Marisa Dipaola was born barefoot on December 12th, 1977, and grew up in the cedar swamps and coastal Atlantic of southern New Jersey. She graduated with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2000 where she majored in painting and began experimenting with site-specific sculptural installations. Upon graduation, Marisa received a travel grant to study la Mezquita, in Cordoba, Spain, which began a collection of travels to eighteen countries, studying the sacred architecture and natural wonders, producing site-specific artworks in Japan and Iceland as well as entire series of artwork while on residence in Spain, India, Italy, Egypt, Austria, and Bahrain.
She has exhibited her works internationally at museums, galleries, universities, cultural institutions, community gathering places, outdoors within natural sculptural parks and urban revitalization projects.
In the course of being a nomadic artist, Marisa Dipaola has wandered throughout the landscape in diverse surroundings, constantly inspired by the natural world that embraces us all. After residing in the southern Austrian Alps for three years, she and her family are ready for a road trip to move to southern Portugal, in order to buy and renovate an old farm as a sustainable, permaculture project: moonfarmers. Raising her three-year old daughter while this major project is on the go, she is unable to foresee any free-time to take part in the artworld, at least for a year or so. Instead, she will dedicate her time and artistic effort to turning an abandoned property into a sustainable small farm and retreat, and quite possibly a future artist residency.
Her time will be spent with rebuilding a sustainable habitation, sourcing and planting fruit and nut trees, native edibles, sacred seeds, establishing berry patches, grape vines, mushroom patches, a chicken coop, a small fish pond, a huge vegetable patch. She will use sculptural elements to create terraced farming areas, enhance microclimates and enable year-round cultivation courtesy of cold frames fashioned from old windows as well as illuminating indoor growing areas, a few wind-chimes, alternative-energy-generating works, and the interior redesign & redecoration of their living space. On a more scientific front, she hopes to incorporate the skills she learns during this time to create various sculptural projects that encourage growth, combining illuminated works with fungal works and garden projects to create sustainable, living artworks. Any additional free time she finds will be spent mending clothes from the pile she’s had gathering for years and to complete more butterfly carpets -- and there is that quilt she has wanted to make for her bedroom.
She hopes that the time working and reflecting while on-hiatus from the artworld, but proceeding with her moonfarmers project will guide the future, whichever way it grows.
After taking a little hiatus from being "on hiatus"
I have had a chance to reflect upon this past year:
how far we've come as moonfarmers,
and how wide open our future can be.
Or perhaps I haven't really been "on hiatus" at all.
Years ago, I did an oil painting of a little wooden cottage,
set amongst a flowering garden, aptly named "storybook cottage"
for its allusions to an imaginary, out-of-a-storybook world.
I eventually used the painting as a proposal sketch
for "storybook cottage" a knitted inhabitable playhouse sculpture
I (& Mohamed) made for an exhibition title "There's No Place Like Home"
at the Paul Robeson Gallery of Rutgers Newark, New Jersey, in 2013.
Coming together in the final moments, the sculpture was visually satisfying:
and at the opening, a hit with the toddlers (& their parents) visiting the exhibition.
But under its intricate surface, this knitted world was only an illusion,
and an indication of my desire for a real storybook cottage to inhabit.
So here we are.
This ongoing project,
or series of projects,
has only just begun.
And yes, I intend to keep some sort of online account
of how we are progressing, with all our various activities
(something I wouldn't have thought of doing without
the encouragement of the RFAOH community).
But this year being on hiatus has given me time to reflect on what else I can be,
how much further, and farther, my life can take me than simply being an artist.
And funny, everything I thought I'd be doing once I was "off" hiatus
(like keeping up with other correspondences & re-entering the art-world)
I hadn't really thought of lately.
Instead, I've been sitting in the shade watching our garden grow,
watching flower petals unfold and bees buzzing from blossom to blossom.
And watching the stars shine, and finally seeing the owl I'd been hearing lately.
Mohamed had recently told a lady,
who had asked if I had been painting,
that "yes, marisa has been painting with water..."
meaning that I had scattered seeds throughout our yard
and as I spray water across the land,
vibrant colors and forms come to life.
