house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Ode aos Companheiros

To: Bugui, Miriam, Paulo, Ruth, Cesar, Jorge, Ivan, Silvia, Juandra, Ruth, Dani, Noelia, Jamie, Sandra, Federico, Miriam, Cristina, Antonio, Donald, Eleanor, Tita, Elsa.

One day in April,
when the youngest plum tree - not much more than a stick with a
handful of leaves
of luminous green -
explodes and vanishes into clouds of breathless blossom...

You say 'I have this idea.'
Oh, your ideas.
Larks, demented by sunlight, following their own never ending song,
Puppets pulled upwards by the immortals, to play with the moon,
Arrows, flint-capped and fierce, flying, seeking the end of wars..
Oh, your ideas.

You say, 'I have this plan.'
And now I start to worry.
Because one never knows what beanstalks
would grow from such strange seeds.

Because your plan
arches so high,
rainbow over Neverland
and who
really knows the way to that place?

Your plan refuses to see
the way things are,
and won't consider
the world around
our exhausted, cynical selves.

You lift my words like skittles
and line them up against the wall.

People will be busy.
It's a weekend after all.
and we're all tired.
They hardly know us.
Why would they come?
Where will they stay?
What can they do?
What? Where? Why?

Then you take aim
and the ball is rolling
the clock is ticking
It's Friday afternoon.

You gather supplies
carrots and lettuces,
tomatoes tumbling inside the shadow of the day.
a barrel of olives,
a jar of honey,
melons, apples, plums
loaves of bread
nuts, cheese,
red wine,
A Greek banquet waiting for the gods.

But who will come?
Worry and hope in equal measure
inhabit my sleepless hours
birds locked in a dark barn.

Friday afternoon melts into Saturday morning
and they are here.
More than twenty. They cross a river.
A border. How many barriers? So many...
And they come.

They set up tents and pick up tools
They work and work: in the garden,
around the ruins of the old alambique,
in the kitchen, at the garage,at the river.

They dig and clean and plant
they pull weeds and drag branches
they mix earth and lime
and mend a wall
and build another
they wield spades and carry stones
and move mountains.

You will say (I know, because I did)
'This just doesn't happen these days.'
Neighbours won't come to help.
Friends will be busy.
Family? Too far away.
And no one, no one, no one
will work for free.

As of today, I will say
You're wrong.
You're wrong.

because I know what happened
at the end of April 2010,
on our land, in our garden.
Bright images inhabit my sleepless hours
Sparrows darting across the sky.

I saw how they carried earth and boulders
muscles straining, sweat pouring
in the fist of hard labour,
in the first embrace of summer

how they stood shoulder to shoulder to build terraces
to plant gardens, to tame the granite
in the unchanging glare of the sun,
in the long languid lapping of hours,

And reinvented our world before nightfall.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Herds of Hazelnuts (1)

I teach English in a Portuguese Primary School. The words: ‘class’ and ‘pupil’ are of course mentioned with great frequency and regularity. This is to be expected in an educational institution, just as ‘orca’ would be in an aquarium, ‘kidney’ in a hospital, ‘ink’ in a tattoo parlour and ‘health care’ in the US Senate.

Here’s what makes things interesting: I am Romanian. You know the Portuguese words for ‘class’ and ‘pupil’? Well, the Romanian language has also got them. Same spelling, same pronunciation, completely different meanings. I believe the name for this linguistic occurrence is ‘homonym’. As follows:

Turma –

English translation of the Portuguese word: Classroom

English translation of the Romanian word : Herd

Aluna –

English translation of the Portuguese word: Pupil

English translation of the Romanian word: Hazelnut

In a usual, daily conversation, this is what I hear:

“What herds have you got today?”

“Oh, H2 and H4.” (H for Herd?…)

“Poor you. Those are big herds, and difficult.”

“Yes. Very noisy hazelnuts.”


“Can I have this worksheet photocopied for Herd H3?”

“How many hazelnuts?”


“Not 18? Who’s absent?”

“X. She’s got the flu.”

“Oh. Poor hazelnut.”

“Yes I know.”

“She’s a good hazelnut. I’m sure she’ll catch up.”


“What have we got here?”

“A hazelnut with a sore knee.”

“How come?”

“She was pushed by another hazelnut.”

“From her herd?”

“No. Another herd”.


“He said this hazelnut took his chocolate bar.”

“Hazelnuts eat a lot of chocolate don’t they?”

“Yep. The parents of some hazelnuts send them to school with three bars of chocolate every day.”


Every time a conversation such as this comes to an end, a peculiar philosophic question presents itself. What am I? A part-time shepherd? An occasional gatherer? A Nut Cultivator? Tree hugger or toreador?

My job as one – or more, or all – of the above comes to an end in June. Before that, I shall try to write a little more about it. A ‘Herds of Hazelnuts’ series (two code-words to remember). Why? Because I noticed how fascinating this society of hazelnuts is, how it actually makes my job quite interesting (taking the herds to the watering hole? transferring some taste into those hazelnuts?), despite all the grief and headaches I carry home with me.

Allergy and addiction in one – exactly as expected from bullfights and nut products.