Houses built: 0.10
Injuries: (1) Major egg on head (and some on face) after scaffold collapsed upon said head. Lesson learnt – don’t adjust scaffold while standing on it. (2) Agonising rib relocation causing much grief and oddly much holding of breast in hand. (3) Wondering when the extreme fatigue and aching muscles thing will subside. And for fat to drop off and transform into jessica biel, say.
Alcohol consumed: One bottle of Dewers, two of Blackheads. Several panachés and a few bottles of vinho verde. Strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand.
I love the sound of a cement mixer in the morning. Not. Bloody neighbours. Renovating. No SEVEN-AM-IN-THE-MORNING starts on my site that’s for sure. Bloody builders. Bloody building.
Things got right dirty this week with The One cutting electrics channels and getting heavily into the zen of the angle grinder. Business electric has taken a lot of research. The Youthful Energetic Electrician with Great Hair knows what he’s doing and is making a mess of the place. Crew person number 3, Mr Youthful Energetic Talented and Unstoppable, and I, got out the cement mixer and slapped up about 6 square metres of capping for the old walls. Loved it. Swimming in the delights of lime am I.
I tell you, it feels remarkably like hard work. I mean like working on a film, work. My brain is not what is was, but planning way ahead, prioritising and arranging the crew and gear is all coming back to me. The others chortle when I compare renovating to shooting but my role is rather the same. And I am the money, I.E. the producer, as usual. I’m at the budget stage where you ignore what’s on paper and just bleed cash: it’s the same as early shooting phase. The only difference is, in this case we keep going until the money actually runs out, rather than the objective being a finished film. It’s terrifying watching what was once €100k dwindle to tens of thousands. And no, I will not get the house finished with the money I have left. Donations welcome. Button below.
Before I leave the film comparisons I’ll just pay service to the fine small crew we have. As a production manager we have some discretion and as one of my mentors Malinda would have it – we chose crew on the basis of looks. “Very important to have a cute crew”, she would say. “Boosts moral”. Thanks to Penfold we get to work with mixed origin, interesting, and motivated people and who, coincidently, would make Malinda proud.
The One and I frequently lament the lack of spirit in young country Portuguese. No ambition, no interest, no hobbies, and no passion. which these boys (in the main, they are Portuguese themselves but with foreign parents) possess in abundance. Portuguese kids grow up to be bad in business, unmotivated and boring – you see them every day in the person the front desk who carries on a 10 minute wag on the phone while you stand there and wait like a dickhead. You see it in the crap building work on Portuguese houses. And you hear it at the neighbour’s dinner table where every night the conversation is the same: Benfica and Portuguese food being the best in the world.
I’m not suggesting Portugal should become possessed by work and wealth and lose its calm, generosity and gentleness. I pray it finds its way down the a third path between consumerism and community. Firstly, this country needs talented teachers to shake little Joâo out of his depressed catatonia. The illiteracy that Salazar wrought on this country continues to corrode it like a bad gene. Parents never read to by grandparents, parents who do not read to their children. Houses with no books nor love of learning.
So, to the bathroom appliances. I know you’re dying to know which range of dunny I have chosen but first I want the reader to appreciate how difficult this part of the building process is. Unless you’ve been down this path yourself you cannot imagine how stressful choosing a toilet can be. For years I have been fixed on The Grecia, tempted by eggshell blue and the rosy pink of The Nanna, and the mustard two-tone of The Gaudy.
The One talked sense. He talked resell and cost. And he hates pink. Hence I am now the proud owner of a perfectly generic but brand new white and shiny bog, bidet and sink and umpteen metres of PVC begging for installation. I even bought Acme tiles. Super standard 15×15 white no funny business tiles. I love them. I’m relishing the plainness of it all. I feel like it’s all come from REMO (sydney people will know what I mean).
God it’s exciting.
On a final unflinching note: I am sick to death of being asked when I am going to breed. I’m not offended, I’m just bored of the unrelenting repetition. The expectation, obligation.
I’m 41, I tell them. (Oh so you should start!).
We have pets. (It’s not the same, you need a baby!).
I am not a COW. (Blank – did she say faca ou vaca?)
I carry two genetic diseases, both potentially fatal which I do not want to give to anyone, except maybe the next person who asks about my fertility. (double blank – didn’t understand a word of that)
There are plenty of children who need better parents and I have always fancied adoption/fostering. (Bu-!)
I have no narcissistic urge to procreate or populate. (Nar-?!)
Oh do fuck off. (ooo offended estrangeira, best run away)
Email This Post
Houses Built: .05
Injuries: 11 bruises, one smashed husband thumb.
