Thursday, September 09, 2010

How I Spent my Summer

I know I haven’t posted recently, but it wasn’t because nothing interesting has been going on, and it certainly wasn’t because I had nothing to say. I’ve just been busy.


First and foremost, I’ve been busy with what has become the shell game of living in this Portuguese house. Back in mid March when I moved into the house, it was scheduled for basic painting and repair work – the kind of stuff that you would expect would already be finished on a house that was being shown to prospective renters.

Not here.

In Portugal they don’t bother with fresh paint, lawn maintenance, or even cleaning until they have a deposit. Then the hopeful tenant is supposed to cool his heals in a hotel or under a bridge or someplace while the work is being done.

Which absolutely, positively, I was told, would be well before my family arrived at the end of the month. Or just before they arrived. Or slightly after.

Or, hopefully, in the very near future, now that the whole family unit has been on the scene for half a year.

I would like to say that some of the delay had to do with our discovering that woodworms (Three different varieties - that’s biodiversity for you!) were well advanced in the process of eating through the floors and stairs. Sadly, although they are, this has nothing to do with it. The woodworms are their own separate problem in and of themselves.

We notified the owner about the bugs months ago, when the sound of chewing began to make it difficult to hear the television, but she was reluctant to spend money on something so frivolous as little bugs. (The means by which so many of the beautiful buildings in Portugal have been allowed to collapse into ruins are becoming less of a mystery to me every day.) Finally she bestirred herself to consult with an exterminator, who advised her that the only solution was to have every floor and stair sanded, have a treatment applied to the bare wood, and then have the wood recoated with varnish. The owner agreed, and then hired a two-bit hustler who did none of the above, but did apply some garishly colored caulking between some of the floorboards in random rooms – but only until his work carried him to the foot of a chair or the border of a rug, at which point he buggered off and cashed his check.

Oh, but he did do one other thing; he replaced some of the beautiful pine tongue and groove floorboards with some construction grade lumber, stained to a completely different color, which he didn’t bother to sand to a finish. He claimed that was the only kind of wood available in Portugal, at which point I had to remove him from the property for his own protection from an increasingly incredulous and hostile spouse.

When, eventually, the owner toddled by to look at her property, she was displeased to see the work that remained undone, but it was difficult to tell if she was more displeased with us for bringing it to her attention, or with the scheister who did the lousy work in the first place.

The dear reader will please note that nowhere, so far, has it been mentioned that our furniture was placed just as much at risk as the floors. This is because, even though the owner was aware of the woodworm problem (I spoke to two previous tenants who told me so.) she was not in the least bit concerned that our things, like the rocking chair upon which my great grandfather used to sit and smoke his cigars, could be ruined.

So it was pointed out to her that the troll she hired had done her wrong, and the point was made (a bit more forcefully this time) that our furniture needed to be treated as well as the floors, which had undergone nothing to improve their situation, despite whatever she had spent to have them fixed.

Ultimately the owner decided to go for the big treatment – have all the floors stripped, treated, and then revarnished – and, grudgingly, to include having our furniture sprayed with the same treatment – less expensive and less effective than the best approach, but then it wasn’t her furniture, so she didn’t really care.

And who would she hire to prepare the floors? Why the same idiot she hired in the first place, because she wanted to get her money’s worth out of him.

Now I could understand that approach if she were going to stop by frequently and check the quality of his work, but she has no interest in doing so, and as a result, the troglodyte has been doing exactly the sort of job one would expect.

I could describe that job in detail, but who has the energy? And besides, I suspect that you, dear reader, are probably nearly as tired of this subject as am I, and that you are secretly hoping that I will just delete everything I’ve written to this point and tell you how I feel about the city council in Hartford, Connecticut, who thought it would be very clever and diverse of them to begin their session with an invocation by a Muslim Imam.

Well I’m tempted, but first I have to get this off my chest.

So for the last month, I have been building screens that separate one half of the house from the other, and before installing them, hiring movers to help me shift all the furniture from the south end of the house into the north end, at which point the “workers” arrived to sand the floors and stand around smoking in my house. (To be fair, they quit smoking inside when asked. I’m relatively sure of that, because the large piles of cigarette butts in the yard were a fair way from the door, and I don’t think the “workers” had the energy or initiative to throw them any distance.)

After that side of the house was finished (and I can assure you, I’m leaving out a lot of information here, like how they sanded the floors, waited until the bug treatment was applied, put on a layer of varnish and then, the next day, inexplicably sanded everything back off again) it was time to move the screens, hire the movers again, and shift everything over from the north side of the house to the south side. Of course, in between all these periods of vigorous, stimulating activity, I rented a dingy apartment in which we could live during the periods in which the house was filled with noxious fumes. Nothing gives a man a greater sense of satisfaction, I can tell you, than renting a big house on the top of the hill, overlooking the beautiful Bay of Estoril, so that, after a long hard day at work, he can go home to a tiny dank apartment overlooking a hotel parking lot.

Now, however, the floors are finished. I won’t comment on how some have been stained and others not, nor on the wisdom of doing every floor in the house and then randomly deciding that the master bedroom didn’t need to be done, even though it’s right next door to one of the worst floors in the house. After all, I wouldn’t want to seem ungrateful. This evening I’ll call my movers (We’re becoming great friends because I’m making them rich.) and schedule them to arrive Friday evening, and we will put everything back where it belongs.

Just in time for me to be sent back to the states for several weeks.

Yes, on 11 September, I’ll be flying from Lisbon to Newark, and from there, on to Norfolk VA. I’m curious to see whether there will be any kind of commemoration of the 9/11 attacks while we’re in the air.

I’ll keep you posted.

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