But now that it's August, I have really been "on hiatus" from technology,
including emails and taking photos (& apologies to my parents for that);
and instead, focused more on Marmalade's story-time and creative play
(which reminded me of the years ago I spent teaching arts to children
& the years before when I was Marmalade's age, in my own imaginary world),
and reading (especially as a new book on companion planting just arrived from my Dad),
and materials-collecting for our home and gardening projects.
We dug out all the collected glass bottles, driftwood,
seashells, colored stones, and the tangles of gathered fishing ropes,
to prepare our materials for newly repaired outdoor furnishings,
Marmalade's playhouse, our front porch, and bathroom remodeling projects.
And found another nearby trail within Bamboo Parque littered with fallen bamboo,
perfect to complete the outdoor kitchen area and the pergola over our front porch,
which now has three upright posts with three crossbeams.
And, for some time now, I've wanted to make a collection of wind chimes,
and with all the collected random materials, I can finally begin creating them.
And I dug out my oil paints and stash of brushes,
and began repainting a nasturtium painted on a found metal sign in Austria,
as its trailer trip out west last summer left it dirty, scraped, and stained.
Perhaps an apt metaphor for our journey to arrive here;
but I'm ready to move on, move forward,
and so repainting it with our garden's new blossoms.
Once finished, it will become decoration for our fence,
as another friendly welcome to the moonfarm.
And Marmalade and I begun our largest collaborative project yet,
repainting the back wall of our house, which, hopefully,
will soon become the inner wall of Marmalade's own bedroom.
Painting this mural reminds me that I truly love painting on walls;
and that although I am not just a painter, I do love painting.
(& I've wondered how I can share that love here;
& painting our house seems the first logical step.
Yet Marmalade's school, most of Zambujeira do Mar,
& the Casa Viva teahouse in Odemira all seem possibilities
to spread my colors further & to reach a wider audience;
something I imagine would unfold over the next few years.
& speaking of Casa Viva, we'll be there more often,
since Mohamed will be leading a weekly capoeira class there.
So painting their walls seems a very real possibility, too.)
We are also trying to get the place cleaned up a bit,
to feel like we've finally moved in and claimed our home
(& get it ready for a huge visit by Mohamed's family).
And I've been really busy with the bounty from our garden:
jars and jars of blackberry jam, applesauce, and pasta sauce.
With a growing pile of adorable summer and winter squash,
and bush beans, tomatoes, arugula, kale and cauliflower,
and kohlrabis, tomatillos, cucumbers, onions and pears
(which sliced thinly together make a lovely salad!)
And, as our summer harvesting is in full swing;
we are also getting the garden ready for the fall planting season.
We're putting in another few planting beds for an exciting collection of fall favorites: radishes, peas, onions, garlic, broccoli, rainbow beets and carrots,
and including: fenugreek, red cabbage, celery, shallots, leeks and rutabaga,
that I've never grown before.
We arrived one full year ago,
as our first day in Portugal was Marmalade's third birthday.
This year we have so much to celebrate, so much growth, joy, and surprises.
Marmalade wished for a birthday picnic at the beach,
so we invited the Sebastians to come along,
for lunch and chocolate cupcakes by the sea;
not all that different than a scene from one of her storybooks.
While wandering our land harvesting all the ingredients for the garden salad,
I realized that our home really is out of a storybook:
over a river and through a bamboo forest...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
While our first residents were here in the early summer,
I really saw the potential the moonfarm has as a residency;
not just the location and tranquility and mild weather,
but the abundant found materials and room to experiment.
I've been on enough residencies
(& helped run Townhouse's while there)
to know that I would excel at running a residency,
and hope that the glassbottle construction for the ruin
gives the moonfarm the perfect place to welcome all creatives.
Yet being "off hiatus" hasn't given me any extra free time;
I still spend hours daily watering, cultivating, harvesting, and cooking.
And there's always dirty dishes and laundry piling up.
But the year "on hiatus" has kept me focused on our goals,
and helped me remember that although life is mostly out of our control,
we do have a little time and space to spread happiness
and make our world a little bit brighter.
Thank you for this incredible opportunity.
And please come back to the moonfarm.
On Aug 23 2017, Lee commented on From RFAOH Co-directors: Marissa, I would love to follow anything you place online! Please let me know hwen you get going![...]