Bottles of scotch consumed: 2
When it was first suggested that I start a blog about building the house, I surfed the net for other blogs on the same subject to see what it was all about. It was a quagmire of tediousness. People blogging in excruciatingly boring detail about every last brick they have moved. ACTUALLY I COULDN’T GIVE A RAT’S ARSE WHICH TILES YOU ARE USING FOR THE BATHROOM MIRROR SURROUNDS, I told them.
And look, I’m about to do the same thing. Just a warning.
At least I have some building works to report which makes a change. If you remember from the last episode, the project plans had been thrown out the window and all has been simplified and the lord’s inspirational light is shining upon us once again.
There was a question about what the original kitchen and the loja downstairs would become, and they have sorted themselves out into Bathroom and Loja Downstairs respectively. There was a question about where to put the stairs: we’ve decided to have no stairs – it sounds boring but not when you remember this place has an upstairs and a downstairs
To use a standard renovator-blogger’s phrase, I can’t believe it’s been six months. The first couple of months we sat on our arses. The next couple of months I emptied out the house and built a temporary roof over the first floor of the ruin to put everything into.
And then the boys got stuck in. Mate I swear it’s great having a husband. He’s as keen as mustard to get himself dirty and hit things with hammers. Even more grateful am I to have friends like Derik and Ines (see houseminding) who are willing to help. These people are basically saints in the waiting line. Must have a word with the pope. Must also enquire what kind of medal Derik gets for this kind of work. Legion d’honneur? I’m just hoping one day he’ll be calling to get us to help him with his place.
So the great chimney has gone, the interior walls have gone, the ceiling has gone, the water barrier is going up, insulation going in, new ceiling going in, The plumber/electrician has been sacked, my local supplier is back in business and a massive spreadsheet of a schedule has been printed. Onwards and upwards.
And with much relief this pokey little house does make one pretty nice lounge room/kitchen. I had been mourning the loss of a luxurious 50m2 lounge from the project plans, but actually 24m2 does just fine. Believe you me, lifting a ceiling by a metre-plus adds up to way more than 1500mm.
Meanwhile on the exterior, it’s getting hotter and that time of year when I obsess about bushfires has arrived. As with every year, I try to discuss it in a civilised manner with the neighbours and every year the ignore me. I am from the city, they are generations of forestry people. I bet my right foot they don’t have home insurance and nor have I because Portuguese insurers don’t like houses with building works. Most expats, more diligent than I, insure with a British company. And so it goes on the to-do list – the thought now of being wiped out (again) keeps me awake at night. Along with the choice of bathroom tiles, naturally.
Actually my darling horrifically expensive hand painted blue and white 19th century tiles have been sold to someone else and I’ve just located several boxes of dusty boring standard whities of indeterminate provenance in the building yard… so sorry, I know you were all dying to have your vote, but tough titties. Maybe I’ll leave the kitchen curtain print for the public to decide.
Email This Post
Once upon a time in the tiny town of Castanheira de Pera there lived a boy who dreamt of big things. Like many boys he wanted to build, with tools and cranes and trucks. He lived at time of great prosperity and optimism, as since the previous century Castanheira de Pera had grown fat on the profits of linen making, its factories brimming with happy workers and an unrivalled supply and demand.
The Castanheirense were a proud people, and rightfully so. The patriarchal hand of Salazar blessed them and their dues and Castanheira flourished in a devout, obedient and Sporting sort of way. The great gardens blossomed and the people built fine houses to live in. Castanheira’s streets were as grand as any in Lisbon. The Castanheirense felt special, privileged, enough to speak their own language, a cautious melée of Latin and Portuguese called Laínte de Casconha, so that outsiders would not know what they were saying.
It was in this setting that the boy who would be The Mayor of Big Things grew up. His youth was fired with ambition and confidence, but as adulthood beckoned Castanheira’s fortunes started to change. The regime was no longer there to protect them from the outside world where fabrics were made more cheaply with modern machines. Young people had different ideas and brought change and disruption. Families favoured by the old system were now spurned by the new and many fled to safety in Brazil, abandoning their stately homes.
And worst of all of the disgraces, other nearby tiny towns, those lacking any heritage or respectable family names, began to grow, modernise and be recognised.
Meanwhile Castanheira’s elegance began to fade. The people no longer spoke their secret language and the factories fell silent. It enraged Abilio Anibal Aurindo de Silva Fonseca Salazar Alves de Piedade Conceiçao Pena – or Zé, as he was known to his bosoms, to see his town dwindle into insignificance. He resolved to redeem Castanheira’s reputation and fame.
On a platform of development which embraced the modern ideas of tourism, expansion and urbanisation, The Mayor of Big Things came to power in the tiny town. The people were intoxicated by his big ideas and his even bigger personality. Riding the tsunami of a mandate, The Mayor embarked on his first Big Project: a gargantuan swimming pool, the biggest in the entire country, designed in the image of an exotic beach, replete with an island, blue palm trees and best of all, a machine that made waves.
