welcome to emmas housethought


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.

pink magnolia in spring bloom

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!

spring lambs in a field

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.

white blossom in spring

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.

bare agricultural fields waitng for planting

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.

pink wildflowers in the mountains

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.

planting out spring onions

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.

pear blossom in warm afternoon light


  1. Maria Silva May 6, 2010 4:59 pm Reply

    Yes, Emma, Spring time is beautiful ! I’ve always loved Spring in Portugal! Ah! the pretty, scented blossoms like cherry and almond!!! You must travel a bit up north, between Tras-os-Montes e Beira Alta, near the border with Spain and see the “Amendoeiras em Flor” – almond tree blossoms!!!!!!!!!! It’s breathtaking, just beautiful!!! And this is the best time to do it!
    By the way my Mum, who lives in Viseu, told me this was one of the coldest and longest Winters she can remember… and she’s turning 77 in two weeks time!! Enjoy Spring!!

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    Emma   Reply: May 6th, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    oh the almonds sound divine! I really want to get up there more… the landscape in Tras o Montes is so amazing… or at least get back to Vouzela for some pastries on the way….

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    Maria Silva   Reply: May 7th, 2010 at 7:56 am

    @Emma, OMG!!!! I do remember those pastries so well!! I would love one right now with a ‘bica’… Enjoy!

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  2. Anna May 6, 2010 5:12 pm Reply

    Not a lame subject, it’s beautiful to see the flowers that are in bloom this time of year. We have 2 seasons in Sydney, Winter & Summer. Spring & Autumn last for about 2 weeks.Our winter really isn’t that cold 15- 18 degrees & sunny. Couldn’t imagine having 3 months of really cold weather with not much sun, everything bleak. I’d get so depressed, I need the sun. So I can see it would be a celebration when spring comes.

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    Emma   Reply: May 6th, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    2 weeks, so true 🙂 Right now our weathers are very similar, about 15-ish… and my friends in Syd are saying ooo it´s freezing, and I am going ooo it´s lovely! At least it´s not raining!

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  3. Leo May 6, 2010 9:39 pm Reply

    Hej från Sverige! I’m with you all the way on the winter thing… I’ve had enough now and no mistake! Here in northern Sweden it has just snowed another two centimetres in the night and it’s bloody May 6th! Having lived here for two years now, I know why Swedes celebrate summer with almost fanatical zeal!

    Your pics have given me hope. There are flowers under the snow, I know there are…patience…not long now…

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    Emma   Reply: May 6th, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    While cutting the grass for the first time this week, I thought it was like when the snow melts in spring… I kept finding tools buried under there… then a wheelbarrow… then a ruined house!
    When there´s a strong southerly wind coming I´ll let you know and you can put out the sun chairs! Puss! (kisses to complete strangers in portugal is fine)

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    Leo   Reply: May 7th, 2010 at 8:26 am


    Haha – the good old Swedish saying of ‘what gets lost in December gets found in May!’

    At one point in February, I thought it was going to be May before I saw my snowmobile again! 🙂

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    Emma   Reply: May 10th, 2010 at 4:42 am

    :-O good one

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  4. tNb May 6, 2010 10:10 pm Reply

    Yes, spring is definitely the best cure for winter. Soooo glad to see the end of the rainy season and the promise of bright, sunny days! Now if we could just finish this house … 😉

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    Emma   Reply: May 6th, 2010 at 10:48 pm


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  5. Andy, Tavira May 7, 2010 12:39 am Reply

    “I can see the projection that some weaker wills judge me to be”

    What a wonderful turn of phrase Emma, t’as fairly stirred me from my lurk!

    I fear the celebration of Spring lest it be snatched by a loitering winter spite. But then I live in fear of much, teach me to enjoy!!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 10th, 2010 at 4:56 am

    wow and there it is again, “turn of phrase” … lest it be snatched… thanks andy

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  6. Fletch May 7, 2010 12:42 am Reply

    Nice post.

    Nice turn of phrase, ” … and watch me grow a house with my hands.”

    There’s so much enthusiasm and hope in it …

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    Emma   Reply: May 10th, 2010 at 4:54 am

    Thanks fletch, nice turn of phrase, “turn of phrase” x

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  7. Emma May 7, 2010 4:11 am Reply

    And just as we were loving Spring, Summer has tipp-toed up and knocked us about the head. Or that’s what it felt like on the beach at Vila do Conde this afternoon. There were people SUNBATHING and SWIMMING. It wasn’t that warm! But it’s so lovely to be able to sit out in the dusk and watch the bats and smell the jasmine. The garden’s going nuts and there are tiny little gekkos running tiny little gekko land speed records everytime I move a rock! Vive la primavera!

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    Emma   Reply: May 10th, 2010 at 4:53 am

    I´m jealous – beach – I hope it will turn it on again in the next couple of weeks, bit of basking in sunshine with friends would be most appreciated.

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  8. Paulo Reis May 7, 2010 9:02 am Reply

    Emma, mid north coast N.SW last month of autumn looks and feels like primavera ( Spring ) without the blossom, 10Gr. in morning and 25, 28 Gr at midday. When we moved from Sydney 10 years ago we used to have frost, but for some reason it stopped and winter is very mild. Shorts and songs all the way…
    Miss castanhas assadas e jurupiga ,and the food of Portugal

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    Emma   Reply: May 10th, 2010 at 4:44 am

    ooo I miss Pho… and skim mocha bowls at danks st dept. saudades… x

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  9. Tessa May 7, 2010 1:00 pm Reply

    I have a theory about a little known sickness called Beanie Sickness – its the slightly headachey nauseus feeling one gets from wearing a beanie for too long. The utter relief when the offending headgear is finally removed is unbelievable. We had to don them inside the other morning as it was colder inside our house than outside and I only lasted 15 minutes before the malady set in.

    Yes winter is here in Sydney – its violently sunny and way too warm for my liking and you still have to wear blockout and a hat. Australia is the epicentre of global warming I am sure.

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    Emma   Reply: May 10th, 2010 at 4:41 am

    beanie sickness, I love it. And the weather sounds all a bit extreme… thanks for tuning in tess. x little em

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  10. Dee Hawa May 10, 2010 5:11 am Reply

    it’s here with a vengence too Emma! (spring that is) every conceiveable type of spring flower, insect and bird is busy, busy, busy! the shower last night has only added to the glory of today.
    The memory of the ‘winter of our discontent’ still lurks though!
    So.. hopefully those pristine nails of yours will soon be full of
    compost and building grot! Viva! Dee x

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