Mr. Green Jeans I’m not.
Far from having a green thumb, everything I try to cultivate, to grow in the ground, gives up its ghost. Despite my best intentions, the only organisms thriving around our home are creepy crawlers and flying beasties.
Which is why we thought it practical to buy a row house without any land. It has several outdoor areas: a large covered terrace where our washing machine and laundry lines live … a cozy courtyard where we could enjoy a glass of wine, except for the dive-bombing flies and surface-surfing gnats … a balcony outside our bedroom wide enough for some potted plants and flowers, but too narrow for us to go out to tend to them … and a nook adjacent to our guest quarters, where company can sit in the shade and enjoy a good book—with that glass of wine (or a gin and tonic).
We have no land whatsoever, either enclosed yard or flowering garden. Nowhere to let the dogs out during inclement weather, when we’re not inclined to take them on their long walks. No dirt to dig in, space even to support a meager herb garden … or grow Chia pet gifts for Christmas, let alone anywhere to store a metric ton of winter firewood.
Many of the folks we’ve met here moved to Portugal specifically to live on the land and off the grid. Such modern mainstays of our life – running water and indoor plumbing, air conditioning and blow dryers – are conveniences neither needed nor wanted by these robust people. Their water comes from wells, not spigots or taps, and the wind winds turbines rather than turbans. Fertile and flourishing, their pristine plots are filled with blossoms and blooms, yielding edibles to eat and enjoy.
And these land dwellers are probably better off because of that—certainly superior to us who, generally, dislike the color green (on cars) and have kept Tupperware in business for too long. Where does our food come from? The refrigerator, of course!
“Quinta” (“finca” in Spanish) people are environmentally-conscious, community-minded inhabitants who have no problem slinging mud, tilling turd, picking prickly stuff off trees, or sleeping under the stars. They’re the new pioneers we’re more likely to find at open air markets than Lidles, Continentes, Aldis, or Pingo Doces.
Yes, I confess: we are homebodies, not quintaessentials.
So, imagine my shock when, walking the dogs down along our Rua do Cemitério, I came across a gated property with a “For Sale” sign posted. I spied just enough to bring up the possibility to Russ after dinner.
“Let’s take a walk,” I said, nonchalantly. “I want you to see something.”
We walked down the street and continued around the church’s corner, ambling toward a part of our town we’d hardly frequented during our time here. Exactly six minutes into our hike, I stopped. We stood about four meters away from a large new house under construction.
“What do you think?” I asked, more excited now on my second visit with someone to share the thrill of something decidedly different.
“About what?” he replied.
“This!” I pointed, hand sweeping panoramically across the property.
“That?” he asked, looking at me quite quizzically. “It’s land!”
“Yes, it is. But think of the possibilities …”
Justifying and rationalizing its purchase was easy.
Fortunately, I had composed and memorized a list of attributes, which I proceeded to tick off: We’d have a place for our dogs to run around safely. Majestic fruit trees already were bursting with color, as oranges and lemons ripened throughout December (with some olives still hanging around). The rooftops of some structures (whatever they were) could be seen over the stone wall encircling the grounds, so we’d have a place to store all that firewood we’d ordered. Plus, it could increase the value of our existing property. As the real estate agents explained, “People don’t want to move out here if there’s no land. You don’t have any.” Pièce de résistance: We could use the property to shelter the half-dozen or so stray dogs and cats living on our village streets. And the exercise! We could become Portuguese Paul Bunyans or Johnny Appleseeds, Orangeseeds, Lemonseeds, Cherryseeds …
“What do you think?” I asked, anxious not to appear too eager.
“It’s worth considering,” Russ replied. “Let’s see what it says on the website about it … and make arrangements to have a closer look.”
We wrote down the website listed on the sign and cranked up the computer as soon as we were home. Not too big or too small – 1,000 square meters – the property had a well, several “rustic” agricultural buildings, and access to municipal water, sewer, and electricity.
We completed the inquiry form online, requesting that the property be shown to us.
Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.