On Jul 31 2017, mathieu commented on revival: part IV: thank you for the reports and for the gorgeous photographs, your adventure is very inspiring![...]
On Jul 31 2017, co-director (s) commented on revival: part IV: I'm all choked up... July 31 happened to be my birthday too; what a last day! Thank you to you all!![...]
On Jul 31 2017, co-director (m) commented on revival: part IV: Thank you so much for your generous contribution to this project Marisa - and everyone (we know it's[...]
On Jul 30 2017, co-director (s) commented on revival: part three: One thing we regret not to have done sooner is to make the comment section capable of posting images[...]
unearthing our life
So I suppose my last few posts weren’t very poetic,
as I’ve been feeling weighed down by all that there is to do;
sometimes unable to even prioritize what needs to be done.
And sort out what we have already accomplished.
But let’s begin:
The solar situation has been more or less solved.
Mohamed got all the panels we have working.
Yes, we still could use some more large panels to generate more energy
(to run our computers and so we can use the fridge),
and so each night we can consistently have lights,
but for now, the solar system is sorted.
The water system has taken up most of these past few weeks.
There was a gap between the intake pool and the 360 meters of hose,
so Mohamed went down through the brambles to the ditch
to lengthen the hose and reconnect to the pool of collected water.
But there were blockages throughout the system that needed to be unblocked.
And the giant storage tank had to be de-algaefied, scrubbed, drained, and refilled;
but not until there was guaranteed water flowing from the hose uphill at the source
(as I’ve really appreciated our indoor plumbing & didn’t want to be back in the bushes).
First we used some old, extra strong kombucha to disinfect the 300 gallon tank,
then Mohamed did a complete scrubbing, drained the muck, and was able to refill.
Then we realized the first intake pool had a similar algae problem,
so Mohamed, another bottle of strong kombucha and the scrubber brushes
went up to the source to clean, clear, and refill.
Phew. & flush!
(The storage tank is refilling now at a slow trickle,
so nothing to cheer about, but we are conserving
& trying to make do until we can find an artesian well professional.)
I wished I was able to help,
but I was gardening while watching Marmalade, and way behind on laundry
(some of our stuff stored at Tio Vivaldo’s got rained on & began to mildew),
and then my father was visiting, so we were discussing all the other needed repairs:
The roof over the bathroom was nearly flat, with only a three inch pitch,
not enough to drain the flow from the pitched roof over the living room,
so water began to collect, warping the previous shingled, nearly flat roof.
The warping made two long horizontal pools that become ponds when it rains,
slowly leaking into the bathroom ceiling, warping and splitting the wooden beams.
The previous owner tried to solve the problem
with another layer of tarpaper on top of the old roof,
(making the roof heavier & less pitched,
& making the ponds deeper, yet leaking less)
My plan is to work from inside the bathroom,
to build a support wall of glass bricks,
beginning by extending the half-wall along the bathtub
up to the ceiling and then halfway across the bathroom,
creating a better space without losing much of the lightness,
while creating a load-bearing wall to hold up the roof
and keep the ceiling from collapsing.
After the glass wall is built, we will tear out the old insulation from the ceiling.
Then by springtime we can get some help with fixing the actual roof,
for which we will need additional, knowledgable help,
to increase the pitch and incorporate a green roof native planting.
But for now, we hope to find a large tarp to minimize further damage.
and back inside, the walls need plywood and then tiles or something,
and the area around the base of the tub and the floor need something for finishing.
The other half of the bathroom had been used as a workshop,
with shelves of construction materials and hooks for tools,
and all the electronics for the solar system,
which I’m sure was convenient,
but I am nervous about having the batteries on the floor near the toilet
(& in Marmalade’s reach) and it makes the bathroom feel like a storage shed.
So when time and materials allow,
we will put together some sort of outdoor shed,
perhaps incorporating a small greenhouse/cold frame,
or a wooden playhouse for Marmalade,
possibly using some driftwood that we have been gathering.
Also, two of the exterior walls of the bathroom need siding.
right now the wooden walls are covered in green insulation foam,
and need some sort of weatherproof exterior covering.
We’ve been looking at buildings around for inspiration,
and the Batata Doce restaurant in Rogil gave us the idea to use cork siding.
It’s both locally made and a certified green building material.
