Bits of the old Roman road

It’s not all fun and games here. I brought along my Bookkeeping for Dummies book and I’m getting a handle on bookkeeping. Bookkeeping has always been like that big dark tunnel in Béjar – terror inducing. But last year I asked for help before I stepped inside and although it’s work it’s working out ok.

Inside the amphitheater

Today we are in the old Roman (in Spain) town of Mérida. It was originally called Emerita Augusta (Mérida for short) and was founded by the Emperor Caesar Augustus in 25 BC. It’s full of the ruins of 2000 year old buildings, medieval buildings and museum buildings. We got up early to keep cool and were first in the gate at 9 am to visit some of the oldest buildings. By 11.30am it was hot and we’d only seen three, you would seriously need a week to visit everything. We’ll just have to come back.

The stage of the theatre

We saw the Anfiteatro (Amphitheater) where the games took place, gladiators fighting each other and animals. The Teatro (Theatre) where plays were staged and civic ceremonies held. And the Casa del Anfiteatro (houses beside the Amphitheater) where you could see detailed mosaic tiles, some interior room decorations, a bath house, original water pipes and a kitchen stove. Everything in this area had been buried in the early 1900’s and when the unburying of the amphitheatre and the theatre started they cleared the debris off to the side not realising they were burying these houses deeper. It was only decades later when one of the mosaic floors was discovered that they realised what was underneath. Everywhere you walk in Mérida there are pieces of history, right beside the motorhome park there’s a field full of house shaped brick walls and in one of the pedestrian shopping streets there’s a preserved roman street made of large flag stones.

You might be able to spot the painted wall decoration and to the rear of that are water pipes

I don’t blame them for losing the houses, it’s hard to see what’s right under your feet sometimes. We have passed through Spain so many times and missed amazingly interesting places every time. We met a Swiss couple yesterday who were on their first motorhome journey to Spain and they had planned everything. Then in their first week they binned their plans when they met a Spanish man at a park up who filled in their map with every beautiful place he could think of in his country. Mérida was one of those places. The Swiss man handed me his phone to look at his pictures of two others, Córoba and Toledo, just a bit too far from where we though we were going but very tempting.

A section of the mosaics

For the rest of this week I’m going back into the bookkeeping tunnel I hope to uncover some hidden mosaics myself… I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.

The Journey

(Practicing Garden Therapy)

Today is the day we were booked to travel on the ferry from Rosslare to France ❤️ then onto Spain ❤️ on our journey to Portugal ❤️. Right about now I would be writing my first post from the car park of the services area near Gorey. But everything changed and here we all are on a different kind of journey. Together.

(Watching Eilish playing in the shed)

I’m sitting in my garden and I can tell you one thing I didn’t know before, I am very lucky to have a garden. I have been neglecting her but she waited, hibernated even, let herself go a bit with the grief of missing my care. I’m sorry, garden. I’ll do better. I think that’s one of the things this journey is going to be about – gratitude for the things I didn’t know I had.

(We are collecting sticks… I’ll explain another day)

Another thing about this journey is that there’s three of us. Denis, whom I’m usually living with in close confines, has been self-isolating for the past ten days, we talk on the phone now. I suppose I should add him to the list of things I’m grateful for. I didn’t realise how much I have got used to his presence. I am finding it surprisingly easy to be annoyed by his absence which I find surprisingly easy to turn into annoyance with him but he’s taking it well. I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

(Aren’t they lovely?)

Eilish is here too, Denis’ Mom (Denis and his five brothers all call their Mam, Mom – might be a Cork thing.) Eleven days ago we gave her an ultimatum and bundled her into the car to come live with us. Right about now I sense she’s ready to bolt. I’m really grateful she’s here though because she’s a huge distraction. You know, like Netflix?

(The description said they were ground cover and seemingly that means less weeds?)

When I’m not watching her we’ve been navigating a way to be two strong women sharing one house… politely. (Politely because Eilish doesn’t use swear words, I love them! I have found a way to make her laugh when I’m swearing though, I love to make her laugh.) She has a very different way of looking at things and she definitely thinks there’s one right way to do stuff. I don’t think there’s one right way… and I know I’m right…

(That’s wild garlic. Liam, one of Eilish’s sons, gave it to me last year and it survived!)

