Monday, 29 February 2016

Where people are

It's noticeable to me that very often the most vivid bits of a travel blog are the interactions with people, reported conversations or bafflement, repartee, etc.  Not the landscape, attractions, venues, destinations, etc, but the smelly beggar, the witty airport worker, the old lady with the blind dog, the very chatty waiter....
See, already, these people spring to life in your imagination.
Our trip to Malaga, flying early tomorrow, is to stay with dear friends. They go from Whitstable to the south of Spain each year because she is not well, carries an oxygen tank with her, adorns her face with breathing tubes to stay alive.   Each year, they say 'You must come and stay while we're there!' and this time, we took them up on their offer. All booked, just a quick trip.
We emailed to find out if they wanted us to bring anything for them, and they asked for DVDs of films, and we even agreed with them which ones we'd take. All hunkydory, ready for the off.
But - another email came in the night, to say her brother (here in Kent) is even more desperately ill than she is, and so as we are preparing to fly to meet them, they are in fact driving back here to see him in hospital.
We have decided to go anyway, stay in their house without them. It feels really odd, out of balance, as if we've lost a limb. There was all the anticipation of meals to be shared, jokes, music, anecdote, strolling around, exploring our friendship a bit more - in the pleasant atmosphere of warmer days and foreign cookery.  But, not to be.
We hope that her brother, who we know slightly, may make a good recovery, and that they get to see him in time if he does not. There's such anguish in this.
People we have known and loved are falling off the end of the high diving board. You look up and see someone there on the brink. Tick tock.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

How to overcome disaster

Since almost all wine now comes with a screw-top, and corks have more or less disappeared, we have to think about what's happened to the Portuguese cork growers. Their success in creating a 'perfect' and universal product has vanished. The weird and wonderful cork oaks are no longer wanted. We've seen these crops on an earlier visit to Alentejo - the skilful way in which the bulbous trees are scraped and managed, and the beautiful quality of some if the corks.
What the farmers have done is to rethink the whole thing.
You can now buy cork hats, handbags, wallets, umbrellas, fabric of all sizes. The cork is cut into fantastically fine veneers, and laid onto flexible and strong backing fabrics, As far as we have been able to see, so far, they are mostly producing natural cork-coloured finishes, but I guess and hope in due course they'll inject some colour into it.
The hats, mentioned above, are in the style of the old-fashioned, traditional flat hat, beloved of royalty, farmers and working men for at least 100 years (think Andy Capp).
They have stared disaster in the face, and come up with a high-tech answer. We'll wait see if thus us the answer. I love cork. I hope it survives.
We visited a couple of fine museums today - the Quinta de Cruzes - stuffed with English Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton, and magnificent Portuguese silver, and then the Museum Frederico de Freitas - housing  the lifelong collections of a man who was clearly driven, who liked furniture, ceramics (not cream ices as suggested by autocorrect) - including fine Chinese teapots and British Toby Jugs, and tiles, and religious carvings. All beautifully displayed and polished.
Lunch was in a resto called Typographia, once a print works and now part of a boutique hotel. Assiduously served, and filling.
Supper was back at the apartment - fruit and cheese - and we are really coming to the end of our holiday. It's been quite boring compared to most of our trips. A ca would have got us out and about more - into the countryside. And we needed a better guidebook than the one frm the library (Landmark) which was pretty with nice pictures, but turned out to be appallingly badly indexed and patchy.
Tomorrow - we'll doodle about a bit, pack, hand the keys back to the landlord, then find our last lunch, and bus to the airport. We didn't use all the bus trips on our prepaid cards.... In the end, not enough destinations. Eheu!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Plants, pavements

