I had to go and see a man about a pig, and it was quite literally a matter of life and death.
Our friendly neighbourhood distiller Medronho Jorge is also known as Black Pig Jorge and he has the right level of appropriately coloured humour to discuss the comings and goings of his acorn-eating herd.
“They have 364 really good days,” said Jorge, “and one really bad one.”
Bad days are coming.
Ours has been a Christmas of contrasts with one foot in the country and the other in the town, as a couple of trips to Lisbon continue to remind us just how bumpkin-ified we have become.
In the big city they hate rain; where we live, we love it...and want more.
Parking even a small car is an urban art on the narrow cobbled streets of Lisbon, but navigating Cassie the Toyota Hilux – the perfect country car – feels like driving a tractor through a miniature village.
Talking about country life to city people is like telling war stories to those who aren’t conflict journalists: you need to self-censor to avoid general offence and possible alienation.
Oh, and in the capital, pigs are called pork and come from shops, in packets and in pieces.
The first trip was to collect our 25 year old daughter Oda from the airport after she successfully navigated the constantly shifting sands of COVID restrictions to fly from Los Angeles to Lisbon via Heathrow.
It had been a nervous time hoping she’d be able to make the trip, but her bags weren’t as lucky.
They remained socially distant from us while on a night out in London, so it was after midnight by the time Oda emerged from the arrivals hall – night time for us, but only late afternoon LA-time.
It’s a five hour round trip from Vale das Estrelas to Lisbon and – for dogs’ sake – we’d decided to drive up and down in a day.
Us country folks are used to them-there car-rides and it also meant we could have a pre-airport bonus evening with Ana’s sister and trendy Lisbon oracle Maria-João.
We coveted some beautiful traditional Portuguese glasses, were introduced to the narrow and pedestrianised “Rua Verde” restaurant street where everyone hangs plants from their windows, and where we were introduced to Clarete for the first time.
Not French Claret – I hasten to add – but in another case of every day’s a Portuguese wine-school day, we discovered a new world of Clarete and Palhete: lighter, chillable red wines in a style the Gen Zs are apparently lapping up if the Washington Post is anything to go by.
That is a fabulous rabbit hole I am looking forward to descending with a glass, but time is ticking in 2021 and there are pigs to be slaughtered and a New Year to be brought in.
The first task back home was to go hunting for a Christmas tree, and so armed with a chainsaw (back from its long summer heart-transplant) we headed up the hill on a mission.
One great advantage of country living is there’s no need to pay rip-off prices at one of those urban Christmas tree depositories that appear in parking lots, or to battle with a piece of string to strap it on the roof: we just carried it home.
Oda had picked out a perfectly sized tree and after a little DIY with an old satellite dish mounting bracket we had a base and could start decorating it.
But it turns out there are pine trees and there are Christmas trees – the difference being those that you can hang glass baubles on, and those you can’t.
Ours was a strange hybrid of the two, having the capacity to hold baubles just long enough for one to step back, admire the beautiful tree and then watch them all slip off long pine needles one by one and smash on the floor.
The learning curve continues.
The long-awaited rain cozy-fied Christmas nicely as we started making a small dent in the firewood mountain, enjoyed a Swedish feast on the 24th and got stuck into some festive movie classics.
While city folk bemoaned grey skies we celebrated the downpour which sadly wasn’t as torrential as predicted.
The lake level barely moved, but the soil is now sodden and our dirt road is suitably slippy.
It’s a cakewalk for Cassie, but I’d like to see you drive it in your “I can park where I like in Lisbon” Fiat 500 or smarmy Smart car.
I’ve been making regular observational trips to the lake and solar house to smugly note how much more effective our new solar panels are in cloud and semi-sunshine.
As I rescued a water lily from almost certain drowning (I guess the water level had come up more than I thought) I heard what appeared to be the sound of young chicks...but revealed itself to be a festival of four eyed frogs.
“What are they all doing” I first said to myself somewhat naively...and to Ana and Oda as I forced them to cloy through the clay to check out our new friends.
Oh, that’s what they are doing: four eyes, two frogs and tadpoles in the making.
It was the group thing that had caught me out – I had no idea they were into that.
After a summer of frog envy directed at neighbour Daniel’s lake it looks like we might be good for next year.
After a second sojourn to Lisbon for a family Christmas lunch on the 25th (it’s all about the desserts...and there were seven of them), we are now back home languishing in late December sunshine.
While we prepare to bring in the New Year with champagne and a dozen raisins (more about that next week), and enjoying temperatures in the mid-20s (making the best of global warming while we still can), we’ve been loving the contrasts of our odd new life.
We’ve walked the calçada-cobbled sidewalks of the capital while browsing boutiques...and have meandered muddy trails on the hunt for mushrooms.
We’ve sampled Portugal’s best chefs at Lisbon’s fancy Time Out food market (where I accidentally spoke Portuguese to an English-speaking tourist)...and we’ve feasted off the land with champignons, caps and ceps and our own oranges and lemons.
And having sashayed our way through the sushi spots and scenic cafes...we have also crossed streams on stepping stones and forayed through forests to go window shopping for piglets.
Ah yes, back to the pigs.
The question to Black Pig Jorge was whether to get a small one and roast the whole thing, or a bigger pig and go the more traditional "meat" route.
On reflection – and after our window shopping escapade – we’ve settled on the whole thing...slow cooked in the wood-fired oven...but we’re staring down the snout of a 15kg meal.
While we avoided turkey this year and our resulting leftovers have been manageable, I fear all that will change in 2022.
Thank goodness the family is coming. Bring on the pig party. #PorkIsTheNewTurkey.
Thanks so much for reading the blog and following our progress every week…please spread the love among your friends and have a very HAPPY NEW YEAR. Here’s to a much more fantastic 2022 for one and all from Vale das Estrelas…