We are very alike in many ways, we like crafting and more recently gardening and Denis, we like Denis, mostly. We are also very different. She likes crafts to be exactly like the pattern intended, I don’t like following the pattern. I think weeds are just flowers planted in the wrong place and she thinks that’s crazy talk. I bet when she reads this she’ll say, Now, don’t mind me, Mairead but maybe just take a few more pictures of the garden and say less?

(Look! Ivy grows in our shed!)

It was my Dad’s birthday yesterday, he’d have been 99. I was thinking of him and the time of the petrol crisis (that was when we thought not having petrol was the worst thing that could happen to us.) He had a petrol station during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the petrol crisis was a highpoint for him. He realised that how he behaved then would underscore the rest of his business life. So he was kind. He rationed the petrol so there would be enough for everyone. Even if you weren’t a customer, even if he didn’t know you or would never see you again. Thirty years later people from different parts of Ireland were dropping in to thank him and remind him of how he helped them when they most needed it.

He reminds me that my behaviour now will underscore the rest of my life. I’m negotiating my way through this and it’s not in every moment but most of the time, I try to be kind.

May you be well, Mairead.

One stitch after another…

2018 1

(This is an old Roman road at the entrance to the olive farm)

Still here at the house with the oranges, in the town with the olive farm, waiting for Ruby to recover. The mechanic has started holding his head in his hands when he sees us… no translation necessary. It seems there’s still a problem. My mother reminded me that this is when I do craft stuff. I left the crafting stuff in the van.

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(Yummy yarn)

Then I remembered I had two balls of yarn and there was probably a crochet needle in my pencil-case. When I searched I found the laundry bag. Oh yes, the washing… thinking there would be a washing machine I carried our laundry the twenty-minute walk to the house with the oranges. There was no washing machine. First I hand washed the clothes, then I started crocheting.

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(It says Camel Wool…)

On the first day we arrived in this town we saw a shop with a sign offering accommodation. The lady explained the rooms were a bit far outside the town unless you had transport and we didn’t. As we chatted my eyes wandered to a colourful display – yarn. I realised she sold yarn. She had wool and cotton and a camel wool mix! Camel wool? Really? Anyway. Beautiful colours. Irresistible. I wanted one ball of every colour – just to look at. I bought two balls.

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(Granny square)

Crochet is very forgiving. Well at least it is the way I do it. My sister-in-law, Kate, taught me that you can join odd unmatched pieces of crochet work together like a patchwork quilt. So that’s what I have been doing ever since. Before that I was stockpiling squares, hiding them in cupboards, finding them when I was looking for something else. Taking them out to marvel at their colour, their texture, their comfort. Wondering how I could have forgotten them. The first one I pieced together made me laugh and cry, it was so surprisingly lovely.

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(Looks way bigger close up)

I kept crocheting over the weekend. I have no crochet books with me but I know one pattern off by heart, so that’s the one I’m doing. It’s called granny square and it starts with six stitches which are joined together to make a circle. By the third row it starts to look like a square and the square gets bigger as you continue. You can keep going until you run out of wool… or you decide this piece is done. I decide a piece is done when the work in my hand feels big enough, which is different each time. When it’s done you have to close it off so the yarn doesn’t unravel. The piece is actually finished when the yarn is cut. There is a moment when I realise something has been accomplished. Sometimes I notice this moment and sometimes I don’t but when I do it brings a feeling of contentment. Imagine if contentment was so simply attainable.

What if it is? Mairead.

Kittens and Coffee

2018 5

(Spring, spring, spring)

We are still at the house of the oranges in the garden. Ruby is still at the garage. We have fallen into a different routine here. Normally we have breakfast and lunch in the van and get dinner out from time to time. This week we are having every meal out. So for breakfast we go to Padeira de Vila (I think it means town bakery) we went there the first morning and we just keep going back. They are really friendly and the way they make Americano coffee is perfect. Breakfast is coffee and a ham roll with orange juice. you can probably guess that the orange juice is not from a bottle. Today we had lunch, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, I don’t know what kind of cheese it is but it’s amazing.

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(Poppies and daisies)

It is very unusual for us to repeat a visit to a cafe or restaurant but this week we are and they are starting to notice us. On the second day the waitress (when we were murdering the language with our order for breakfast) said, the same as yesterday? We were delighted and relieved, Yes, please! Em, sim, obrigada, obrigado! Today a lady who works upstairs at the solicitor’s office (see, we are practically locals) came in with an adorable kitten (sorry no photos, imagine a tabby kitten, the size of the palm of your hand, meowing loudly with adorably velvety ears) that someone else had found wandering in the road. The lady in the cafe gave her a box and a container for milk and milk and off she went.

