Giles Tremlett: Mujica emerged from his tiny house dressed in a fawn fleece and grey trousers with sandals over socked feet. The fleece is an improvement, which can be credited to his 2009 campaign team, who weaned him off tattered jumpers. Age has made his features both more pinched around the eyes and fleshier around the edges; his thick shock of greying hair was neatly brushed – another habit he acquired while running for president. Manuela, a three-legged mutt, hopped gamely along. The one-story house lies half-hidden by greenery, its corrugated metal roof resting on pillars around a narrow, cement walkway full of dusty crates and jars. Winter rain had highlighted the patchy plasterwork. “Mind the mud!” the president warned by way of greeting. The narrow, elongated front room contains a cheap office chair and desk, bookshelves, a small table with two uncomfortable wood-backed chairs, a roaring log stove and an ancient, immaculately restored Peugeot bicycle. “I’ve had that bicycle for 60 years,” he said proudly, recalling his days as an amateur racer. The other two rooms in the house are familiar to Uruguayans, who have seen them on YouTube: the president once showed a Korean television team his roughly made bed and the contents of an old refrigerator before inviting them to shots of Johnny Walker and Uruguayan cane spirit. Cobwebs, heavy with dead flies, hung above our heads. Mujica, sat stiff-legged on the office chair, easing his joints and ready for verbal combat.
Mujica could live in the presidential palace, a hundred-year-old mansion in the old-money Prado district, but he would rather be here. “We think of it as a way of fighting for our personal freedom,” he said. “If you complicate your life too much in the material sense, a big part of your time goes to tending that. That’s why we still live today as we did 40 years ago, in the same neighbourhood, with the same people and the same things. You don’t stop being a common man just because you are president.”
Read more about this remarkable president here: Is this the world’s most radical president? | Giles Tremlett | World news | The Guardian.