I was going to apologise for the lameness of the subject but I’ve just seen ‘primavera’ as the title for Miguel Esteves Cardoso’s column in Público today. Now I have to apologise for being so unoriginal.
But the thing is, the arrival of spring is indeed worth noting. As Sr Cardoso points out, the season of spring in Portugal is a true season, not just summer light. The charm of spring is that it definitively marks the end of the winter. OK that’s obvious, but its psychological effect is really significant. Quite suddenly this year, the sun has come out, I’m not wearing a coat and insects are everywhere. And the flowers! Spring has sprung!
That the malady named SAD (seasonal affective disorder) actually has been given a name (and what a dumb name) seems ridiculous to me. Of course winter makes you unhappy. Winter is miserable. Winter is bad for you. It’s cold, wet and dark. Winter should be renamed depressing. I concede that some things about winter can be nice, like a roaring fire, woollen scarves and hot chocolate or a warming whisky. And I do like snow, for an hour. But the rest of it totally sucks. I could tolerate winter in Sydney, because it’s not really winter, just summer again, watered down. We don’t need beanies or gloves, for instance. I hate beanies. If there are laws against wearing headscarves I think there should be laws against wearing beanies too. To me beanies represent something dangerous, oppressive and separatist. Beanies are a political statement.
And this winter has been the worst winter ever, according to my neighbours. Tia Maria says she has never seen a winter as long and cold and despicable as this one. You know it’s a bad winter when matches won’t light. This year the firelighters won’t light either. The vet told me we have had five days of sunshine since October. And not just a bad winter in Portugal either. Even the Swedes were complaining about the snow, still falling in April (just for me and the film crew). And Swedes are pretty tough.
So thank god that some buds have appeared on the bare trees at last, confirming what we were all quietly suspecting, that it’s not quite so cold as the week before. Like the trees, I’m relieved to have survived the hibernation. I’ve run out of firewood, because it’s been longer and more fierce than expected, but now I don’t have to run around after twigs like my life depended on it. The panic of basic survival is over. And that’s what the little flowers are saying: it’s not something twee or quaint or puerile: it’s time to get on living, which is not what I’ve been doing this winter.
I look around the still soggy, green-with-moss-house, and my ruin looks more ruined than ever. It seems years since I did any building work. I have watched while others continued to point and pour in the hours between showers, but up here in the mountains I just can’t see building in winter as a feasible proposition. During the multiple trips back and forth from the Tomar plains I calculated there must be five degrees difference in temperature, and if it’s cloudy down there, it’s raining up here. And it never seems to be just raining here; it’s either gusty & rainy or bucketing. Or it is just that I’ve lost my nerve? A financial beating is psychologically crushing as anyone knows: it’s an dark and omnipresent worry. Being sick is humiliating and boring, and both of these things are tangible obstacles to building work. But the winter has smothered me, like my eyes are still full of dirt from the burrow and my mind is foggy from the deep sleep of internment. My stores of incentive are as empty as my garden.
And I confess: I can see the projection that some weaker wills judge me to be. A dreamer. A procrastinator. An ingenue. HEY! STOP RIGHT THERE CAPTAIN! I only have to write those words to see how wrong there are. Moi, ingenue? Given the choice between the crotchety, tired and disappointed old woman of the winter, and a blithe virgin-of-life: I’ll take the wrinkles thanks. Young I was once, but naive I’ve never been.
If there’s SAD for winter, is there a diagnosis for spring? Is it contagious?
Goodbye winter. Good riddance. Shower me with spring rain, let me walk in compost and estrume and adubo and the sun:- shine, warm and colour me… and watch me grow a house with my hands.