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(Sunset from last week)

Thirty minutes later she’s back from the chemist with a bag of baby wipes, a lidded jar, a towel and what looks like a baby’s bottle. The kitten is up in her office and she hasn’t been fired yet. We all bond over her dilemma. We understand. We’ve been there. Kittens have such cute little faces. They are so trusting and loveable. How hard could kitten-adoption be? One so young would easily get used to a new home, even a motorhome…

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(Like a bird on the wire)

It’s getting dangerous to stay here much longer, between the lovely people the beautiful houses, the favourable cost of living and the cute kittens, we are in danger of making snap decisions with far-reaching consequences. Will know later today when Ruby will be ready, probably should keep away from anything cute until then.

Tchau, Mairead.

Just in time…

2018 1

(Ruby being winched backwards into van hospital)

I’m exhausted. It’s 6am and I’ve been awake for an hour… Denis is snoring loudly this night/morning! I feel a huge fraud saying I’m exhausted when here I am here in a beautiful place with everything working out for my good and I am complaining. Two of my friends have just completed big projects, one had a third of her team missing and the other has a Mum who is very ill. I’m sure they are exhausted. My own mother is in pain and miserable with an ongoing physical complaint. I’m sure she’s exhausted. And you, you have challenges that no one knows about and you bear them yourself. Are you are exhausted? One person’s challenge is someone else’s dream day. This is just my story but maybe any story can be a symbol of every story. It’s a long story so I’ll go back to the beginning or even before the beginning…

2018 2

(Very organised garage)

Less than a week ago I wrote “Something I really love about the motorhome is the flexibility. If your plan doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. Another plan is always possible. I’m not naturally optimistic, I have to work at it. Sometimes I am more comfortable thinking about what bad thing could happen so that I can work out in advance what I will do about it. Ruby and this was of living is helping me practice and I actually love optimism. Google it, I think you’ll love it too!

2018 4

(The boss mechanic won all these trophies playing five-a-aside in the 80’s)

Well you know what they say : be careful what you wish for… I had googled optimism at the time and loved that it said, “…hopefulness and confidence about the future…” I have always loved the word hope. It gets a bad press because it’s related to being attached too rigidly to a specific desired outcome. Maybe I am too attached to a happy ending but I think I love hope because when the ending comes I understand I will (eventually) find the happy in it. In the meantime hope keeps me going.  So my definition of optimism is: finding the happy in difficult situations.

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(Ruby is still in surgery…)

And then we are stuck on a small street in a small town and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I get through the day finding plenty of happy but don’t sleep that night. My mind is racing… How will me manage until Monday? How will we get water? What if we can’t get internet? What if they can’t work on the problem on Monday? What if the police come to move us on or arrest us? How will we contact the mechanic? If they don’t come how will we push the van around the corner and down a narrow street with cars parked on either side? Will it fit into the doorway? If it does fit where will we stay? How will we get around without transport? How much will this cost? How do I empty the black water cassette so that the mechanic isn’t overpowered by ammonia fumes if this takes longer than a few days? How do we communicate with the mechanic? On and on and on… Answering my mind’s questions is exhausting.

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(There’s a river just up the road from the garage)

There was something else pushing it’s way quietly into my mind as I tried to find answers. Big Picture. Think about the BIG picture. The big picture has none of the little details that my mind was concentrating on. The big picture requires me to stand way, way back to look at the situation. The big picture is like a landscape photograph with green trees and flowing water. there’s me sitting quietly by the water writing, there are birds in the trees and they definitely look like they are singing. I am safe. I am warm. I am still. My mind is quiet. The answers come in the perfect time.

2018 5

(Lemon blossom and…)

Even though I like the big picture and how it makes me feel I still resist it. I want to answer all the questions. I have to answer all the questions or bad stuff will happen. The thing is, there is no way to answer the questions… until the precise moment an answer is required. For example, the question, how will I empty the black water cassette? got answered when I woke on Monday morning at 7am. The answer was clear, walk to the public toilets rolling the cassette behind you, there will be less people on the streets to see or smell you. I have no idea how many people saw me (or smelt me) doing that walk of shame because I was concentrating on the ground and even if there were people judging me, it was not a shameful thing… actually you could call it heroic – I saved the mechanic from ammonia poisoning. My point, it was the perfect answer and it arrived just in time, no sooner.

