Thursday, 28 January 2016


Following yesterday's post I heard from several readers that they were sad or shocked to hear the touts had moved in to Funchal - their memories of Madeira were all very positive. I apologise if I gave the impression things were totally rakish. Certainly not. Our day was altogether relaxed and interesting. I only highlighted those little incidents because they were like vinegar on the chips.
There are always undercurrents, other things going on, especially in places devoted to looking after tourists. The local population is concerned in putting in a show, creating an experience.  Am thinking of Venice, for example, which is barely a real community. Almost all the Venetians you meet live not in the island but in Mestre on the mainland. Properties are far too valuable for locals to actual live in them. And here in this beautiful bit of Portugal, which is hardly the chest country in Europe, I am sure they are feeling the cold winds of the present economic situation.
So if one restaurant has a greeter standing outside in front, well, they must all do the same. In the narrow lanes, a quiet stroll at any time between, say 11am and the evening, means saying 'No, not yet'  or 'Thanks we've already eaten' maybe twenty or thirty times. The greeters are quiet, very polite, understanding.... But it's still not ideal. Any interest one might have in perusing menus or glancing inside a place to assess the decor or lighting or comfort - all gone.
However - we had a lovely day.
I just wanted to record our arrival on Tuesday night, after a slightly delayed flight. We came in from the airport by taxi, and showed the driver the address - 2AA Joâo de Deus. He had no idea where it was, and asked the other drivers. They clustered round, scratched their heads. They spotted the phone number, and together, using a phone belonging to one of them, they rang the apartment owner.  Having established contact, they passed the phone around and eventually one took charge of the conversation while they established where to go. When everyone was satisfied that they could find the place, the call was ended, and we set off.
It was like hurtling through one of Piranesi's engravings. Last time we were in Venice (as it happens) we spent a happy hour or so at the Piranesi exhibition, and the pictures are more or less indelible. The engineering of the road from the airport, the emptiness of the place at 9.30pm, the huge arching viaducts over the steep cliff gorges, the twists and turns, the tunnels, and the nonchalant but silent speed of the driver - it was really quite exciting. I was glad someone had warned us about the ferocious driving standards on the island.
On Madeira, it's not so easy to detect the early history of the place (compared with, say, Tenerife). There is an even thicker overlay of modernity. And the signage and mapping of the museums (and post offices) is poor. Most people say in hotels, I suppose, where leaflets are available, or the come from cruise show and aren't interested in archaeology etc.  We have followed signs which confidently send you to this or that cultural institute and then the trail goes cold. We'll do better today.  Though we see that the postcard industry is absolutely thriving here (it's almost vanished elsewhere in this Instagram age), so the death of postboxes is baffling.
But the settlement of the island must bear resemblance to the Canaries - we see the same courtyard architecture, the English sash windows which were extolled as an early method of air-conditioning,  the successive installation and destruction of coastal fortifications in the centuries of piracy.... We will discover what happened. The French remember their pirate de Monluc, for instance, who in 1566 not only broke through the defensive wall by the sea, but slaughtered all the inhabitants including the women and children who huddled there for protection, ransacked the houses and churches, and apcarried everything away. The great sugar boom (slavery) had been and gone, leaving inadequate defences. The islanders turned to growing bananas after that, and delicious they are too.

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