house of happy

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

Friday, 4 March 2011

Old House, New House

We moved to North Portugal almost three years ago, to an old farmhouse and a green shoulder of terraced land facing the sun. 'Let's renovate the old house' we said, in the first flurry of ideas. 'We'll move in it by winter.' People laughed.

Two winters later, they're still laughing. 'Renovating is much harder / lengthy / more expensive than building from scratch'. If I had a penny every time I had to suffer the above-quoted wisdom, I'd be rich. If I had a penny every time I listened and agreed, I'd have about two pence.

In the meantime, new houses are sprouting left and right, like early daffodils. It would be unbearable, but for one thing: they are dreadful. I review two such specimens daily on my way to work. It's fascinating, in the way the birth of Godzilla's babies might be to some. A short summary:

In the first week a beautiful side of a hill is scraped raw and levelled.

Next, great gashing trenches appear at right angles.

Another day, and the trenches are filled with metal bars. They stick out like Dracula's forest of impaled Turks. For those unacquainted with he story, I'm talking sinister and scary stuff.

A rusty truck is brought in soon after, with a great barrel-belly and an accordion trunk: this vomits grey concrete all over the fanged trenches. Ta-daaa: we have us FOUNDATIONS.

This is followed by the building of walls, out of great grey concrete blocks.

(Old House has stone walls the width of two buffaloes at work. Once washed painstakingly with the pressure hose, they reflect the sun in playful pink and yellow bursts. Little stones, moss and sand trickle out. The gaps must be refilled with lime and sand. Slow work, during which it is frequently suggested that we knock down the stone walls and build from scratch with bricks or blocks. Sell the stone. The revenue would pay for a large new house and a month-long holiday in the Carribean. But look how they reflect the sun in playful pink and yellow brusts...)

Back to New House. Here we are, already at roof level, in a thicket of metal bars and scaffolding. A chunky concrete base is poured on top and ta-daaa: we have us a TOMB.

(Small question competing for space with Just William up inside my driving brain: how can anyone live inside a concrete box???)

Now to the roof. New house: roof tiles placed on top of the heavy concrete crypt. All dreary, dowdy and deadly.

(Old house: two roofers drag huge eucalyptus beams up to dizzy heigths and rest them just so, a superb structure that screams about the human spirit victorious and the glory of God. You may think I'm going too far, but you weren't there. Then there are rafters, batons, rooftiles. A work of art. )

And now I'm driving past New House again, and observe the latest obscenity: on the outside of the concrete blocks they are placing a thin membrane, licking it into place. Against it, facing the world, they're building a very thin stone wall glued to the concrete with cement. From the road, it will look like an old stone house.

I'm still laughing.


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