Tuesday 26th Feb – What makes a house…?

I haven’t been able to write for a while.  Not that I didn’t want to – but there was so much to say, so much in flux, my own feelings too tumultuous to commit them to the keyboard.  So I couldn’t.

Things feel calmer now, there’s less going on.  My head has room to write.

What’s been going on?

My reasons for needing to change our life, for ripping M from his very happy existence as guest-house proprietor are clear when I explain them.  Getting to the point where we could both acclimatize to the need for change has been acutely painful… one that I’m not quite ready to put down on paper.  The subject of “What next?”, after the guesthouse, has been looming large over the van as we’ve trundled up hillsides and slid down to valley depths.  

Our questions are of existential importance: Where?  What?  What for? Who for?  How?

They are equally nebulous and important; necessary to consider and yet seemingly impossible to commit to an answer.  So we’ve towed them behind us, these questions, a large bunch of heavy-grey helium balloons inextricably attached to our travel, bobbing in the mountain breezes, often out of sight but we’re never free of them, they are ever-present.

We’ve avoided discussing those orbs of unknowing, never ‘bottoming-out’ the issues.  It’s unusual for us to do this, we’re ‘peel back the scab and let’s sort it’ kind of people.  But we didn’t want to mar the trip.  Plus… we didn’t have any responses.

So, we get back to Gary and Lesley’s haven on Monday 18thFeb with a speculative date to visit a couple of houses for sale.  There’s the possibility, tenuous at best, the idea that Spain might be the answer for us.  That we might travel again in November, after waving farewell to our last set of guests.  It’s super-hazy.  Those balloons are still on long strings, we haven’t pulled them closer and tried to peer at their patterns, much less taken a pin of certainty and burst the buggers. But even having a dimly-lit vision of what could be right for us makes their presence less intimidating.

‘Kev’, whose birthday party we went to when we were last here, is a builder, in the middle of reconstructing G&L’s bathroom.  He and his wife have a home here and are looking to relocate within the area.  He’s been to see loooaaaddds of places.

One of them was a five-bedroomed house over three floors in a nearby town (Benigembla, look it up, it’s gorgeous) – tiny Spanish town of 600 people, which quadruples for the 10-day fiesta in August.  We view the house on line.  The wall tiles are only slightly more stunning than the original floor tiles, that lead to the inner courtyard that you can spy onto from the roof terraces above. My heart stops.  M’s heart leaps.

We get the estate agent’s number from Kev, drive out there to find it (not hard in a village consisting of around six streets) arrange a time to see it next morning. The local deputy mayor will be there too.

And… oh my. The bottom two floors would convert very nicely into a Spanish guesthouse, lots of space because (and this is the real biggie) the top, third floor, is entirely separable from the rest, its a gorgeous terrace-flat and I am hooked.

I see it. Crystal-clearly.  How we make M’s new business, give me privacy, start a new but familiar life, create an income… it’s all there.

Or it was until the Mayor and the estate agent start (Not) answering questions, not quite saying outright lies, feeding us information that seemed so suspect. Their words called into question all legal house-purchase practices, the antecedents of this lovely building and the potential trouble we’d have got ourselves into if we’d bought it.

It takes a couple of days for me to let go of my sunlit attic-space apartment, with the sound of M’s happy Spanish guests drifting up from below.  The need for certainty rose up, grabbed my brain cells and plugged them with a solution.  I could almost pick up a pin and set away disposing of our ever-present not-knowns. The process of relinquishing this fantasy is uncomfortable.  

But let it go we must, because we were on the verge of being solidly duped, a point clearly emphasized by a recommended property agent in Jalon who has showed us a number of other places.

One home, the one I thought could be ‘the answer’ was similar to G&L’s place, out in another valley.  Nestled in the mountainsides, with 6000sqm of vines, almonds, olives.  I pushed open the car door anticipating a rush of love and enthusiasm, and felt… nothing.  

As M walked around the plot, working out various logistics, I felt worse than nothing. As he said “You know, I think we could buy this” I apparently recoiled, physically moving backwards.  

What on earth is wrong with me?

If you’d said to me two months ago that we’d decided to move to a part of the world that has 320+ days of sunshine, every year, and find a mountain-loved hut where we could set up an eco-tourism/cyclists/walkers holiday business (by putting cabins on the terraces)…

Next day I went back there, trying to work out what wasn’t happening.  Simple – this house wasn’t…

Then I found her, forgotten at the bottom of a lane, unloved, abandoned.  My heart became an auditorium of nerve endings, on the stage, a virtuoso played a single note that reverberated around the room. A collective intake of breath was held as the sound captured every synapse in the space.  I saw me, on the whitewashed terrace, writing, looking up through the branches of the carob tree to the mountain top spikes punching into the blue above them.  Turn 180 degrees and the house faced the chasm between two tiger-striped walls of rock that plunged to the river-bed hundreds of meters out of sight.

Entranced was I.  Less so M, G & L when we snuck around to find not one intact window/door; two floors of rot and decay, of badly needed new wiring, plumbing, internal everything. Plus: an owner who might be in the care-home of one city or the mental-health institution of another; a daughter untraceable; and no idea of price, if, indeed, it was up for sale.

Contrast this with a 1980’s build at the back of a conurbation, three well-proportioned bedrooms, views over the valley, it’s back to the mountainside, just 500 yards from some of the best rock climbing in the area.  The ground floor is easily convertible to a guest-house/Airb’n’b living space.  Upstairs boasts multiple balconies, rooms to ‘be’ in, lots of potential to change the bland ‘holiday-home’ fittings to something you’d want to run your fingers across with loving pride.

Or then again, some of the really nice places we’ve seen, rented for €300-400 a month, hassle and maintenance free, on long leases that leave their occupants at liberty to move/return to the UK without the inconvenience of arranging a sale.

So… I couldn’t write.

If we’ve decided anything, it’s that we need to keep on looking.  Renting here for six months is the least that we’ll do whilst we feel our way up those balloon strings.  I’m less anxious about them now, catch them in the sunrise and they look almost pretty.  I won’t burst them, but one by one, as we’re ready, I’ll untie them and watch them glint in the sun’s rays as they disappear into the cloudless skies above.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday 26th Feb – What makes a house…?”

  1. I love your writing Jules. I’ve been where you are and so could easily relate to the metaphors. All this will unfold for you in a perfect way, in time. Bev x

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