Thursday, October 09, 2008

Another blog, another place

Following quite a hiatus, the new blog is up and running at:


Monday, December 10, 2007

Orlaith has left the building

The special council form took a couple of visits - the Man Who Signs Such Forms glanced at my paperwork this morning as I came into his office, then walked out without signing it. I went back again this afternoon, and it all worked out. Phew.

The movers did great work. We had a couple (well, three) instances where they said "Can you confirm that the room is clear?" - I went in and opened a cupboard/wardrobe/other space which was still filled with my stuff. In each instance, I just backed out quietly. However, it's all done now. Another phew.

Landlady wandered through at one point and said "See you tomorrow morning!" Why oh why do I not record our conversations! So I fumbled, "Remember - you said that I could stay in your other apartment tonight - because all my belongings are now packed?" She finally remembered. Triple phew.

So, I'm off to meet a friend who I bumped into earlier, and said "This is your last night; I have plans!" I have no idea what that means...

I will set up another blog (but I'll take several days off this week to unpack/babysit). If you want immediate notification on the new blog you can sign into - I'll send out a note from there to those who are currently registered; else just check back here and I'll provide the new link to a new blog of Orlaith Somewhere Else.

In the meanwhile, thank you all so much, for everything. It's been fantastic.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A good theme

From time to time I get emails from people who are thinking about making a big life change of some kind or other: moving countries or careers or taking some big leap to follow a dream. They write because something about my story resonated with them - and their emails leave me often surprised and always humbled.

There are themes that we come back to: about taking risks, and believing in yourself enough to give yourself the opportunity to go and do something about it. And when we've gone through those, I'm usually the one that gets all practical, because there's a difference between taking a risk and flinging yourself into the unknown.

You can offset so much trauma by preparing for a big change - and I don't mean planning everything out in advance, because there'll always be a zillion things that are entirely beyond your control. I mean getting the overarching theme right: knowing why you're choosing to do something, and how you expect life to be different or better for that change. A good guiding theme provides stability within the tremendous change. With the move to Madeira it was a line from a Patrick Kavanagh poem: "For this soul needs to be clothed with a new dress woven / From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven". And the move did exactly that for me.

Understanding your own quirks - your strengths and weaknesses and fears and hopes - will go a long way to smoothing out how you move into the next phase; knowing what freaks you out is as important as knowing what makes you feel emotionally snuggled. I still treasure the lesson of the Incident Pit.

Apart from the elusive council form (to be tackled in some official offices in the morning), I think everything's settled. Today I got through the last bits on my To Do list, went out for a final pizza and sunshiney beer.

The day was peppered with people calling in to say goodbye (I was inevitably on a break when they called - watching Boston Legal and drinking Coral - so no-one got a sense of industriousness and organisation). The movers will be here first thing in the morning - broadband isn't cut off until Tuesday, so I'll do a final post tomorrow before I leave.

As I was packing this evening, I smiled at my loopy prioritisation: green & red crepe paper for christmassy crafty sessions with my nephew & niece; an Absolut disco ball for my sister (my own one will be shipped); arty stuff that's small enough to take; and my super hot air popcorn maker, which will never leave my side again - they're all in there. Know what makes you feel snuggled - that's important.

Oh, and never attempt an inverted yoga pose after more than two glasses of wine. That's important too.

Here endeth the lesson :)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Other goodbyes

Still haven't got that magic form from the parish council, but apparently wheels are turning (invisible ones, and slowly).

The nefarious paperwork is done, so I'm on the home stretch.

I like this stage of things, when you know it's all do-able. I've just got my little terrace to clear, then I'll sit in the sunshine and watch the waves for a bit (the flu medication is leaving me pleasantly dopey).

I like taking final photos before I leave a place. This was dawn on my last morning at a place called Conover Lake in Michigan; the U Haul van was all packed up and ready. I remember hesitating before I took the picture, thinking it would never turn out.

And this was dawn on my last day in my lovely house in Exeter. I woke about 4am, packed, then put on a pot of coffee and sat out in the garden as the first light crept through.

Right, now to sort out that terrace...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Caving in

"But you are more sicker!" exclaims the Nice Cafe lady.

And I figure, she's got a point. So I finally concede, and visit the chemist.

Remember back in the day, when chemists were purveyors of arcane medicines - everything was stashed behind the counter, out of reach and unintelligible? That's kind of what they're like in Madeira.

There's nothing like Walgreens or Superdrug or Boots - nowhere to browse along aisles of pain killers and lozenges and night-nursey type things. And you have to go to a chemist even for aspirin (to think, I used to complain about Solpadeine being prescription-only in the US...).