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(…lemon blossom bud)

And just in time is a recurring theme… Just at the precise time we needed to communicate with the mechanic a dutch couple who live in the town and speak Portuguese arrived to collect their car. They translated and offered further translation by phone. Other questions didn’t need answers because they didn’t arise… we had just enough water. There was just enough clearance to get into and manoeuvre in the garage (remember the skill of the Portuguese drivers? well this Portuguese mechanic could manoeuvre with centimetres to spare while outside the van pushing it!) Just in time we found a place to stay with wifi and within walking distance of the garage, so we didn’t need our own internet or transport.

We still don’t know when Ruby will be fixed but it’s probably going to be just in time… Mairead.

Life’s a beach…

2018 1

(There was a boardwalk to the beach so we took a quick look…)

The Algarve area of Portugal is very popular. We’ve been officially in the Algarve for three days now but most people (or maybe just me?) think of the Algarve as the coast and the beautiful beaches. So today we arrived in that part of the Algarve and we went to the beach. We couldn’t stay though because it was full up…

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(My feets in the sand! It was warm!)

Well, the first two beach side parking places we tried were full. So we went a little (5 minutes) into the countryside and we can just make out the beach (well, if only I had those binoculars, I could.) and we can definitely see the sea. The wild birds are singing and there’s a few hens doing what hens do…crowing? cock-a-doodling?

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(Denis looks so excited to be in the sea… oh, maybe he’s complaining because of the cold? It is the Atlantic)

I was a bit concerned that we might find it more difficult to find places to stay once we arrived in the far south especially as it’s getting later in the season and the weather has turned. (Fingers crossed.) But here we are in a lovely place that we might never have found if we’d been able to stay at the beach.

2018 3

(The tide was way out)

Something I really love about the motorhome is the flexibility. If your plan doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. Another plan is always possible. I’m not naturally optimistic, I have to work at it. Sometimes I am more comfortable thinking about what bad thing could happen so that I can work out in advance what I will do about it. Ruby and this was of living is helping me practice and I actually love optimism. Google it, I think you’ll love it too!

It’s all good, Mairead.

Bubbles and Connection

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(The tiles are like wrapping paper)

Yesterday I went off exploring the town on my own with my camera. I took some pictures. I sat under a tree. I took some more pictures. I sat in a square. I walked on. I stopped to take another picture. If you had gone out at the same time with the same camera on the same streets you would have taken different pictures. Even if you took pictures of the same things you would have focussed on a different section. Or you would have zoomed in or zoomed out.

2018 2 1

(More wrapping paper)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different bubble of knowledge/experience/emphasis we each bring to whatever we do and wherever we go. My bubble is different to yours and each of our bubbles today are different to what they were yesterday. Going for a walk with my camera was the perfect change of scene to disrupt my thinking and disrupt my bubble.

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(Street name)

I was thinking that when we communicate with another human being we are communicating across bubbles, that can distort the communication even when we are speaking the same language. But then sometimes we connect with a person and it’s almost like we pushed an internal button that aligned our bubble with their bubble and we’re talking the same bubble language.

2018 5

(On top of a column)

Then at other times we are irritated by someone and it’s like we pushed a different button and now our bubble is fizzing and popping and no matter what they say it’s irritating. Recently I met someone who irritated me. My bubble fizzed and popped in a way that was distasteful… (I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you) I went on and on in my mind about how silly she was, how annoying, how childish. Then something about the word childish stopped everything.

2018 7

(See the fields and mountains in the distance)

It was me who being childish. The fizzing and popping had stopped. She reminded me of me! The same mean voice that criticises me was criticising her. I knew which side of the hostilities I wanted to be on. I pushed the internal button, my bubble aligned with hers. At first nothing changed, then she seemed nice and then I wanted to connect. Turned out we didn’t have much in common and we’ll probably never be friends but she taught me to notice my bubble fizzing and popping.

Morto, Mairead.

Only one more sleep

2018 1

(View over the rooftops, Ericeira)

We’re in Lisboa, at a different campsite. I’m almost set to participate in the workshop tomorrow and, the sun is shining! We did all the washing in Ericeira and now Ruby is as squeaky clean as the clothes. I’ve packed my bags with all the required supplies and set out what I will wear. I have my bus timetable, my travel card and my phone is charged. It’s like a first day at school. I’d ask Denis to take a picture of me on my way but it’ll be a bit too early. Might try a selfie…

2018 2

(More narrow roads)

This experience has reminded me that I can only prepare so much, I have to turn up and trust that I will be flexible enough to cope with whatever crops up. Stuff happens… maybe the bus will be late, maybe I’ll miss the stop to get off, maybe there’ll be a strike, maybe I’ll get lost. I was wondering, isn’t this a kind of creativity?

