Today I’m puttering around the house after a morning checking out the local farmers’ market in Aljezur and buying some groceries. Emanuel is in the process of cutting down the large eucalyptus tree outside my little house (it’s a beautiful tree but its roots are threatening to overtake and destroy the house’s foundation), and I collected some of the bark from it to add to my stash of wood for the fires I build every night to warm my house.
The farmers’ market was pretty cool; I picked up some organic vegetables and visited K, who was selling her piripiri sauce and some other vegetables and herbs. I also ran into L, the ex-husband of D (who I’m seeing later tonight) to whom I sort of owe my whole Portuguese adventure. It was his surf/yoga camp upon which I stumbled on Google last September when I was looking for ways to spend a holiday after attending the wedding of friends in East Sussex, England. I fell in love with this place during that first week at L’s camp, and the rest, as they say, is history (or the present, I guess, as I’m here now).
The farmers’ market is sort of the town social center, and I felt like a local seeing how even the small number of people I know socially intersect. L had heard of K’s piripiri sauce from a friend who is one of her customers, and after I introduced the two of them at her table, he bought some of it.
Irma also goes to that market every week, and knows all of the local growers. It was upon her suggestion that I started taking my Portuguese class in Portimao instead of another language school in Lagos I was considering, and it was, of course, in class that I met K in the first place.
As I’m getting more deeply ingrained in life here, I am learning how complex it is to lead what seems like a simple life in the country, and how much people living in cities and other more developed regions of the world take for granted.
Just ensuring you have a roof over your head, food on your table, heat to warm your house and water for a shower can take the same amount of time or more than a regular day job would in an urban or suburban area, where there is more access to the things people need for daily life.
For instance, I just collected eucalyptus branches so I can start fires that burn with wood Emanuel and Irma cut and split themselves from trees on their property. Every night this week since it’s gotten cold after the sun goes down, I have to carefully stack wood in my stove and start a fire because it’s the only means I have to stay warm in my house; this process can take a good 15 minutes if the wood is being stubborn and doesn’t want to light, and it’s about another 20 or 30 minutes before the temperature starts to warm up.
Yesterday, I held the torch while K cut lettuce, dill, basil and other herbs and vegetables to sell at the market; today she sold them for about enough money to cover the cost of seeds, but not much else. Before the house she and her boyfriend live in had hot water, they would have to heat it up on stove and pour it into a basin attached to shower head if they wanted a hot shower.
Since people tend to grow a lot of their own food here, and if they’re not selling it there is the matter of cooking it, freezing it or canning it before it goes bad so as not to waste a bit of it. This of course is also true for the many people in rural areas of the U.S. who grow much of their own food; I grew up in the suburbs and have lived in cities for the last 15 years of my life, so it’s a new and very charming concept to me to be a part of this.
Home-cooked meals here also are a much bigger production than they tend to be in cities or even the suburbs of the U.S. as well. There are a lot more of them, for one thing (I have gone out to dinner only once since I’ve been here), and every dinner and not just the occasional weekend gatherings are more like dinner parties where the preparation of the meal and the meal itself are also opportunities for social interaction and can last hours and involve copious amounts of wine (if you’re lucky!).
All in all, I’m feeling quite comfortable with this sort of lifestyle, and it’s giving this city slicker much more respect for how the so-called simple life is not really that simple at all. It actually requires much more ingenuity and wherewithal than many people imagine. Of course, living in an urban environments has a complexity all its own, and I’m not trying to say one is better than the other. I’m just quite proud to be learning skills and to have a chance to witness to a way of life about which I would have remained quite ignorant had I stayed in New York.