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[...]
Marmalade had her first day of kindergarten yesterday.
Mohamed said he felt like we were throwing her in the deep end;
and in a way, we were.
After three years and three months of always being with one of us
(except three hours last Spring when we went to a concert in Bahrain
& she stayed at home with her cousins & Mohamed’s parents),
he dropped off our English-(& Persian)-speaking daughter
at a school with two teachers and ten kids, all speaking Portuguese,
a language she’s only recently begun to experience,
after three years of being immersed in the German-speaking world.
I stayed home during the drop-off,
because I was nervous for her and didn’t want it to show,
and I wanted her to be as brave as she always has been.
After such a transitional summer and fall,
I hope for her to find good friends
and have some stability in her life.
She was somewhat excited to go,
a bit disappointed that I wasn’t coming for the ride,
but did okay until they got to school.
All those strange faces was a bit much, and she got shy;
it took over an hour before she’d leave Mohamed’s side.
But eventually she started to befriend another girl,
and Mohamed slipped out of sight.
So Day One was survived;
let’s hope Day Two is better.
As she was leaving, she said she wanted a party.
So I made a chocolate buttermilk cake for her return.
After dinner, we lit three candles and sang.
She blew out the candles and then we sang again.
And again. And again. Then we ate cake.
The first few years of school were my favorite,
and I hope the same will be true for her,
She deserves a good childhood.
And since the holidays are coming up,
I hope they do some festive projects
that might lure her into school some more.
Overall, the house was too quiet when she was gone.
So I stayed outside, walking with Nutella,
transplanting grass to clear the garden box,
cutting down huge, dried out, thorny flower stalks,
repainting an anti-rust treatment over parts of our car.
The cork siding should be delivered this afternoon.
Let me start by saying that we love the rain;
well, everybody but Nutella, who’d rather be dry and in her blanket.
Marmalade puts on her boots and really lets it soak in to her soul.
Mohamed loves the cool freshness of it.
And I love the quiet that rain provides,
since most (possibly sane) people stay inside,
the outside world becomes our own private retreat.
And I love rainbows (but who doesn’t).
Over the weekend it had been raining semi-constantly,
going from a slight drizzle to downpours,
and back again, over and other again.
So some downpours have given us an excuse to be inside,
and there’s a lot to do indoors, and out running errands.
Mohamed went out with Marmalade on Friday to sign her up for school,
which also entailed signing her up for free health insurance,
and getting her photos taken for the application process.
She will be starting her kindergarten on Tuesday.
It gave me a chance to finally get working in the bathroom.
Before we can install tiles and build up the glass blocks,
we need to build wood supports and a few foundation walls.
I was also able to track down the manufacturer of the cork exterior siding,
and after some correspondence, direct order the 15 m2 of 50mm siding.
So today it’s been ordered, the bank transfer set up,
and we will receive our delivery date tomorrow.
So we are hoping that once we install the cork siding,
the bathroom will be much warmer in the mornings,
at least warm enough to pee without putting a coat on.
Fortunately, the rest of our house is warm,
but before the sun rises, the bathroom is really chilly,
like, you can see your breath chilly.
We took advantage of this Flower time,
in the Northern hemisphere transplanting time,
to do some transplanting.
We moved two huge patches of wild mint to our yard
(taken from the fringes of a huge patch growing at the edge of the bamboo),
and three small wild heather plants that were growing at the sea cliffs,
and a branch from Malika’s neighbor’s hydrangea that we were given to root
(hydrangeas from my mom’s garden were my wedding bouquet,
so their thoughtful gesture has extra significance for our new home).
And this morning we got a peach tree to plant lower down on the hillside.
(Yes, the peach tree should’ve been planted on a Fruit time,
but we are leaving transplanting time until late December,
and Flowers beget fruits, so hopefully it’ll be okay.)
And after it switched over to Leaf time,
I started clearing the grass from the third garden box
and transplanting it all to the top shelf of our outdoor storage space,
as an experiment for the green roof project.