We wondered about its exterior durability,
(Batata Doce used it both inside & outside on their East wall)
but found many buildings online in Portugal and abroad
that have been completely covered in cork,
so our 15 square meters of shaded wall should be okay.
And it should be an easy, drill and screw-in installation.
Another fun project will be installing the tiles behind the wood stove.
The back wall has blue foam insulation
and the side wall has wooden supports
that are unfortunately the wrong thickness,
but can be worked around with a lot of sawing.
So today we finally found a place to buy the plywood,
and spent the afternoon cutting most of the large panels,
and tomorrow plan to hang the plywood over both the walls.
Then, next week, get the correct mortar (sold locally, made by Weber), mix and apply.
Luckily, 6 cases of fired clay bricks were already stored here,
purchased by the previous owners specifically for this project.
Some of the exterior paint has begun to peel,
so I plan to find a nice bright blue to repaint the trims and window frames,
as is the tradition for most of the white houses here.
(I was told while on residence in India
that the bold blue color somehow repels mosquitoes.)
After all these repairs, we can think about renovations:
first of all, we need a well,
so that there will be a consistent flow of water to the house.
Yes, we got the current system working, sort of,
but a small stone or piece of tree bark could cause a blockage
and leave us with only the reservoir tankful until unblocked.
Plus, a deep-enough well might yield drinkable water,
which would save a lot of trips to the spring to refill 6-liter bottles.
Along with the well, I’d love to get a solar hot water system.
According to my father, who passed on the info. from my brother,
a solar whiz, the standard solar hot water systems are efficient and worth it.
(Right now we have a gas-powered, battery-spark-ignition water heater,
that we just got running today. Hooray!)
However, our 300 gallon water storage tank is atop the hill in full sun,
so by midday, we have fairly warm water for washing, etc.
To use a solar heating system for a reserve of our well water would be ideal.
Secondly, we want to build an addition off our bedroom
so that Marmalade can have a bedroom of her own.
There is space to add onto the south or west wall,
cutting a doorway and attaching another room.
As the west side of the house only gets late afternoon light,
we might try to make it like a sunroom, so that it wouldn’t be so dark.
The front porch needs both repair and renovation,
as the paint peeled off the poured concrete slab
and water has seeped in and eroded the surface.
Also the one cinder block step at the front door is narrow, high, and uninviting.
We’ve been collecting broken tiles to resurface the whole porch,
but I want to first use bricks to extend the step
and add a small bench or two alongside the house.
We need to put together a chicken coop,
perhaps incorporating one of our mushroom projects
(in particular, an oyster mushroom-embedded cotton rag carpet)
to absorb some of the nutrients from their wastes.
Depending on many factors, we might use the ruin,
converting it to a barn, for a couple of goats as well.
The walls are sturdy, the roof is missing,
but somewhat covered by the neighbor’s grapevines.
Or, if anyone is up to the challenge,
the ruin could become a guesthouse,
and we wouldn’t mind doing much of the labor,
especially the finishing, tile work and painting.
But because of strict building code laws,
to renovate the ruin as a habitation would require a building permit,
which requires hiring an architect, and having certified plans,
and certified labor, at least for the foundation, plumbing and electric.
So many costs we cannot even begin to cover,
though it would be an incredible guesthouse for the grandparents,
and other family, friends, and artists seeking a quiet retreat.
As far as landscaping, I want to build more terraced garden boxes:
another downhill from the three existing boxes,
and three to run parallel to the first three.
The whole area had been cultivated a dozen years ago,
and I want to make use of that soil and that sloped space.
On the garden perimeter, I want to extend the orchard to include
more varieties, and especially more local varieties, of fruit trees
(peaches, apricots, FIGS, oranges, pomegranates, etc.)
and plant sections of strawberry and blueberry bushes.
I want to create an outdoor sea stone mosaic patio,
partly covered with a grape arbor and flower trellis,
to use as an outdoor kitchen as the weather here is quite mild.
I want to embed a barbecue and traditional bread/pizza oven into the back walls
and have storage shelves and a counter space to prepare and serve foods.
As we have a rolling hillside, and an area cut out and cleared
by the previous owners for a convenient parking space,
the back of the kitchen area will be walled into the hillside,
while the front will remain open and lead out toward the garden.
We want to have more ponds.