2018 3

(Lace made of marble)

I know when I make something, especially in mixed media, I have no idea what it’s going to be when it’s finished. I also don’t know how to finish it when I’m half way through it. I call it Not There Yet, it’s between the Hopeful Beginning and Triumphant Finished where I think, this isn’t going to work, no it’s not any good, oh no it’s actually terrible! When I let go and flow from Not Working Yet to Breathlessly Waiting and hang out there a little while… I’ll soon hear myself saying, oh hang on I see it now!

2018 20

(This is the library at Palace of Mafra. They have over 30,000 books!)

Not Working Yet is a scary place, I don’t like it much. I love Hopeful Beginning, Breathlessly Waiting and Triumphant Finished. Maybe Not Working Yet knows I don’t like it… What if I made friends with Not Working Yet? In the situation of preparing for tomorrow’s journey to Lisboa, I haven’t practiced a trial run of the public transport route from this campsite. Not Working Yet is: I don’t know what the bus stop will look like, I don’t know where to go when I get off the bus, I don’t know where to go when I get off the metro. I will be depending on the kindness of strangers and my google map app. Actually, when I think of it that way, I am a bit excited, because this country is full of kind strangers.

Only one more sleep, Mairead.

Do. Or do not. There is no try. – Yoda

(Today we went to see the ruins!)

The rain stopped and sun came out…and off we went to the roman ruins at Monografico de Conimbriga. These are the ruins of the old city (about 1800 years old!) of Conimbriga and the nice English-speaking man at the ticket office told us to bring it alive by imagining we were walking along the streets when it was still a living city. I tried.

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(Here’s part of the roman road going from Lisbon to Braga. Can you see the parallel lines? Horse cart tracks)

When we got to the Lisbon to Braga road I was trying really hard to imagine we were back in 194 AD. First thing I tried to imagine were the carts but I couldn’t see the cart tracks so I tried a little harder. It never works for me to try harder, well, trying doesn’t really work. (I could see the tracks when we were leaving and I’d stopped trying…)

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(Can you see the “carpets”? And look through the door and out into the enclosed garden with pools and fountains (you’ll have to imagine the fountains they were’nt working today because of the recent weather))

But then we went into the House of the Fountains. At first glance it’s a load of low stone walls set out in squares in a barn. So I tried really hard to imagine I was going into a house. And then I saw the mosaic floors… I didn’t have to try anymore. I could see room after room covered in mosaic carpets. And the fountains weren’t in the house they were through the (imaginary) windows in the garden. I loved it! I took a picture of practically every mosaic! I want to doodle every single one of them before I get home.

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(Love this…)

I took loads of close-ups too so I can remember them. Can you see how small the square bricks are that make up the mosaic? I’m guessing 3 or 4cm square. Look how many it takes to make a small square – 25 little teeny tiny square bricks! They’re called tesserae. And they were all made by hand and fired in a kiln and assembled by hand and cemented in place by hand and levelled by hand… 1800 years ago.

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(… and this…)

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(Here they are up really close)

After that we saw lots of houses and the city baths and shops and then we checked out the Forum, a huge open plaza with just three columns suggesting the numerous that would have stood when this was the center of the city…

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(The Forum with the three columns to the right. The walkway you can see to the left above is standing in for the entrance to the Forum plaza…)

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(…and this is the model of the Forum at the museum)

The reason this site is in such good condition is that it was abandoned in the middle ages. What normally happens is a new city is built on top of old ruins. So all over the old Roman Empire there are hidden towns and hidden mosaics… mmm. It took us a couple of hours to go around all the ruins and we read later that only 17% of the city has been excavated.

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(Look at the cute mosaic signs for the bathrooms!)

I’m really glad the rain held off and I’m really glad our friend the chief of police told us about this place. He told us the story of when he served in Iraq and walked into the office of the police chief of a small town there and on the wall was a poster of Monografico de Conimbriga. It turned out to be the dream of this man to one day visit Conimbriga in Portugal!

Dreams are like that, they send messengers, Mairead.