Our guide yesterday said the Portuguese style of pavement-making started in a prison in the 19th? century. A convict, who like the rest, was destined to smash stones for years as a punishment, laid out some fragments around his cell, and started a fashion. Gradually other prisoners learned how to do it, and first the prison, then the town, then the country and eventually colonies around the world (inc Brazil, he said), adopted the method. We spoke to two men repairing pebble pavements in Ribeiro Brava - one said, it takes a lot of patience.
In the gardens, we have found variations on the theme - including one rather good method which is half steps, half path, so that you get a horizontal tread even on a slope, but you don't actually have to use their pacing. Wherever you put your foot will be ok.
We went back to Monte today, partly because we didn't want another day spent mostly in a bus. Twenty minutes up the whizzy hill is fine - and then to see the so-called Tropical Garden, owned by the Bernaro Foundation, charitable arm of a rich man's fancy.
I would call this the Garden of One Thousand Choices. It is very heavily structured with paths and walls, and so many options at every point - which way to go? You feel you will miss something whichever path or bridge you take. It's very steep, wooded, and with many streams and waterfalls. It also has an astonishing collection of Zimbabwean statuary - someone must have bought up the entire work if the entire art school - pieces made from 1967 onwards, by dozens of artists. It was known as the Tengenenge School - no mention is made of its present situation, but the carvings, mostly arranged on poles, are wonderful. There is a passing reference to some of the sculptors being women - Erina Fanizani is credited with providing her husband Fanizani Akuda with the style of work which he became famous for, later on.
Senr. Bernaro was also interested in minerals, and therefore has an exemplary display of sparkling rocks from S and N America, Africa etc. There's a lot of amethyst, rose quartz, agate, Ev, which interested my owner very much, but I preferred the carvings. A girl likes her sparkling rocks set in precious metal, rather than in big old clumps screwed to fake cave walls.
Further down the garden, you meet the Japanese theme - little bridges, stone lions, a kind of wardrobe full of carved life size warriors ('stop warrying'), and lots of red railings. Then you get a huge terrace of orchids, and a lot of huge tree ferns - magnificent.
The whole place is adorned with antique and modern ceramic panels, and a vast range of statues of every kind - bronze, wood, marble, lots of concrete, classical, modern, weird, quaint, romantic, etc. Water runs everywhere, in tiny levadas, waterfalls, squirts, lakes, pipes, trickles. Luckily there are loos installed quite frequently, as the sounds of the water are rather hypnotic.  At one point, there's a cave full of oriental temple bells which you can play with - a pleasant contrast in sound to the roar of a nearby cascade.
Eventually, you get to a cafe, where your entry ticket qualifies you for a free glass of Madeira wine. It's very sweet, even if you choose the dry one. They serve tea, coffee, soft drinks, and seeded baps.  We paid a bit to get a ride back up to the main gate in a golf trolley, then bussed back down to the centre of town.
One dark-eyed and very soft-spoken bus driver told us how pleased he was that his two daughters, 12 and 16, have blue eyes. He gave us a Mendellian account of their grandparents and great-grandparents as to eye colour.  Evidently the breeding had worked out to his great satisfaction. This conversation arose because we asked which was the best route back into town.
Another amusement between the Tropical gardens and the Largo de Fonte is the top of the famous toboggan run - which, as you know, we did not patronise the first time we came to Monte, nor thus time - but it was interesting looking down from the terrace of the chapel and seeing all the tobogganerios, wearing their dapper outfits including boater hats, playing cards on a mossy old wall. The chapel, btw, is of very ancient foundation, having been there since 1458 or something, and dedicated to the Virgin. The present building is 19th century following earthquakes and other troubles, but it is the most important church on the island, and filled with glorious paintings, chandeliers, carving, gilding, tiles, etc. You can easily trip over as you go inside, and leave, due to unexpected and unlit changes of floor level.  A persuasive beggar lady sits in the middle of the great flight of steps as you leave.
The airs up at Monte are sweet with the smell of mimosa. All around are these marvellous plants - strelizia, loquat, camellias, bougainvillea, hibiscus, fruits of many kinds.... It is paradisical. All the visitors up there are old, mostly German. Coming back to Funchal we enjoyed promenading along by the smart shops, and having a coffee or whatever sitting near the raucous students in the Carmo square. Laughter!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Up north

Well done Flora Travel for giving us an excellent day's outing to the NW of Madeira. Driver/guide Tony was first class - funny, knowledgable and clearly loving his job especially identifying so many beautiful plants as we went. It was wonderful to see mimosa blooming with eucalyptus, and then the camellias, valerian, kapok, papayas, monbretia, arum lilies, African Tulip trees, NZ Christmas trees, swan-neck agave, avocado, passion fruits, bananas, sugar cane, chestnuts, tree heathers, natural laurel forests, mangoes, apples, cherries, grapes, masses of vegetables, roses, poinsettia, datura, bougainvillea, bottlebrush, and more...... He could name them in five or six different languages. 

Winding up and up the mountain, I fell to contemplating the many meanings of the word 'port' .... harbour, left, carry, door....

Meanwhile, the lanspdscape changed all the time, the further up we went, the further west. Bananas will only grow up to 350m.  It takes 16 months to grow to harvest - then the tree must be chopped down, and a new shoot will grow from the roots.  Olives are not grown other than for ornaments in Madeira - it never ges hot enough. Vines grow in the north. 

There were 15 of us in the bus - German, English, Dutch and Swiss. Very jolly. One was actually under 30. We had a very nice time. Recommended.

I am really tired now. Didn't sleep very well last night, and just going out and 'looking' at so much stuff is tiring. (How do school students manage?)

I am able to post photos from each day on FB - not so easy here at the moment. But I have some smashing pix. We just had supper in the apartment - bolo de capo bread (which has sweet-potato flour in it), sheeps cheese, avocado, watercress, tuna paste, papaya. Really delicious, simple.  The washing machine is doing its thing. We'll head to bed soon. I have finished my book (The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin) and need to find something else. It would be nice to be able to get to some writing of my own. I have in mind two poems: Limpets at Combatante, and, Everythjng has always been old....  Two days left on this holiday. I'm getting quite a lot of art done, and shared on FB. Satisfying. Even listened to Haydn's Creation as homework, as we'll have missed two rehearsals by the time we get back.