We’ve begun extending the pond system,
and have repositioned and reconnected the old water storage tank
for collecting the garden water uphill from the orchard, garden, and pond.
We plan to add two more ponds, one small one near the house,
especially to catch some of the rain run-off from the roof,
and a larger one above the garden somewhere, to use for irrigation.
As much of the orchard will be uphill from the house
(& toward the water storage tanks),
we plan to keep the existing water system
and use it for watering the trees and garden.
(The water comes from the canal system,
from the Mira river, which flows from the Santa Clara lake,
created in the 1960’s to irrigate all the coastal farmland.
It’s a really cool system & really great water,
that just flows into the Atlantic Ocean if unused.)
And there are more, smaller projects,
including resealing much of the exterior joints with silicon caulk
(luckily, we found & purchased two tubes today, for a quick project),
making new wind chimes for along the eaves of the house
(I read that they repel wasps, especially if they contain metal components),
finding and getting a beehive next Springtime
(& planting enough sunflowers & other flowers for them!),
and taming the sea of blackberry bushes and other thorny plants
that have invaded the yard and our forest from all sides.
But for the time being (& foreseeable future),
we don’t have much money to buy the needed supplies;
and still have to sort through the paperwork process
for both our visas and re-registering (or selling) our car.
And we’ve been collecting firewood,
from the dead and downed limbs of oak and eucalyptus
that are littering our little forest, to keep us warm this winter.
We are trying to accomplish a little bit each day,
working towards our shared goals of moonfarming,
and hoping to shed the stress and anxiety of the unknown.
p.s. So, a few days ago, we unpacked the last of the big suitcases.
In it, I had carefully packed many of the paintings I had made in Austria,
mostly floral still-life painted atop old, faded Alpine landscape paintings.
It was funny that with each layer of unpacking,
more and more paintings kept surfacing,
including a few we had entirely forgotten about.
So with our newly acquired Yankee push drill (Thanks, Dad!)
we started hanging up some of our favorites.
It instantly felt more like home.
the first thing we’ve been collecting are pears,
gathering the ones fallen from a giant old tree growing amidst bamboo,
right at the edge of our property.
We’ve collected dozens.
So perhaps these pears don’t really qualify as foraging,
as they aren’t really a wild edible,
but they are crisp, almost-ripe,
and during the wind gusts,
As for actual foraging,
last week’s scattered rains brought an unexpected treat:
chicken of the woods, one of our favorite fall mushrooms.
These golden shelf mushrooms have a mild flavor and sturdy texture,
like cooked chicken breast meat, hence their name.
These are growing here on eucalyptus stumps,
(cultivated in huge tracks for the paper industry)
which we also have on our property by the dozens.
(While I’m on the topic of the eucalyptus,
I pruned some young sucker-branches off a few of our trees
during a Leaf time to coil together to form a wreath for our doorway.
It’s scent is used in aromatherapy for calming and stress-relief.)
Our eucalyptus haven’t yet shown signs of having these mushrooms,
so we tore up one of the bug-damaged sections of the shelf
and scattered it amidst our eucalyptus patch,
near the cut stumps from the previous harvest.
(Eucalyptus can be re-harvested three times from the initial planting,
as the cut stump from the first-growth will reshoot new trees,
again, and again, for 30 years of growth from one stump
providing three times the lumber, or firewood, as a normal tree.
Part of the reason for their popularity here,
also, they are drought-resistant, and being non-native,
have no natural parasites or other infectious diseases.)
For our dinner, I made a chickpea-chicken of the woods stew,
several shelves of the mushroom and an equal amount of chickpeas
cooked up with a sweet onion, a red bell pepper,
half a batata doce (local sweet yam), some tomato puree,
lots of spices (a bit heavy on cumin), and a splash of seawater;
served over basmati rice.
Blackberries, known locally as “amoras,”
have been another staple from our walks,
available for the past two months on wayward roadsides,
and now on the neighbor’s side of our driveway.
Those bushes, naturally, that grew near streams
yielded the tastiest, juiciest berries;
however the last of the crop benefitted from the autumn rains,
so all the remaining berries are quite enjoyable.
We also found a few wild grape vines growing at the edge of our ruin,
entirely rooted on the neighbor’s side (which they don’t use at all).
