July in Matarranya has been hot and work outside has been put off in favour of mortaring walls and scrubbing beams inside. The community house is really starting to show the results of the hard work put in by volunteers over the first half of this year under the guidance of Bianca. Bianca has extremely high standards and it shows in the quality of the finish of the whitewashed walls which contrast beautifully with the beams protected and stained with linseed oil. It is a very simple house and we’ve managed to maintain that quality of simplity – it’s like being in a white cave in places – but combine it with comfort. It’s an easy house to be in particularly in that the thick walls keep the temperature 10 degrees lower than outside.
Up at the retreat centre the work continues to go well. Door and window frames are mostly in place and the concrete floors are laid throughout. All the external pointing has been done which shows off the old local stone perfectly. There have been a few surprises along the way. The dining room is practically a cathedral due to another part of the building needing to have the roof raised slightly and this impacting on other rooms. This gives us the option of creating second floor above the dining area in future. The bathroom is taking shape with individual stalls for the showers and toilets. I’ve found it an interesting that building work doesn’t appear to be a very exact science. We have all these incredibly detailed plans laying out materials and how many square metres of this and that – but then a wall that you expect to be stone turns out to be made of mud and there are consequences to this! Another example is the bedrock in the downstairs bathroom and storage area turned out to be much harder to remove than expected so we’ve made a feature of it and it’s now supporting the washbasins. We were due to have a false ceiling in the bathroom but have decided to keep the enormous beams showing. They are of various types, some round and some rectangular and not very symmetrical but they have character! Wherever possible we want to keep the original features.
Last week we met to talk with Luis, our architect and Jose, the builder. It was nice to sit down with them in the local hotel in the village. Usually our meetings are two or three hours of standing in the sun or walking around the building site with at least 3 conversations going on in spanish at the same time. We were meeting to talk about the next payment that was due and to finalise plans for our Shrine Room before the work starts on it. But somehow we got on to talking about other holy places and San Benito who started the Benedictine Order of Monks. Luis is particularly interested in our spiritual tradition and what do Buddhists do? Vijayasri manfully articulated our practice as Buddhists as being more to do with a commitment rather than a particular life-style. “So you’re not ‘monkas’ (literally female monks) then?” Luis asked. There was a sort of amused snort and shake of the head from Jose. “Oh no, they’re not monkas” Vijayasri and I looked at each other and we all laughed. I guess our shorts and steel toe capped boots are just 2 of the reasons we seem quite far removed from the grey clad nuns seen all over Catholic Spain.
We missed our chance with the ‘buena luna’ (the good moon!) to get the large machine needed to clear out the ancient water deposit around the spring up the mountains. Another building crew is working in Penarroya and the road up is blocked until they move their crane and vast amounts of sand and gravel. So we’re waiting on the next month to start sorting out our water system. The digger will also dig an access track to the terrace where the Shrine Room will be built.
In the next few weeks we will disperse over summer. Bianca and Vijayasri will be in Holland and Wales respectively for retreats. Jose is going on holiday to his daughters on the spanish coast. Luis will be at home in Alcaniz but ‘taking it easy’. I will be attending a family reunion in France. The work at the retreat centre will continue in the capable hands of Alexis and his team.