So this was my first visit in Madeira. I went in, recalling asking a UK chemist for advice about flu-stuff before: they talked about contraindications, side-effects, then distanced themselves from the whole process. If I chose to take the pills, that was my responsibility.

Not so here. She doesn't ask anything, just goes into the inner sanctuary and brings out two boxes. "One of these three times a day, and one of these at night", she glances at me, shivering in 25 degrees, "or more often. You can take these more."

Off I went, armed with pills, and got some red wine for good measure. My spidey senses tell me there'll be an afternoon nap today.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Birthday Mike

Today is paperwork day - sorting out what to bring/scan/dump, and doing up an insurance assessment for the shipping company. This is probably my least thrilling kind of work. And the moving company just emailed to say I need a letter from my parish council to confirm they know I'm leaving. Hmm. First I've heard of it.

But in other news:

And, as the zillion fridge magnets were peeled off the fridge, a final message was revealed:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mostly about coffee

Have I mentioned coffee yet? It was one of those trial-and-error things when I first visited: I didn't want a thimbleful, nor did I want a cappucino (which not only comes with cream here, but cream-out-of-a-can. Gakkarama. And did I mention it's almost impossible to get fresh milk or cream on the island? There's one shop in the tourist district that ships fresh stuff in... but anyhoo, where was I?)

So, I figured out the portuguese for "a large (which is anywhere else's small, and wouldn't even register on the Starbuck's scale) coffee with milk". It felt like it took a minute to pronounce all the words. On the first day of playing with my new phrase, a nice lady explained that it was just called a chinesa. Pronounced shinyeza. Any coffee comes normal, extra-milky, or super-strong, so if your first cup needs some work, then adjust to taste.

So there you go - my helpful hint for today.

Super-productive morning (yes, I actually set an alarm. I felt proud; smug even) but the afternoon was a washout - Landlady appeared and one thing led to another and suddenly we were in a car - ostensibly off to ensure that the cable & broadband were cancelled next week, but somehow we ended up at her brother's house, waiting for a builder, and waiting... It occured to me that through these kooky trips, I've met four generations of her family :) An odd afternoon, but good craic.

And now pizza and beer. Luxury.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My last week

Beautiful day here. Still battling with a head cold; I'm treasuring being able to go for a wander and gaze out over the ocean (while snuffling) as a break from the organising-type work.

I dug out my winter coats, and the sarongs are now packed away.

Another rosy-lilac sunset.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Food tangents

Today is kitchen-clearing day.

I got slightly distracted as I was sorting the pantry, and ended up going through my cookbooks and scanning recipes that might come in useful over Christmas.

I'm hungry now.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Before and after

When I left Exeter, friends of mine adopted my cat Coco, and the pampered fluffball moved out of the big city to enjoy village life in the Devonian countryside.

It turns out, the big rural move hasn't changed her much. This is her now...

And this was her back in the day...

Little minx.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Enter the arena

The annual meeting for owners of apartments in our building is just about to start.

Emotions have been running high this week, as all the issues of the year resurfaced: water, parking, noise, building work, window cleaning, and of course - gardening. (A while back, German Porn Man shouted at the gardener about the right time to prune certain shrubs. The gardener resigned, kerfluffle ensued, etc. etc.) It's been a highly charged year in some respects.

I am so very pleased to be renting.

Here's hoping for a productive meeting...

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Universe of Memories

I'm trying to squeeze in some of the Madeira stuff that I haven't mentioned along the way (like the fact that Ribiera Brava is apparently the place to have curried pigs' feet). In terms of museumy places, the must-see is the Universe of Memories.

Our story begins across the road, with a baroque merchant's house called Quinta das Cruzes. Rumour has it that Zarco (the sea captain who discovered Madeira) lived there. It's a museum now - with some lovely pieces, and flourishing gardens dotted with fragments of Manueline stonework. Very pretty.

Back in the day, a swanky sugar family lived in Quinta das Cruzes. The father had an illegitimate son, who grew up with a chip on his shoulder of the considerable kind. So the son went away, made his fortune, returned to the island with absurd wealth, and built a house directly opposite his father's: bigger, better, fancier. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Even if the Bastard Son's House was empty, it would be worth seeing for the immaculate restoration work alone: gorgeous wooden floors, stained glass windows, plasterwork ceilings. But the BSH is filled with the private collection of the Regional Secretary for Tourism & Culture: João Carlos Abreu. This guy has been in charge of Madeiran culture for ever - he's a poet, writer, friend of singers and artists and creative types - he's pretty beloved. And in his five or six decades of travelling around the world, Abreu has picked up a bunch of stuff - furniture, art, sculpture, jewellery, masks, hangings...