Marmalade found and ate all of the grapes that were there;
yet I hope to transplant some of the vines in the springtime,
to compliment the patio of the outdoor kitchen area.
Finally, though I really can’t count this as “foraging” since inedible,
we found an incredible stash of multicolored slate (or shale?) this afternoon.
As we were hiking up to the source of our house’s water,
I saw what I thought were broken tiles with intricate hand-painted patterns.
We were truly amazed to realize that they were slivers of rock,
unlike any rocks we have seen before on any of our explorations.
Perhaps the chunks of rock separated slightly at first,
allowing sediments to seep in, creating incredible patterns,
as the surrounding clayish earth seemed to carry some of the palette;
or the rocks were formed with these incredible patterns inside,
and the surrounding earth is simply colored from crushed rock.
Either way, these rocks are awe-inspiring,
and I collected three armfuls of them,
hoping that they could be somehow used for something.
(part of a patio, or sidewalk, or siding near the foundation,
or outdoor kitchen, or to help finish the bathroom, etc.)
Fortunately, the larger rocks easily break into nearly identical slivers,
and each sliver is smooth and flat, with incredible patterns.
Unfortunately, the rocks break easily, are incredibly fragile,
and I’m not entirely sure that the colors and patterns are set into the surface,
so a heavy rain may alter or wipe clean the incredibleness.
Maybe they can be reinforced, coated, or varnished,
or otherwise strengthened through an adhesive or cement.
We now own a slice of land in the valley of bamboo:
Barranco da Alcaria
which means “Ravine of the Village”
and we are in the narrow valley between two streams
at the Eastern edge of the village of Malavado.
After a small day-long delay,
due to a problem with the sellers’ paperwork,
we closed on the property and became home-owners.
The previous owners came by later that afternoon
to fill us in on the workings of their solar and water system.
We also learned that our almost self-sufficient house
will also be on its’ way to being financially sustainable,
with only 21€ in annual property taxes.
(If it wasn’t for the thousands ahead
for needed repairs and wanted renovations,
and the purchasing of fruiting trees and livestock.)
So cleaning and moving in has begun:
eagerly, excitedly, and exhaustingly.
After two days of rain,
Mohamed installed our solar panels,
I cleared out some garden boxes,
and Marmalade has moved most of her toys
all over the living room sofas and floor.
The next day we assessed the water system:
which begins with 360 meters of hose
running from a leaky connection in the agricultural canal,
down through the woods, crossing over a stream on our property,
and uphill to a 300 gallon storage tank, now over-growing with algae,
that has an outlet running through another hose, to another tank,
and then through a filter and into the house.
So besides smelling like a slightly rotten swamp,
the water system works as long as nothing floats in to block the hose.
And with over a year unused, algae has grown in the hose,
probably trapping all sorts of things with it.
Mohamed has spent two mornings trying to clean out the connection,
which might get the water flowing again, at least to some level.
But we are trying to figure out our best alternative:
We might be able to find a new connection to the canal,
an actual legal connection, using an actual pipe, to bring the water in;
Or tap into the stream that is much nearer the house;
Or dig an actual well somewhere near the house.
Since our house is located on a hill between two streams,
finding underground freshwater shouldn’t be a problem.
(Unsure of the expense, but the reliability would be nice.)
Meanwhile, I’ve been working in the garden,
clearing the second overgrown garden box,
and sowing arugula and kale seeds during Leaf time.
Inside, it’s been mostly cleaning and unpacking,
and cleaning what I’ve been unpacking
(as two & a half months camping has collected,
among other things, lots of crickets and spiders).
Our solar system is working fairly well,
everything but the fridge is working
(so we are using our electric cooler instead)
which isn’t so bad for just a few days of sun after a year of darkness,
especially considering how old and small the system is;
and we really appreciate being off-the-grid.
Low impact living.
Today we loaded the last of our belongings
into the trailer from the farmer’s field in Rogil.
It feels good to have our stuff consolidated,
though the unpacking and sorting will probably take weeks.
Tomorrow we will try to navigate the government system,
hoping to acquire a real postal address (post office box)
and information about preschools and health insurance,
and possibly switching our car’s registration from Austria to Portugal
(although we’ve ben told that it could be a very expensive procedure,
costing thousands more than the car is worth,
in which case we’d try to sell our car for parts,
and trade in for something old and affordable.
