Wednesday, 27 January 2016


Keeping things brief on this first full day in Madeira... I just want to record a few pieces of evidence of very a curious, malevolent core to the popular culture here in the historic capital, which is - on the surface - sublimely friendly, laid-back, sophisticated, hosputable, etc.

In the cathedral, this morning, while we admired the Manueline triumphs of the interior, noted the significantly large number of people actually praying, photographed the charming and very English-looking bannister-rails which protect the altars down each aisle, and marvelled at the slender proportions of the basalt (?) columns down the nave - we also decided to buy and light a real candle, in memory of some recently departed friends and relations. In fact there are three large circular candle-holders with 'normal' sized candles all round the edge, real flames, something very attractive and holy about it all, as well as the ghastly electric display with orangey fake flames bobbing about.... We went to the tiny little shop near the west door, where a truly tiny woman in black had two boxes of wax candles laid out for sale. We pointed at these - asked how much it would cost to buy one - and she hissed, nearly spat at us, in a rage. She held up four fingers. 'Not till four o'clock!!!!'  She was adamant. Gave no reason. It was a remarkable, short and unpleasant conversation.

In search of some modern art, we walked (ran the gauntlet past dozens and dozens of small restaurants with polite but beseechung 'greeters' imploring us to come in) so - we made it along the shoreline to the old fort, painted an extravagant mustard yellow. This - according to every publication and guide and signpost - houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, except that when you get there, a piece of paper in a flimsy plastic cover pinned to a telegraph pole says that the Museum has been moved elsewhere. It turns out that it's now two-and-a-half hours away by bus, and the move was made last October. 

So, still looking for art, and wandering around slightly higher up the hill, we were pleased to find a smaller but interesting-looking gallery open in a splendid late Deco building, entry was €1.86 each. It's devoted to two brothers, Henrique and Francisco Franco - previously unknown to me but friends with Picasso and Modigliani. Wow oh wow! Wondrous portraits, sculptures, prints, landscapes. So much to say about them, but maybe not on an iPad with one-finger typing, but it's worth looking them up. I decided to buy some postcards. 14 of them, as happens. I was allowed to choose from a well-indexed box, containing reproductions of almost all the works on display - bliss.  However, paying for them led to an indecent spat between the two women behind the counter....  One was ready to take my money. The other utterly refused to accept any such deal, but took all my cards, laid them out on the counter, tried to find them again in the selection box, shuffled them, selected others which were identical, re-counted them, lost count, went back to the beginning, snatched my first selection out of the hands of the friendly one who caved in (subordinate?), oh it was painful. As it happened, the Museum had a customer-satisfaction survey form right there .... and so I was able to tick lots of 'Excellent' boxes, and then add that it seemed remarkably difficult to buy postcards.... Then in a sort of agonised fury of impatience, I swept up my cards, and asked the nice woman how much? She said €11.20.  I produced a twenty-euro note, plus €1.20, needing €10 in change. Disaster! The nice one only had a five-euro note at her disposal.  She explained, implored her colleague to open the till - a small red cash box.   Her colleague promptly started to count out €8.80.... But I said, loudly and firmly, 'No! TEN euros please!' And after an agonising eye-to-eye confrontation, she very slowly handed over a ten euro note.  What, what was that all about?  The customers, art-lovers, may not choose their own postcards.   However, as a reward, or apology, the nice one gave me for free a set of photographs of architectural treasures of the city.  Really nice.

Lastly, we were accosted by a young woman near Funchal's The Ritz. She was doing a survey, and had the weirdest accent - Manchester crossed with slum-Algarve. We answered her slightly repetitive questions about how long we were here, what we enjoyed most, etc and then she gave us a lucky dip of tiny envelopes. I won a free glass of wine, and Andrew won a week's free holiday in the Algarve. She, she squealed, had thereby won a bonus of €100! This turned out to be an invitation to a presentation about holidays - timeshare, no doubt... Her boss, a big English bruiser, rapidly established that we weren't going to play ball. So he took our envelopes out of our hands, and no doubt took her 'bonus' out of her next paycheque. 

The frantic underbelly of life in this ambling, amiable, English-dominated paradise is never far below the surface. 

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