(Mohamed read in Naturkeller, a natural cellar construction book,
that grass roofs are an easy green roof for their cellar systems.)
While lifting up the grass, I noticed a lot of mycelium,
a really good sign of healthy, organic soil,
eventually finding a little mushroom in the grass,
so transplanting that too.
The overnight rains have yielded abundant fruits.
I’m happy to report that we have a patch of boletes
on the shady side of the path going to the top of our property.
This morning I discovered three growing near each other
(the magic number needed for picking one when out foraging);
Marmalade found a fourth one, the smallest of them all, and picked it,
so that we could try a small sample later to ascertain its edibility.
(To check a mushroom’s edibility, first rule out any possible poisonous look-alikes.
Then, if in the clear, slice and smell. If it smells pleasant, then sauté slice in a bit of butter.
Then taste, checking not only for flavor, but possible side effects of allergic symptoms.
If it tastes good, and there’s no itchy throat, swollen tongue, or rash developing,
then wait a day, to verify no digestive ailments; then enjoy!)
Since I’ve eaten a lot of a similar looking bolete in America,
Boletus subglabripes, and they smell the same;
I’m assuming they are a similar, if not the same, species.
But I always do the check anyway, just to be sure;
especially now that Marmalade is eating with us.
Also, I feel that in finding this bolete patch, on our property here,
is in someway a sign that my life has come full circle:
while I was pregnant with Marmalade,
and we were preparing our move to Europe,
I was working on a series of illuminated bolete sculptures,
for a commission for Wells Fargo’s Green Team program.
(Actually, that commission paid for our airfare over to Austria.)
Boletes are a mycorrhizal species,
meaning that the fungus lives in a symbiotic relationship with surrounding trees;
each species providing a benefit for each other.
(the fungus unlocks nutrients in the soil for the trees,
in exchange the trees give the fungus sugars.
Mohamed and I created an informative video of the mycorrhizal relationship
for one of his Biomimetics courses: the Fruits of Roots:
More excitingly (because they’re one of my favorites, with their smokey flavor),
I found another parasol growing in our parasol mushroom patch!
Since four unpicked ones had just dissipated from the patch,
I feel no qualms about having this parasol as part of our Thanksgiving feast.
Otherwise, as it is a Root time,
I’m planting a few dozen of the onions today,
in the second half of our second garden box.
I love using the greens from the young onions,
and was told that if they were planted now,
by Springtime we’d have a bunch of giant onions.
Fruit time is always my favorite,
and usually the busiest, time for us.
And this Fruit time is especially so,
as we’ve entered the Northern Transplanting time,
so it is an ideal time to plant fruit tree saplings.
Today we got three more trees,
so dug three more holes.
This time we selected a Lemon
(with one unripe lemon, a flower bud, & the most incredible smell)
a Tangerine (with three plump dark green fruits), and another Olive tree
(because three olive trees fit well on the hillside in a nice triangular formation).
Fortunately, their prices have been quite reasonable,
from 3€ to 8€ per tree, so we can afford to go a bit overboard.
We also grabbed two limbs of someone’s pruned fig tree that we found roadside,
and after two weeks sitting in a can a water, they have sprouted rootlets.
So before the end of Fruit time,
we will dig a couple more holes
and get those in the ground too.
While working on our moonfarmer mushroom recycling projects
that we had begun for a research assignment while in Austria,
we discovered that mushrooms also tend to “fruit” during Fruit time.
And several of the mushroom samples we moved with us
have enjoyed the cool rainy weather and responded with ample fruitings.
Two more of the oyster mushrooms growing in recycled milk cartons have begun sprouting,
and an oyster mushroom patch growing in a foil-lined paper bag grew a huge cluster,
while hidden away on the bottom shelf of our outdoor mushroom storage shelf.
(I always check all the samples during each Fruit time,
because they emerge so quickly.
