Taking Stock

When I was cleaning out trash this week I came across something that might have knocked around the Ribeira das Naus, the River of Ships. Except that this particular tool was built in 2013, five and a half centuries after the Perfect Prince was born.

For two years I’ve been building a house, and now the time has come to move. August is a quiet month in southern Europe, so the timing is good. I pack my belongings, reliving past moments, good and bad. There’s a bunch of stuff that needs to be recycled—not thrown away, mind you, that’s something that only happens in the third world, with its piles of garbage, cardboard and plastic twisting in the breeze.

A trash heap in the Bangkok university area. Out of sight, out of mind.

A trash heap in the Bangkok university district. Out of sight, out of mind.

The surface pollution matches the noxious gases in the air, and the heavy metals and organic compounds poison the water—the stuff you see less and less of in the West, now we’ve become Mr. Clean.

The last time I did this kind of clearance was after my Rabbit’s death, and I still have some lingering mementos in my office. A couple of old handbags, that kind of thing; it’s time to let them go.

It may sound odd, but moving house is a relaxing experience for me. I hate inactivity, so I can be just as happy tinkering with words on a Sunday morning as painting and sawing, or chiseling away at some stubborn edge, I’ve always been keen on too much of everything, and that includes seeing how much you can stuff in a car and still call it a moving vehicle.

Being the contractor on a large construction project is similar to managing a research program—in some ways it even resembles writing a book, although in that case you do most of the work yourself. Above all, you need to understand concurrency, and you need to make sure dependencies don’t turn into paralysis.

Because I was close to all the activities, I learnt. Much of the day to day still depends on craftsmen, artisans who work wood, tile, and concrete using plumblines, taut string, and improvised yardsticks.

As if rescued from the deck of a caravel, this alignment device is pythagorean in its accuracy.

As if rescued from the deck of a caravel, this device is pythagorean in its accuracy, and Portuguese in its simplicity.

The artifact I rescued contrasted with the lasers and electronics of today. Along one side of the right-angled triangle the number 18,4 appears—a Dan Brown-like cue for a breathless brainy hotty to gush at Dr. Langdon’s infinite wisdom. On my recent journey through America, I was forced to descend to the depths of Inferno, in digital despair.

The dawn air rustled, billowing his hospital gown, and Langdon felt cold air in places he knew he shouldn’t.

As usual, the writing is sophomoric at best. The rules of literature may be broken in two ways: Hemingway breaks them in a good way, Brown does not. And the brainy hotty has loads of brains, but no hair. As usual, no one has sex or time to eat—a coterie of characters starved of both venery and victuals.

The people that built my house were of all colors, a testimony to the Portuguese colonial past in ways that are rarely seen elsewhere. True, there was a smattering of Moldavians and Ukranians, but the core was from Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, Guinea, and of course Portugal.

Over two-thirds of the companies involved went bust during my construction cycle. As austerity morphed into financial lockjaw, phones stopped ringing, vans vanished—even the porta potty people went belly up.

I was repeatedly asked to advance payments to resolve payroll shortfalls at the end of the month.

Quem paga adiantado fica mal servido: if you pay up front, you get bad service. I didn’t pony up, but I hurt inside for the guys who lost their jobs.

When I returned from the U.S. I dropped in at my favorite restaurant. It’s a rustic kind of place, with two large rooms. Back in the day, the front room was a cafe, the back room had sawdust on the floor—and served meals. Then for three decades it thrived—Sunday lunchtime was a two hour wait. But now the front room has been emptied, and turned into a kind of entryway. The back room was fuller, since half the restaurant was missing. And at least four of the staff had disappeared.

You can barely make out the legs of a homeless youth, ironically sheltering beneath the Portuguese Youth Institute. He's there right now, as I finish this chronicle.

You can barely make out the legs of a homeless youth, ironically sheltering beneath the Portuguese Youth Institute. He’s there right now, as I finish this chronicle.

This is a quiet summer, where people who usually managed to take the kids to the beach for a week are lucky if they’re holding a job. Families that went abroad are rediscovering the Algarve—nothing wrong with that, now the nouveau riche patina is wearing off. And many, many are wondering what on earth happened to the promise of a better life—people who’ve worked hard all their lives can’t understand what made the world turn against them.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: