2013 8:38 am Reply

    God, it is great to see you resurface. Too many glasses of vinho verde drunk to read your entire entry…but welcome back. Keep writing, keep taking photos. Great great blog! Bjs Maoiliosa

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  14. Nuno H September 2, 2013 2:49 am Reply

    Welcome back Emma!

    “Emma’s House in Portugal, the book, now has its reason to be” Hurry up, hurry up! I want my copy!

    Best of luck and careful with your back!

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  15. Lauren September 2, 2013 3:24 am Reply

    It’s so great to see you’re back! Your blog has been one of the biggest inspirations and a great resource to myself and my husband on our quest to move to Portugal. So excited to hear about the book project in the works – we can’t wait to get a copy! Best of luck with it and with your renovations.

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  16. Dee Hawa September 3, 2013 3:49 am Reply

    So good to have you back and posting again Emma. Good luck with renovating the renovations….. ! Your many fans are still hanging on your every word…. more please.

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  17. Lourdes Hancock September 6, 2013 6:16 am Reply

    Wau! I was wrong… You have gone back. Missed your blog so much. Kept searching for something similar but nothing compares to yours. As we say in Portugal ” they don’t reach your heels’. I have just come back from Portugal so I am so looking foward to read your next lot of writing and will definately buy your book. Good luck with everything Emma!

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  18. Lisa September 8, 2013 6:06 pm Reply

    Welcome back Emma. Get cracking on that book. It will make a great present to give to my Aussie friends when I visit.

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  19. Filipe September 11, 2013 8:00 am Reply

    “…quem me enfiou sem aviso
    neste cu de Judas de pó vermelho e de areia, a jogar as damas com o capitão idoso saído
    de sargento que cheirava a menopausa de escriturário resignado e sofria do azedume
    crônico da colite, quem me decifra o absurdo disto, as cartas que recebo e me falam de
    um mundo que a lonjura tornou estrangeiro e irreal, os calendários que risco de cruzes a
    contar os dias que me separam do regresso e apenas achando à minha frente um túnel
    infindável de meses, um escuro túnel de meses onde me precipito mugindo, boi ferido
    que não entende, que não entende, que não logra entender e acaba por enterrar o triste
    focinho molhado nos ossos de frango com esparguete do rancho…”


    Poor writer, having a hard time. :–(

    Can you guess the name of the writer and the book, Emma? 😛

    Welcome back.

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    Emma   Reply: September 11th, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    well yes of course…

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  20. Maoiliosa November 28, 2013 8:33 am Reply

    God, it is brilliant to have you back. I had a big dose of saudade when you stopped writing and talking to us. I felt i had lost my favourite pen pal! Sad!! Welcome back….maoiliosa

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    Emma   Reply: November 28th, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Thanks Maoiliosa! Nice to see you again!

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