So we will be eating a lot more oyster mushrooms.
Tonight I made a Mexican-inspired bean, oyster mushroom,
and red pepper stew that we dipped quesadillas into. Yum.
I also transplanted our shaggy mane mushroom patch this afternoon,
into a small, soggy clearing behind the pond, in the shade of a huge cork oak tree.
During my research I was told to collect some soil
from the site of the wild shaggy mane patch
to transplant soil microorganisms needed to induce the fungus to fruit.
So I put the collected soil microbe clumps on top of the mushroom patch
(mycelia-sprouting spores growing onto a homemade “forest-floor” substrate),
and hope the overnight rains will do the rest.
At first, I was dismayed about our prospects of growing shaggy manes,
as they are a cool weather species that will not fruit until after a frost,
not quite an ideal species to bring to Portugal. (But one of our favorites!)
Luckily the shaggy mane patch seems to have survived the hot summer journey
and probably enjoys the cool rains that we’ve had recently.
And the selected site is in the lowest part of our yard, around the pond,
and has frosted over several times so far this month,
so hopefully Portugal will be cool enough for them to make mushrooms.
Shaggy manes have no market-ability because they deteriorate quickly
(turning into a grayish spore-filled goo in a process called “autodigestion”),
but they are incredible, especially when picked young and fried as tempura,
or dipped in beaten egg, stuffed with grated cheese, and sautéed.
I’ve been taking advantage of Fruit time in the kitchen,
preparing our meals around the fruits
(including beans, nuts, & seed-filled veggies) we have around,
so at the moment lots of mushrooms and pears.
Last night I found chestnuts and decided to make a chestnut soup.
(I crave chestnut soup about once annually,
since having it in a restaurant in the fall while living in Austria.)
Not to brag, but I really liked my soup better than any I ever had.
I browned a chopped onion, fennel, two diced potatoes, and a sliced pear in butter,
then added some herbs and seasoned salt, then simmered in cattail broth.
Meanwhile, I toasted the chestnuts in a lightly buttered pan,
then chopped fine and added to the simmering soup.
The chestnut soups in Austria were loaded with cream and not very nutty,
this one was hearty and nutty and creamy, without any cream.
I ate three bowls.
Being the proud owners of 1.17 hectares of over-grown land,
with a not-quite-completed tiny wooden house,
gives us a lot of things to do,
to keep us busy,
so to speak.
Aside from the normal laundry, cooking and cleaning that life always entails,
there are all sorts of home-improvement and landscaping projects,
that from planning stages through to completion,
are utterly fulfilling and overwhelmingly exhausting
(& sometimes bloodletting, especially when pruning the blackberries).
Yet I’m happy to report that I finished the wall behind the wood stove last weekend.
Although by no means professional looking,
the overall effect is a somewhat billowing smoke design,
with the chimney and lack of tile-cutting tool leading to an abstracted scene.
But it is noticeably warmer inside now that it is completed,
and the tiles do reflect the heat from the wood stove,
as they should.
The brickwork was good practice before delving into the bathroom project,
which will require more precision to be the structurally sound project it needs to be.
We’ve purchased half the glass blocks and hopefully all the needed wood,
so now we can get started on planning and preparing the space.
But last weekend, and in throughout this past week,
the nice weather has encouraged us to be outside.
So we’ve been clearing out some of the over-growth,
finding little green leaves (& mushrooms) sprouting underneath.
We’ve begun a huge (separate) compost pile for this weed-filled trimmings,
imaging that once composted, it will be a good supplement for parts of the yard,
though I won’t ever use it in the garden, due to all the seeds of who-knows-what.
The first garden box is full of green leaves, mostly arugula and radishes.
The second garden box has a dozen spiky broccoli seedlings
and a dozen cauliflower seedlings (both planted during Flower time, as they are “florets”)
and a dozen cilantro seedlings (planted during the Leaf time),
with room for a bunch of onion bulbs once it becomes a Root day.
