Last week, I was offered the opportunity to help a local restaurant owner with his business plan. I didn’t expect the day which unveiled itself. It started with a bike ride up the steepest hill in Monchique, levelled out with a drive through the mountains next to Gildo singing at the top of his voice his favourite song ‘ My bed smells of you’ and ended with an invite to go salsa dancing and to set up a piri piri sauce distribution company. Uruguaian-Swiss man Gildo is in his 60s, owns a local hotel and restaurant, 3 pieces of land worth 1.5million euros each. He has some stories to tell:
5 wives so far and counting. Ranked in the top 10 most gorgeous men in Switzerland when he was 20. Self made millionaire. 10 children. Has permission to build a cable car across the valley. Wants to create a nightclub for people in love at the top of the mountain. Spent 5 years cruising round the Caribbean. Owns most of the prime real estate in the Monchique area. Wants to build the biggest flag in Europe(150m wide). Has a special recipe for piri piri sauce. Grows his own chiles. Is not averse to having group stays of swingers. Has a distrust of the laziness of Portuguese people. His dog has adopted a kitten and carries it in its mouth.
Is a karate and cuban salsa expert. Is looking for a companion.
The first few weeks have been about finding our feet. And by ‘our’ I mean all 28 of them, plus the 4 of the two people who run the place we are staying. Living with 16 people is a real joy and massively challenging too.
Having lived on my own in a flat that is 100% mine in London for 2 years, this was always going to be a challenge. And I have had both good and tragic experiences with communal living. The good I guess is big camping trips with lots of friends, student living and an against-the-odds magical week in a spiritual camp in France. The bad…well. During a particularly painful break up, I chose to move into a house of a couple who were permanently moulded onto the one sofa in the living room and left love messages behind the cupboard doors. From there I moved to a hippy commune of 8 people including a depressed Italian heroin addict, extreme vegans, a sexually repressed Spaniard and freeloader artists who never made any art and made me feel like a corporate whore for having a job (even though I worked for a charity). A particular highlight was having to wear a headtorch to the kitchen to save electricity.
Anyway, here I am now…living with 16 others as equally brilliant and individual and messed up as me. 5 weeks on, and a lot of chaos, niggling and laughter later, we have a semi-working cooking rota. The cleaning rota is still something on the list of things to do. As is determining what we are supposed to be doing each day. More of that later. We have a whiteboard where people can write who has the one gold-dust dongle to communicate with the outside world. Everyone plays a role and we have them all – the librarian, the layabout, the affection-lover, the stoner (well, there is more than one of them) the eye candy, the quirky artist. For a while, the only volunteer older than me, at 45, kept lumping us both in the same category and labelling us mum and dad. I think I have stepped out of that role but control freak probably remains. That is part of my personal challenge here – to get back to who I once was – or want to be – away from a manic London job responsible for the happiness and motivation of 35 people. I want to be able to let go. And this niggling anxiety that plagues my chest I am hoping will go too. I want to be able to laugh freely and think in the present. And make the most of who I am.
This has not stopped me being the first to make the rota, to interview everyone about what they want to get out of the experience and try and keep my eye out for work placements for everyone. To try and organise weekly group meetings, to try and do too much, to get over excited and over promise. But I can only change slowly!