It’d be a shame, as we really love this car and it runs fine,
having to scrap it because of import taxes
seems so environmentally irresponsible.)
p.s. so we’ve met one of our eight-legged neighbors:
Marmalade found it on a huge web in the grass,
it’s about as large as her hand, always facing downwards.
We stop and visit when we are in that part of the yard.
from the hectic “civilized” world
that we hardly feel a part of.
As a visual artist (& visual thinker),
I had always been drawn to the beauty of a place:
the lush textures, the vivid colors,
the ever-changing sunsets,
those sorts of things.
Even my dreams lacked dialog
and were mostly visual spectacles.
Sometimes smells would overwhelm me cerebrally,
reminding me that strongly scent is tied to memory.
Yet sound was elusive, unnoticed, until fairly recently:
While in Boston, I had a roommate and good friend, Tiki,
who would play his guitar every morning while we drank coffee.
He was trying to sort out the unsorted issues in his life,
and used his acoustic guitar to seek solutions,
not realizing that he was sorting my mind as well.
Later that fall, while installing ‘the smurfhouse’ at i-Park,
I was camped out in a hemlock forest on their property.
Overnight, the sounds of pinecones falling,
bouncing their way down from hollowed limb to limb,
made the coolest symphony, as each “thünk, thünk, thünk”
was unique, depending on limb diameter and distance between them.
This was the first time I was profoundly affected by the sounds of nature.
Since then, this has become more of a common occurrence,
as my hearing has become more fine-tuned through use,
and I have sought the silence and subtle sounds nature provides.
Though some songs have struck my soul in special ways:
one of the first times I was hanging out with Mohamed,
he took me to the canyons in Sanaad, Bahrain,
a little patch of landscape amidst the over-populatation.
As sundown approached, we sat on the canyon’s edge
and the stray dogs settled down for their slumber;
the frogs began their sunset serenade,
overtaking the stillness with their vibration
expanding far beyond their diminutive scale.
For land as over-developed as Bahrain,
the frog’s singing was a wonderful escape
from the sounds of civilization.
Five years later, here we are in Portugal.
And the sounds of nature are our welcome escape
from the rumbles of bureaucracy and modern society.
Here, the seaside has been our first sanctuary;
astounding in its complex simplicity:
at Praia Barradinha,
the high tide dragging the stones
from the beach into their hungry waves.
and at the northern Praia in Zambujeira do Mar,
an underwater cave is exposed at low tide,
exhibiting a zen-like pool of sweet water
dripping from its sculpted stone ceiling.
And now that we have moved a bit inland,
to our hopeful home in the Valley of Bamboo,
we awaken to another secluded symphony:
songbirds’ morning-song amidst the strumming stream,
creating an ideal soundtrack for an artists’ retreat.
“when it rains, it pours” (or “the shit-hole that is our life”)
So, coming back to Rogil has been an unforgettable,
wish-we-could-forget-it kind of experience.
We arrived late Tuesday evening,
around sunset, from Zambujeira do Mar.
Happy to be back, excited to see our lovely neighbors again.
Even enjoying Alvin, our almost-adopted dog, coming around,
sleeping outside our tent as usual.
In the morning Mohamed mentioned how he liked it here,
wished we could stay here longer and
actually open the property as an eco-golf course.
Not much time passed before two GNR police cars roll up,
and three young police officers jump out,
their sunglasses shining in the morning glare.
They ask for documentation and search the place.
We give our passports and visas, and ask what’s what.
The owner of the property had called them about people
illegally occupying their land (a common charge here apparently).
We mentioned that we received permission from the realtor,
showing them the realtor’s email, and soon Mohamed was seemingly arrested.
I questioned the English-speaking officer about why? where? how long? etc.
Not sure, but questioning and investigation, then charges; Odeceixe;
for a few hours, and maybe court today, which would take longer, or tomorrow.
Mohamed returned home several hours later, after a little questioning,
lots of paperwork, and charges of illegal habitation,
a scenic 11 km walk back in the afternoon heat,
with a court appearance in Lagos the next morning.
After waiting to speak to the public defender,
and again showing the realtor’s email,
the charges were dismissed.