I haven’t yet planted the third box, but plan to soon.
It is sort of difficult to predict how harsh this winter’s weather will be,
but typically cold-weather crops are planted in the fall here,
especially onions, cabbage, broccoli, and such.
I plan to plant more garlic, and possibly some potatoes,
since I grew them well on my shady balcony in Austria,
and anything that could survive there will love the full sun and warm days this garden.
We also got two olive saplings on Thursday
and planted them on the sunny, rocky hillside,
which seems like the type of place olives like to grow.
And a whole lot of flowering bulbs, (48 to be exact),
because I really enjoy flowering bulbs,
especially anemones and tulips for painting them.
And, according to the Biodynamic calendar,
these past two Flower days are this year’s ideal Flower days to plant flowering bulbs,
ensuring they flower easily and vibrantly.
And then on Friday we got some citrus saplings.
So we were back up on the hillside that afternoon
clearing and digging three more big holes,
for one each of a Clementine, an Orange and a Blood Orange tree
(the Clementine has seven unripe fruits on it!)
When Malika and Ali were here this past Saturday,
they started clearing a section of over-growth near the house
with a hoe and rake, really clearing down into the earth.
It is really rich soil underneath and I imagine it will be a nice herb garden,
especially for mint, which I read deters wasps and other undesirables.
And goes great for Moroccan Mint Tea.
So, I realized that in the last post
I neglected to mention some of the neighbors we’ve discovered:
we found two different snakes on our property
(one very large mostly greenish one that was sunning itself in our front yard
and a thinner green & black one that was snoozing in our storage shelf,
that we originally thought was a length of hose, until it moved!)
and two smallish lizards that were hanging out in our bathroom,
(one jumped down & hid in the sink’s drain when we went to photograph them,
we’re not sure when or how they got back outside,
but we think we saw one of them a few days later),
and most excitingly, a tree frog! Super cute, sorry no photos.
(I had made a quilt square in elementary school of a tree frog for an endangered animal project & was amazed to see that this frog looked exactly the same as the one I made.)
The pears are starting to feel like neighbors too.
Each morning, when taking Nutella out,
we stop by under the pear tree to see who is ripe and ready for breakfast.
Nutella really likes pears, so she excitedly paws at my ankles the whole walk back.
She also fancies the persimmons,
as do I. These taste like mangoes,
much better than others I’ve tried before.
And I’ve found more Parasol mushrooms growing on our hillside,
and another giant bolete growing near one of our cork oak trees
(I thought it was a large rock until I touched it & it was soft & leathery smooth,
so I looked under its cap to verify that yes, it’s another edible bolete.
Oh, we met more of our human neighbors as well.
Randomly, while at the supermarket,
an elderly couple came up to us and asked if they were our neighbors.
Indeed, we verified that they live in the next house up the hill from us.
A retired British woman and her Dutch husband,
who used to run an International School in Lisbon.
Very friendly, they even said they will bring down children books
for Marmalade that their grandchildren have outgrown.
We live on a winding dirt road,
that leaves our tiny town, goes past a sheep farm and then heads downhill,
the road zigs to the left and then to the right and flattens out at our driveway,
then crosses the stream through the bamboo and climbs a steep, steep hill
out of the valley and through more bamboo.
So we don’t get a lot of traffic,
and began waving to everyone that drives by
as soon as we started camping here.
Most people have been waving back,
and some actually slow down to wave at Marmalade,
and catch our attention if inside to come to the doorway to wave.
So our neighbors must’ve recognized us from us waving at them,
though I can’t remember when we might’ve seen them.
I’m sure as we get the yard more habitable,
and put up more sculptures and paintings,
more people will actually stop by.
But for now,
we are waist-deep in yard work
and up to our elbows in house repairs,
so waving has been a fun way to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood.
Last night I received this email from a dear friend and fellow American artist:
“we’re all in deep mourning, horror, dismay, over the election results.