“Build it Big and They Will Come”, the Mayor had said. And the Praia de Rocas was thus. The people came from far and wide to experience the beach of the interior, under the blazing sun of the Portuguese summer. They brought their big eskies, their big floaties and the sensible ones brought their big hats and they took their place in the big long queue that formed every morning at the gates of the megapool.
Fortified by his popularity The Mayor of Big Things carried on his campaign to drag the old dame of Castanheira kicking and screaming into the modern world. Big Art began to appear at every crossroads, every square and to dominate over every pathetic patch by the side of the road. When no more public space was available, the Mayor, in another fantastic moment of enlightenment, invented the roundabout. He set about demonstrating his new creation following the posturing style of the Romans and the Soviets. Enormity ruled. But it wasn’t traffic dispersion that was the driving his concept: The island at the centre of the triple-lane-super-rotundas was opportunity for Really Big Sculptural Statements.
His artistic sensibilities mollified, The Mayor of Big Things turned his attention to business and recreation. He built a Big Business Park called Prazilandia for want of a bigger and better name. And then he built a Big Concert space, where he gave some big speeches. When there was nothing to do he built big signs. Not last and not least (never least), and arguably his greatest legacy, he had erected the Big Fake Grass Rat.
The Mayor was, at last, almost out of big ideas. It was a long career. In his final years, he cleared some massive areas in preparation for the big future ahead. A big supermarket perhaps? A big housing project?
Who knows, because the people never came. The only space in Castanheira de Pera that serves the heaving sweaty masses is the big pool (and occasionally the nearest pastelaria). But otherwise the public squares remain empty, the roundabouts lonely for traffic, the offices vacant, the monuments untouristed. And yet, big cranes still decorate the landscape with their odour of potential, prosperity and big dreams.
This post is almost entirely fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. Quite good cake can be found at the Esplanada and Antigone, but the coffee at Esplanada is better, and wookies can run around on the grass, but watch out for the moles.
Email This Post
This country harbours more than its fair share of interesting artists who, praise be, nurture the Portuguese identity and therefore embellish it further with their own talent and perspective.
Coração Independente Dourado, 2004. Original Image ©DMF Lisbon
Joana Vasconcelos is one such artist, and she’s arguably the most prominent of Portugal’s contemporary artists. Deservedly so. Her work is brainy and charming. It is Pop and it’s also commentary. It’s new and it’s old. Her art is like a good woman: sexy and brilliant.
Joana Vasconcelos burst upon the international art world at the Venice Biennale in 2005. I’m hardly what you’d call a follower, but I was aware of this fabulous bit of creativity, wit and craft when it appeared, as probably many of you were too.
A Noiva 2001-2005. Original image @David Luciano/Museu Colecçao Berardo/DMF Lisbon
A photo doesn’t do it justice: an enormous chandelier of great elegance, richesse and exclusivity. Made of tampons.
Joana packages the terrifying complexity, chaos and violence of feminism (ha-ha) into a pretty box with a ribbon. It’s such a clever idea in so many ways but I like particularly just how close you have to get to the work before you see what it is. There’s a subversiveness in that transforming moment that no doubt explains why the international art scene was so turned on. This gorgeous work has a dirty little secret. Or does it suggest to you a purity and delicateness, as its name, “The Bride”, implies?
And I also imagine that while the Venice Biennale is a formidable event for showcasing what the human is capable of, it would also attract a bunch of wildly wealthy pretentious halfwits who would stand ogling at this great wonder of banality. And there it is: Ordinary/ Glamour.
And here it is again:
Marilyn 2009. Original image ©DMF Lisbon
There’s tyranny in both the wide angle and the close-up. The stiletto: She is made of pots and pans… she is domestic, she is a servant, fashion’s slave.
What is so Portuguese about that? Let us speak of frogs and lace. Noting the artist’s date of birth I wonder if this thing we have for Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro is age-related. Or Joana might just be paying homage to the original Portuguese Pop Artist, or perhaps to Portuguese culture and history. But why wrap Rafael’s funky ceramic creatures with lace?
Bowie, 2009. Original image ©DMF Lisbon
This is Portugalia run amok. The lace, a humble homely product made by the hands of rural women for centuries, is an unsung craftwork of skill and finesse, of authenticity and originality. It is the essence of artistic. In Joana’s hands the ordinary is made worthy, like Rafael’s cabbages gracing the tables of the bourgeoisie. Lace, in this case commissioned from actual country women’s crocheting groups, stitching together in their pinafores and widow’s black. So very far away from the Biennale de Venezia or the galleries of Soho.
