‘Grand Designs’ (series 16, episode 4)

A note to the reader

Before you start reading —
please play ‘Terra’ by Caetano Veloso out loud.

If you do not speak Portuguese, copy and paste the lyrics into Google Translate, and read that.

        A programme called Grand Designs came on the TV, they were hungover slumped on the sofa.

Melí said—I like this show it’s a show where they build a house
        Catarina nodded.
        I know it sounds dry but it’s good. It’s always a house they’ve designed themselves and things fuck up, one time this woman’s husband left her and she had to finish the house alone and live in it
        It is like a birth, Catarina said.
        Uh huh Or a death where the house is what remains

They cosyed on the sofa. Pulled in the curtains. Melí made tea.

For that episode Kevin the presenter was in a woodland an hour from London in Essex. He held his hands out around him and walked in walking boots through mud. Hullo! There were no other houses and the trees had thin trunks you could put your arms around but they were tall and thick leaved (dark leaves).There was no light in the woodland

        We will build our house in amongst the dark trees, will not disturb the woodland trees, we will sit in the woodland between the dark trees

There was a couple. The man was an architect. I am building—I will build, this house for my wife he said.They had £230,000. She had been a teacher and now was an artist. I am building this house for my wife, the husband said.They were in their fifties, their children were grown up I will build this house for my wife, so that she can paint in it. My wife is in remission from cancer.
        Quietly, he showed the presenter a small model version of his design. It was for a black cubed house with only one window.The presenter was hesitant,This house is a risky house Not everyone would want to live in such a house It may seem dark There is only one single window Although it is large.And around them only tall treesThe thing is, the architect husband says, is that she needs a reflected light a calm a cool light like this to paint

Day 1 They stand in the mud surrounded by darkness We will not disturb any of the trees the husband said
Day 36 She wants to paint. She talks about painting
Day 78 The digger can’t move through the mud, its wheels move There are no other houses in sight
Day 356 This is a risky house you know. They have £240,000
Day 455 She is wearing a hard hat
Day 533 I wonder if I will get ill again. The house is This house is a labour of love, he says to the camera
Day 548 the house-not-yet-house was looking dark Not everyone would want to live in such a house

But
Finally—
        The trees move close around the finished house right almost to touch its blackness with their finger fronds
        Even in the daylight the house sits alone cool and black (and black all over) in the woodland.
        Hullo! The husband says welcome welcome Welcome back. They walk through the corridor, dark no windows, and in the kitchen there is a cold lightless greyness too, but then Oh And And then, at the back, at the very back, a full flat glass wall to the woods, and on every wall the leaf to leaf light on every wall on every surface of the black house His painter wife is painting, she looks up
        The presenter was cryingThis is a brave house
        It’s a labour of love
        I love it I love this house. She says, Everyone should build one house in their life, if they can.
        The presenter was cryingThis is a brave house, it is full of the terror of the woodlandThe terror of the woodland

Melí felt her throat throb and ache. She rubbed her eyes and her face and looked at Catarina, who was crying.
        Catarina repeated, mug in her hands, the Terror of the woodland Terra

Earth above the moon’s horizon, as seen from Apollo 8, 24 December 1968 (NASA)

Caetano saw the photograph of Earth taken by Apollo 8 in a magazine while in jail in Rio de Janeiro in December 1968. ‘Terra’ was written about his encounter with that image. A few months later he would be exiled in London, where he would remain until 1972. The military dictatorship in Brazil lasted from 1964 to 1985. ◊

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