Every time I grab a paint brush to touch up our Oliva house the neighbor smiles knowingly and says, “Poco a poco!” Donna thinks it’s because my projects cause his wife, Maria, to get after him. It could be, but I don’t think Antonio’s advice is just a method of keeping chores at bay. It’s also a realization that racing to complete every task an old house creates is an exercise in futility.
The test wall on our lower terrace suggests Antonio knows something I don’t. I painted it a year and a half ago and believed I solved the peeling problem. Paint appeared to be sticking to that wall, and I was proud. Then I scraped away a rough spot. Paint started peeling off in sheets. I quickly scraped off everything I could and threw on another coat of paint. The meticulous prep work I engaged in last time didn’t do a damn thing.
“Poco a poco!” has me keeping paint brushes in the freezer. There’s exterior patching compound above the washing machine. Every color of paint I need is stored on top of Donna’s closet. When the mood strikes me I patch walls and paint for ten minutes. So far that’s keeping me even.
There was some catch up though. You can’t leave a Spanish house alone for a year and a half and expect to find everything just as you left it. Someone wrote Indira’s name on the front of our house. Someone else bounced a soccer ball against the wall until the paint wore off. Those two things weren’t going to wait. The outside of the house got another coat of paint. Eventually I tackled the rest of the terrace walls. I’ll give them nine months, and then have another go.
Some jobs require expert labor. When the hot water heater died we called Mi Electro. They replaced it with a larger one. The electrician had to beef up a hollow brick wall with strips of metal. I got to paint and patch that wall again. Longer showers are worth a little bit of work.
Bringing in Oscar and his work crew was always on our agenda. They did an impressive job on our house’s exterior. We’d been creating a job list for them for quite awhile. The back wall in our atrium was slowly crumbling. Adding a shelf in the atrium below the kitchen window would create a pass through for food and drinks. Adding a railing on our interior stairs was deemed necessary. It’s a steep narrow passage. This exchange with my daughter, Alyssa, was typical, “Dad, I was trying not to ask, but you are putting a railing in the stairway aren’t you?” (Honey, that wasn’t really a question.) Then there was the spectacular first step into the main bathroom.
The step was too short. Overshooting it meant launching yourself into the bathroom and desperately trying to regain balance in midair. At least five people besides myself performed that maneuver. Donna admits to an almost. I am the only one who admits hitting the bathroom floor with both knees and sliding to a stop against the bidet.
“No, I’m fine! I’m fine!!!” “If you say so, but I doubt it.”
The thing about Oscar and his crew is that there is no ‘Poco a poco.’ There is a brief consultation and then half a wall gets carried out to the streets in buckets before 10 AM. Cement is spread. Plaster is applied. A marble shelf is installed. A new bathroom step is built, tiled, and grouted. Clean up occurs. Oscar sends the railing guys back to the shop because the railing just isn’t right. It gets installed in a week, and it’s perfect.
Donna will tell you it’s no surprise I have adapted to the ‘Poco a Poco!’ lifestyle so quickly. It’s what I have always done. You could ask my sister, Martha. At home it gets called procrastinating and puttering. Of course at home we like to believe “putting your nose to the grindstone” improves your looks and sense of smell. It does neither, and lacks the measured dignity of moving so deliberately it makes all the rush around types want to scream. Sometimes they do, but in the long run it has never made me move any faster. ‘Poco a poco!’ suits me fine.