Thursday, 28 January 2016

Up and down the mountain

It marks a change that I can try to write up the day's adventures before going to bed. More relaxed. We did quite a lot today - I wrote the earlier bulletin posted here, we had breakfast - yogurt with blackberry jam, and cheese and fruit - and set out to get the bus to Monte. Somehow I imagined this would be quite a long trip, but the bus rattled up the mountain in no time at all, hurtling round bends and bagging the narrow two-way road so that drivers coming the other way cowered in barely adequate corners. The sea and the sky would have pleased Turner - great sweeps of silver and massive parallel bars of light, with pleasing indistinction muffling the horizon and the headlands. The villages are hugger-mugger, the verges covered in agapanthus not yet in bloom boo hoo, and the sky weeping and drenching itself as we climb up.
Monte must be very full in the season, but is wonderfully empty in the soft drizzle of January. We put up our umbrellas and sauntered off, past the launch-place for the wheel-less wicker charabancs or sleds in which you can hurtle back down the hill, guided by handsome young men who stand on the back ready to push if necessary, or apply their legs as brakes. We decided not to do it, remembering that our son and daughter-in-law had done this mad trip on their honeymoon - family honour satisfied. Across the road is a small classical water fountain installed by a Scottish grandee in the 18th C as part of an irrigation system for his garden. He kindly included the local population in his aquiferous improvements, especially if they were pilgrims to the church - hence the wall-fountain, which is topped with his coat of arms in white marble.
We walked on, past the gleaming cable car station, past the Monte Botanical Garden, and in to a different teleferique which leads to the Funchal Botanucal Garden. We had a lovely coffee in the must, and I managed a small landscape watercolour... Hurrah! It was accurately rather bleak and wintry looking, unlikely to sell, I should think. We boarded this second cable car line and hurtled out over the deep ravine and valley which would otherwise take hours to cross by road. It was so mysterious - travelling through the air, with rain and mist around us, and silence. Lovely.
The Gardens are absolutely superb - set up as late as 1960 by an enlightened visionary called Rui Vieira, who us described on his plinth as 'notorious investigator'.  The official translations from Portuguese to English are much more endearing than the Autocorrect which dogs my every essay these days.
We wandered down these gardens, entranced. Everything is immaculate, beautifully managed. We peeped into a tiny nursery area, where seedlings are growing on in polystyrene fish boxes, which look like butlers' sinks. Local plants, endangered plants, palms, cycads, topiary, food plants, historic plants - all quite reverently displayed.  I did another watercolour at a cafe, and a couple from Cardiff off a cruise ship were terrifically enthusiastic about it - how pleasing! This one was definitely more colourful. They mentioned a Welsh painter who did mountains, whose work sells for £10,000 now, prices going up since he died. It was impossible to know how to answer this - I would honestly be pleased if someone offered £30 for one of these paintings.
We caught a bus, walked to the Combatantes restaurant which has been recommended by friends, and after waiting 20 minutes or so, got a table between some architects and a couple with a baby if 8 months. Lunch was utterly gorgeous - costing €44 with one glass of wine and a tip. The main novelty was the limpets - grilled and very hot, dressed with lemon juice.
Our last call of the day was to the Museum of Electricty - a superb (or mind-numbing) collection of generators, rheostats, switches and alternators, plus some old lampposts. It is an exemplary display, all set out in a nice wide building with the shiniest floor in the world. Actually, of course, it's a shove towards remembering the centuries, millennia, of darkness which most humans have lived in..... How utterly fortunate we are, with all this light, and fresh water, and travel, and freedom.... blah blah blah, you may say, but I think of those steep mountainsides, and precarious terraces, and tiny fields and gardens, and the savage marauding corsairs who could strike at any time.... We do not know, we do not know, how lucky we are.

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