It feels like we’re about to return to the Dark Ages,
and I should start making ceramic tablets,
imprinted with whatever knowledge we have,
and burying them for future generations.
didn’t realize the apocalypse was scheduled so soon…..
how are you doing with this?”
I thought I’d share excerpts from my reply,
because I suppose these things must be said,
and I’ve included so much of our eventful week:
Do not despair.
Because you have a lovely grandchild on the way!
Luckily they are tucked away in a liberal haven in the Pacific Northwest.
Have you finished the new quilt?
But, I really do like the ceramic tablet idea.
Put your frustration into your work.
Your work is very powerful.
History not learned repeats itself.
And here we are.
(You didn’t know me back then,
but when we invaded Iraq, in 2004,
I looked for residencies in the Mid-East,
settling on the Townhouse Gallery, in Cairo, Egypt,
because I admired the artists there,
and really liked the work they were creating.
I had to get away from the hate,
and at that time, I was in Boston,
and Boston was full of hate. Proud of their hate.
I spent that 9/11 in Nuweiba, on the Red Sea,
on the beach with Egyptians and Israelis.
That was our protest of the ongoing wars.
And the ongoing hate.)
You asked how we are coping…
We are just fine.
Grateful to be here,
tucked away in a bamboo valley,
in the middle of nowhere, really,
across the sea from all the commotion.
We started our day by singing the Abc song,
over and over again, while still laying in bed,
using your quilt to point out the letters to Marm.
(It’s really funny how she sings along,
confusing H for 8, & I for 9,
so it becomes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, 8, 9, J, K, LmnoP…
Marmalade made a friend yesterday,
Actually we all made friends yesterday.
During the day of despair,
we went to a nearby seaside town to buy a used car,
that just happened to be owned by
the only Moroccans in this part of Portugal.
They are really nice, really friendly people,
who even had us over for lunch.
And they have a son, Said,
who is only 4 months older than Marmalade,
and attends the local kindergarten,
which Marmalade will attend someday.
Marmalade and Said get along really well.
We all get along really well.
Malika works for the local Driscoll’s berry farm,
as a Portuguese-English translator for the Nepalese laborers.
Her husband Ali is a fisherman, and works at the fishmarket.
Malika gave me a bunch of persimmons and boxes of frozen berries.
So I made a small batch of jam today, jarred up half,
and saved the rest for a cheesecake topping.
Because I’ve been craving cheesecake for awhile now,
and the berries have me feeling inspired.
So this weekend when Malika, Ali & Said come over
to see our new house, we will share cheesecake.
Because love trumps hate.
Otherwise, we’ve been homebodies when we can,
fixing up our fixer-upper. It needs a lot of work!
Mohamed has been trying to streamline the water system.
I’ve been putting up the tiles on the wall behind our wood stove.
And hanging up some paintings, so it feels more like home.
And gardening. And foraging!
Tonight I made pasta with a pesto sauce,
using arugula picked today from our garden
and a parasol mushroom plucked from near the stream.
Honestly, I sorta saw this coming…
I was ready for a Bernie revolution,
but I knew the country was more willing for the Dark Ages.
I always had friends of every shape and color,
and saw that they were treated like they lived in a different world.
I didn’t want Mohamed to experience any of that while he was there,
so I was very protective of him, sheltering even.
I didn’t want Marmalade to grow up in that kind of environment, either.
Sure, she can pass as a “real American”
but we were trying to find a more welcoming, accepting world to call home.
The Portuguese are lovely, laid-back, down to Earth people.
We are happy to have them as neighbors.
We hope to have more as friends.
If the feces hits the fan and there’s too much splatter,
you can always come here to avoid the debris.
Our goal is to renovate our ruin to be a guesthouse,
for family, friends, and as an artist’s retreat,
so please feel very welcome to come as all three!
We choose this place for its potential as a refuge,
from whatever political, environmental, or natural disaster the world suffers.