He must return to Lagos in 2 weeks to verify that no fines are due,
which we heard we may be able to convert to community service,
which seems much better than paying fines into the system.
(Overall, we are grateful that law enforcement here is unlike America:
no handcuffs, no booking, no fingerprinting, no mug shot,
no overnight stays in jail until a court hearing, no bail,
no “right to remain silent” as they weren’t making accusations,
but actively investigating, trying to find the answers;
all we wish is that they would’ve just called the realtor.
Apparently the realtor NEVER mentioned to the owner
that he gave us permission to camp there.
If so, none of this would’ve happened.)
So Mohamed came back, and we head north to Odemira to renew our visas.
The nice lady at the municipal office won’t bother with our Austrian visas,
and informs that as non-EU citizens, we need to go to an office in Beja,
but we have 3 months from entry to do so. Phew.
Also, our realtor, who came along to help translate,
found out that although he is from the Netherlands,
he also needs to go to Beja since his visa has expired too long ago.
We agree to all go together after our house closing and such.
Yet on the way to Odemira, more insanity ensued:
we got a call from the police station in Odeceixe,
asking if we had vacated the property yet.
Of course the police officer who called us didn’t speak English,
so we settled on our mutual rusty Spanish skills,
(Gracias a Señor Virus por 7 años de Español,
but that was 20 años ago!)
in which I explained that we weren’t there,
that we were in Odemira,
but our stuff still was.
He asked “?Por qué?”
I explained that my husband was in Lagos at the Palácio da Justiça all day,
with our car, so how was I supposed to move all our things by myself,
while watching and caring for my daughter, a toddler?
I explained that we’d be moving to the nearby farm,
as the neighboring farmer is an incredibly decent human being, Tío Vovaldi,
(the same man who had given us the produce, and sugar cane, and today a melon)
who spent that afternoon clearing a space for us to camp out and store our things.
The police officer told us we had 2 hours to clear all our things.
I re-explained that we were in Odemira,
that it would take us an hour just to return,
so 4 hours we received, which put our deadline after sundown,
but less time than it actually took,
but we moved most of our things by 10 that night,
(including the trailer that Cornelius helped us get out of the sand)
and finished before sunup;
and even refrained from giving the middle-finger salute
to the lady who called the police on the owner’s behalf,
though I won’t pretend that I wish her well.
So the next morning Mohamed mentioned
that I should document our new surroundings;
I looked around and then at him and said
“you mean the shithole that is our life?”
“yeah,” as it is one of those things we’d laugh about later,
at least we hope we can laugh about it later.
We camped out in the nearby woods for a couple more nights,
but decided that with that lady staring us down daily,
and tenants moving in at the rental house at Tío Vovaldi’s,
we decided to move along again.
Our realtor offered up a property he owns:
33 hectares of unspoiled forest and rolling hills in São Luis,
(originally planned to become a wellness retreat,
before the Dutch dancer/yoga teacher left him for another man).
But as it was an hour north of Rogil and a half hour past our hopefully home,
and had no water source or electricity, we politely declined,
deciding to stay somewhere closer.
So after some debate,
we decided to camp out on our new land.
We wanted to see it throughout the day,
to observe the path of the sun and shadows,
figuring out where to put the gardens, terraces and greenhouses.
And also to hike throughout the entire property,
as most of the 1.17 hectares is forested
and we were unsure what was growing there,
and really, which part of the tree-filled hillside
was actually becoming ours to tend.
But mostly, the reason was exhaustion:
tired of moving, tired of being on someone else’s property,
tired of waiting to walk the land, and water the plants,
and look after the bit of world that would become ours.
So here we are:
In a week the paperwork should be completed,
the money transfer received and divided,
for the four German owners flying in to sign over their land.
P.S. an explanation of the title of the post:
“when it rains, it pours” is the title of one of my favorite songs,
by my favorite band, Twiddle, an incredibly talented group from Vermont.
The lines that were looping in my head for most of the move:
“the problems don’t go away,
they keep piling on your plate,
you just want to escape,
you need to re-awake, now,
listen to the words I’m singing in this line
and, your life will be just fine,
and, troubles do not stay, they
get replaced with good times,
now you got a green light,
smile as you walk by,
thinking about the day…”