Thanks very much to Joana Vasconcelos for the use of the images.
Email This Post
After the overwhelming response to my last post I have decided to write only about serious issues from now on. That’s why I’ve chosen the subject Doce da Casa for this week’s take-no-prisoners-alert-the-pope controversial post with a moral and a message.
IS DOCE DA CASA REALLY “THE HOUSE SPECIALTY” OR IS IT, ACTUALLY, A RECIPE?
When I first came to Portugal I ate in restaurants for three months for breakfast lunch and tea and during this time became fully acquainted with the dessert menus of Portugal. Invariably they contain an item named Doce da Casa which as any self respecting phrase book will tell you means, in the literal sense, Sweet of the House, i.e., vis-à-vis, chef’s specialty. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant or not worked in a restaurant knows that this is also code for whatever we need to get rid of tonight because it’s going in the bin tomorrow. At least where I come from. You’ll never get a bad dessert in Portugal. I’ve certainly never had a bad Doce da Casa, whatever a Doce da Casa really is.
I was in those days, innocent. I never thought that the whole Doce da Casa name might be a cover-up for a hotly guarded secret. Like the secret Lucia had to keep after the visions at Fatima. Something worth hiding from the people for their own safety.
Exhibit One: Detail
The second time I came to Portugal I ate in restaurants for breakfast lunch and tea for five months and it was during this time that I began to suspect Doce da Casa was in fact the name of a recipe with defined ingredients, with which a cook may be creative, resulting in variations on-a-theme.
Over the last few years I have further intensified my belief that Doce das Casas, or Doces da Casa or Doces das Casas ARE BASICALLY ALL THE SAME.
The One, however, thinks otherwise. He says he’s been given chocolate things and even baked apple things when ordering Doce da Casa. I say it’s just because he’s English that the restaurant seizes the opportunity to give him the sell it now before anyone sees the maggots dessert. No one would try that on an Australian. We have dangerous spiders and snakes.
So then: we tested the question on google. Just 9 and-a-half million hits of recipes all containing the essential ingredients of Doce da Casa: condensed milk, maria biscuits, chocolate and cream. Emma: one, The One: zero.
Left, Exhibit Two. Right, Exhibit Three.
Next I email Elvira of Elvira’s Bistro. It’s obviously a subject too controversial to comment upon because I receive no response. Or maybe she’s busy running a restaurant.
So I ring Isabel, she of Encyclopaedia of Portugal fame. She said,
“Excellent question. Important, relevant, pressing. It’s something we’ve all been asking ourselves but need the leadership of someone brave and unflinching to investigate and resolve for us”.
Actually I made that up. What she really said was that traditionally, Doce da Casa would mean ‘specialty of the house’, but has in recent times has become bastardised into this thing with condensed milk and cream. Shit. Emma: one, The One: one.
Not content to leave it at that, I took the question onto the streets and into the kitchens. Nothing proves a point better than pure, creamy evidence. Let me present Exhibit One, if it pleases Your Honour.
Exhibit One is a perfect example of what I have come to expect from ordering Doce da Casa. Biscuit at the bottom, custardy condensed milk layer next, chocolate layer and then lashings of cream on top.
A closer inspection reveals a layer of intact biscuits between one of the layers. This evidence was found at our local churrasqueira and is under copyright control by the cook, Anabella who was very suspicious of my enquiry. Understandably she doesn’t want her recipe stolen, because it was I must say, a very superior Doce da Casa.
Which leads us to speak of Exhibit Two. Some fishy restaurant in Cantanhede served this up after we had demolished an enormous pile of assorted crustaceans. Very elegantly presented and while the omission of biscuit should be noted, it has nonetheless the regulation chocolate, custard and cream layers.
Exhibit Three was from a humble Lousanense establishment called Adega Vila. Biscuit, certainly, cream, absolutely and more than a whiff of condensed milk. But no chocolate and no layering. This, while delicious, fails to satisfy the requirements of a Doce da Casa. One might surmise that it is the specialty of the house. Someone clever reading this will know what its real name is, I’m sure.
Exhibit Four shows an interesting variation in that the crushed biscuit and chocolate layers have been mixed together. The condensed milk/custard layer is there and the cream is there, although the cream was not exactly of bovine origin.
With Exhibit Five, from the local pizzeria, we return to the text book style of the Doce da Casa, dessert flute and all. Let’s not quibble about the absence of chocolate. It is what it is.
And there I rest my case. Doce da Casa is mostly a recipe and more rarely a house specialty. Where have all the specialties of the house gone?
If your local restaurant is serving a true house specialty then, please, we need to know. It’s in the public service.
Email This Post