house of happy

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Fruit Trees We Plant

We went to the market and bought 27 little fruit trees. The transaction was cheerful and matter of fact and its full impact on our lives (we shall have an orchard!!!) didn't hit until much later. We spent ages talking to the vendor and nodding knowledgeably at bunches of what looked like bald sticks lined up against the wall. These, he stated with somber grandeur, are the best fruit trees in the region.

A squat and squidgy old guy bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jabba the Hutt provided a glowing reference to both vendor and fruit trees. He had known this vendor for over 30 years, during which time no lie or even mild exaggeration had passed his lips. This vendor's fruit trees grew in Jabba's own garden, and had been unfailingly providing the best fruit and much pleasure.

He went on to compliment us – look what a strong young man, with a lovely fat wife who surely can work and cook plenty (Moona swears he didn't say that last part). Concluding that I knew too much Portuguese for my own good, I joined the shrinking vendor behind the stall, away of Jabba's lush appraisals, and started choosing fruit trees.

We got apple, pear and plum; cherry and peach, squat citrus trees and sturdy figs. Hazelut and walnut, an almond tree too. Two tiny sticks calling themselves red currants and a kiwi harem – one male, marked with red string, and four concubines wrapped around their bamboo stakes. At this point we had drawn a small crowd of onlookers, and were cheered loudly by Jabba and his mates. To everyone's amazement, we didn't get any grape vines.

The tree-youngsters made an untidy pile in the back of the van, and rattled merrily all the way to the house. There they waited for the school week to finish: because it was inconceivable for us to plant fruit trees without our children present (and helping, if it wasn't too much of an inconvenience?)

We were, of course, going to get everything ready on Friday. We would know exactly where each tree would go, we would have the compost ready, and perhaps also most of the holes dug, if not all. That would make Saturday a truly grand day out: we would walk the land at leisure, basking in the hushed autumn light, glorious russet and gold covering entire hillsides; the children would plant each tree while reminding it gently of its sacred duty to grow very fast and give us lots of great fruit; we would immortalise the moment with video and digital equipment; at lunchtime, sausages and fresh sardines would be barbecued, and a potato salad with parsley would wait on the stone table. We would laugh and bask in the sun, with glasses of vinho verde, while our orchard grew...

In the event, the only things that happened as described above were the hillside and the hushed autumn light. Tall trees stood across the valley like burning torches; fallen leaves wove tapestries of amber and honey underneath. The air shimmered and swirled, sending plumes of fine mist to meet small clouds further down along the river.

Meanwhile, things were unravelling at the Casa do Senhor Felix . We spent absolute ages talking about which tree goes where. To help us, only the vaguest horticultural knowledge and a lot of imagination with regards to the future shape and size of young trees. The kids lost patience and started knocking down walls inside the house instead. The first tree, a little plum, was planted sometime after 2 pm, when we were all ravenous and there were no sardines or salads in sight. Pasta would do: one hour break, a trip to the shop, eating in the large living room, sitting on some old doors. Then back to work.

By the end of the day, we had planted 14 trees and still had 14 to go; (we had found an unidentified stick among our saplings; no one could read the label; Jabba must have written it. We kept the little tree, of course. We figure the first fruit will tell us what it is.)

The remaining trees waited in the wheelbarrow for Monday, then for Tuesday. When I got home today only the hazelnut was left, and we had a place for it. And so we planted our trees.

On Thursday, we're off to the market again. I want some lovely chestnuts and Moona longs for more cherry.


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