Originally, I though Mohamed’s family might need the retreat,
from their small, entirely sea level island in the Persian Gulf,
that always seems on the brink of getting swallowed up by Saudi agression.
My father mentioned, back in May, that if Trump got elected,
he’d be joining us in Portugal, as the laws for retiring here are quite welcoming.
I thought, great, Marmalade would love having the company.
But he was making a joke, I think.
I don’t think my parents thought this could happen.
I guess there is a lot of shock going around.
Mohamed just told me that there were protests!
and keep your head above whatever is getting thrown around.
We shall overcome.
We love you.
Jorge, a man who commonly passes by, finally stopped to share some wisdom.
A few days ago Mohamed had given him some dates
from the stash we have from his grandfather’s trees
(growing in his parents’ front yard & kindly brought over for us)
when he passed him on his way back from unclogging the water source.
Jorge is from Angola, been here a long time, speaks slow and clear Portuguese,
and shared a lot of information about the nearby neighborhoods,
and the services they provide, especially to newcomers and families.
He actually gave us some hats and a few toys for Marmalade.
He also gave Mohamed a contact for professional diving work in Sines,
a nearby port town, actually the westernmost port for mainland Europe.
So hopefully this leads to a good path for Mohamed to follow.
Secondly, right after sunset, and when sitting down to eat homemade pizza,
the phone rang. It was a lady returning our message inquiring about a used car:
the nicest, most affordable car that we found for sale in our region.
Mohamed was nervous about answering, being both tired and anxious,
as talking on the telephone is usually taking a Portuguese pop quiz.
Except this lady is from Morocco, so they could converse comfortably in Arabic.
And they live in Zambujeira do Mar, and have a son, Said, who is Marmalade’s age.
She offered to sell us the car, help us to do all the car’s paperwork,
and even assist with getting Marmalade registered into school with Said.
It is a miracle!
After all of our remaining confusions and stresses
about procedures, paperwork, and legalities,
we were offered assistance and guidance today.
The morning had a Leaf Trine, during the Fruit time,
which led to a warm day with lots of clouds and passing showers.
The mushrooms have responded favorably to the change in the weather.
We found a cluster of parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera)
at the edge of the path leading into Bamboo Parque,
and a meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestris),
the wild cousin of the white supermarket mushroom,
growing in our backyard. Marmalade picked them both,
having an incredibly fun time playing with the parasol.
(I am currently doing a spore print to confirm,
but we are really excited to find parasols,
one of our favorite edibles, that we were missing from Austria.)
Also, an astounding discovery:
some of the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium I had moved over
have survived and have produced primordia, the predecessor to mushrooms.
The spawn was mixed with pasteurized recycled carton and wood debris,
and packed into washed half liter milk containers and resealed before moving.
The scorching heat throughout our road-trip, especially in Spain,
took a toll on some of the mushroom samples we brought,
but these seem to have not only survived,
but acclimatized and are doing well.
Nearby to our mushroom patch,
we befriended a praying mantis,
a quite large green one with a strange habit
of climbing up to the top of a wildflower stalk
until it bends over from its weight,
leaving the mantis hanging upside down.
It happened twice in a row.
I want to mention that I love mantis.
I find them strange and peculiar,
thoughtful and knowing.
I had seen a few at my mom’s house when I was younger,
but then none for years, until this Spring,
when we found a huge one in Mohamed’s parents’ backyard.
I was taking video, and as I crouched down to get a closer look,
it jumped into my hair, apparently to get a closer look as well.
We’ve seen a few more mantis here, smaller ones mostly,
that seem to enjoy sunning themselves on the solar panel in the mornings.
Also peculiar, at least at first,
was a very slow going reddish caterpillar
(or as Marmalade says “calapitter”)
that was on umbrella fabric on our porch.
I thought perhaps it was camera-shy,
because it became very inactive.
Later, when Mohamed pulled the umbrella to cover our camp stove,
we found it was inside a fold, and had made a cocoon for itself there.
Mohamed was concerned since he had slightly ruptured the cocoon
and the caterpillar had half-emerged when he had moved it.
Fortunately, when checking in later,
the cocoon had been reinforced
with the caterpillar safely tucked inside.
(In retrospect, I should have suspected that it was going into metamorphosis.
In researching to try to identify a giant red & purple caterpillar this Spring,
I had read that many caterpillars turn red when they are ready to transform.)
Our giant spider is still in the same place in the tall grass,
rebuilding its web every few days, and getting noticeably larger.
Mohamed found another large spider, with a similar web design,
further up the path towards the house.
This one is golden in color, much wider, almost crab-like.
Oh, and we have moles!
We haven’t seen them yet,
but we see new evidence of their own home improvements:
molehills and tunnel mounds, especially after each rainfall.
They are incredibly beneficial to the soil,
especially for the trees and other large plants,
as they create channels for both water and roots
to penetrate within this hard-packed rocky soil.
And dragonflies! Lots of them!
Some are smaller and graceful, stunning really.
And some are really huge, like remote-control toy helicopters buzzing around.
They fly much like bats, which isn’t too surprising
since they’re both out there cruising the skies for insects.
I’ve hoped to capture them on videos so that I could post them;
but they fly fast and at dusk, dawn, and twilight respectively,
so not easily photographed with our limited technology.
But hopefully sometime soon.
My mom’s most recent email really touched a nerve:
“What I love most about reading about your adventures is how you take the time from the loads of work you have to do to enjoy your life in your new home, hanging paintings and gardening and foraging for pears. The work will surely wait for you, but the enjoyment of life may not. Good for you for realizing that while you’re still so young.”
I’m not so sure she realizes it yet,
but this is a lesson I have surely learned from her.
Yes, we are enjoying life;
even the stupid running around chasing paperwork days,
we will find some time for a bit of fun,
(for Marmalade’s sake and also our own),
but we especially the days where we get to be home,
working on our home. And working around our home.
Even today, while doing the laundry,
I was sitting out on the front porch,
enjoying the incredible weather and nice scenery.
And oh, I picked some arugula yesterday from our garden
(it was a leaf time), the first picking from our new garden.
The radishes have all sprouted, and some of the kale,
and I had planted a sprouting clove of garlic last weekend
(during the root time) and it has grown a lot since then,
maybe 3 or 4 inches so far.
We found the cement for our fireplace tiles this morning,
and finally got all the plywood up, so that will be this weekend’s project.
Oh, the place also sells the glass blocks I’d been looking for,
so I’ll measure and draw a plan this weekend to get those next week,
to build a nice wall to support the bathroom ceiling.
Otherwise, we are trying to buy a new used car.
Until they change the import laws (that they must change,
as someone from Germany took the government to court
about charging import taxes for cars from within the EU & won)
but haven’t changed the laws/fees yet.
Since the taxes are currently a few hundred euros per cubic centimeter of engine,
& “Bootsie” has a huge engine, (therefore about 6-10,000€ in taxes)
so it’s cheaper to buy another old car, at least until the laws change…
but finding something nice, affordable & nearby has been tricky.
& since our insurance from Austria is running out, our new top priority.
We also started Portuguese lessons this week,
as a group with a bunch of other foreigners
that are all at various beginner stages of learning.
It takes place at a Swiss-run teahouse/yoga studio in Odemira.
We’ll be happy when all the stressful crap about moving here is done,
(especially all the endless paperwork), because we really like it here.
And I want to be able to just work on the house,
and tend to the garden, and make dinner,
and catch up on piles of laundry,
and cut away the overgrown blackberries,
instead of all this running around.
But yes, we enjoy everyday.
We go to the beach whenever we are nearby.
We read lots of stories, do lots of coloring,
lots of running down the hills and looking at cool bugs,
but more on them later.