It's a truly eclectic mix, and this is what makes the Universe of Memories a special place. For example, Abreu likes horses, and so there's a room filled with horses, hundreds of them: from Chinese stone horses to Thai inlaid horses to English rocking horses. It's just whatever has caught his eye over his lifetime.

Er, he also collected ties. There's a tie room, with ties fanning out across every inch of wall and ceiling. Not my personal favourite (although the tie made out of feathers is worthwhile). The other rooms are reeeeally tasteful, I swear - and the bathroom fittings are fab!

Anyhoo, it's a place to take your time going through (an omniscient curator accompanies, with on-demand history of every piece of art and furniture and every fiddley knick-knack). Abreu still drops off pieces now and then, so the collection is still growing. And after exploring the house, you can sit in the courtyard cafe, glance across to the Legitimate House opposite, and wonder at the determination of the man who was told he wasn't good enough.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Less than two weeks to go...

I adore being in super-organised mode. I swear, when I feel it sneaking up on me I drop whatever I'm doing and just go with it. The meticulous approach to organising, cleaning, sorting; the sticky-note labelling of piles to take/leave/recycle/dump/donate; the thoughtful approach to life in Dublin and what I might need there.

It only goes so far. It shall wane, and I shall slump once more, adopt some tv show and watch five series of Something-Or-Other over the next less-than-two weeks. I'll still only pack in the hours before I leave the island (which I love doing; there's such a carefree feeling to last-minute packing). But oh, ze leeetle grey cells shall know what I'll be taking, and why - thanks to this passing phase. Love it!

In other news: at you can give a little back to favourite musicians you may have poached from over the years, and share the whys and the wherefores with the rest of us. Brilliant idea (and a smidge scary that $5 represent the artist's share if you buy three - yes, three! - of their albums on iTunes).

Also: Landlady appeared today, wondering if there was any chance of me moving on Friday. Sometimes I feel I should record the conversations where we agree things.

And last but not least, it's a pretty evening here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blocked up and blinkered

The Nice Cafe Lady comes up to me as I'm reading over breakfast and gives me a scare. I mean, she didn't mean to - I overreacted, let me make that clear.

It's a full-concentration, blinkered-to-the-rest-of-the-world thing: I sometimes get a shock when I notice movement (or someone standing beside me, waiting for me to notice them). It's actually more disconcerting for the other person, who tends to be perfectly relaxed until I jump out of my skin ("Jesus! I just wondered if you wanted a cuppa! You know I live in this house, right?"). I'm all for people wearing tinkley bells.

There were extenuating circumstances this morning: I was submerged in James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere. It was a bit about a corpse whose eyes had been gouged out, and the eye sockets had been... treated very badly indeed.

The Nice Cafe Lady only came over to commiserate with me for having a cold. The word for head-cold here is constipacao - it's one of those words worth learning early to avoid misunderstandings.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Avoidance Work

My moving company is packing me up in two weeks.

The thought occurred to me this morning, as I was contentedly sorting through some books. Within minutes I was out the door, first for local coffee, then into Funchal for a wander and some sunshiney beers, listening to Dave Matthews Band Live at Luther College. Excellent.

There's nothing like avoiding deadlines.

Friday, November 23, 2007

There should have been a memo...

Was I was the last person on earth to know that the iconic image of Che Guevara was the work of Dubliner Jim Fitzpatrick??

When I was a kid, I used to adore tracing the intricate knotwork of his Celtic art (Jim Fitz, that is, not Che). Years later, when I got to take care of illuminated manuscripts, that same wonder was there. Give me vibrant marginalia over a showy centrepiece any day.

His style has changed considerably since the 1970s - here's Palu, The Cat Goddess, from back in the day:

The Che image was never copyrighted, and spread quickly, becoming highly controversial: copies were stolen and destroyed, and Fitzpatrick's distributor in Spain was arrested by Franco's secret police. In Dublin, one fine lady went into the swanky BTs (which had a stationery section back then), bought the whole stock of Che Guevara cards and proceeded to rip them up before the staff. Art is all down to how it makes you feel...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Forget wickerwork, orchids, Madeira wine - apparently the best gift from the island is an Absolut disco ball.

Sigh. I shall do my best in the short time that remains.

Off to refill the ice cube trays now...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

...the Charles Atlas seal of approval

All is quiet, for now. I'm sneaking this post before broadband fizzles again - the storm has been frazzling reception & signals of all kind. A friend phoned the other night and her voice was like one of those digitized voice-concealers - you know, like they use for ransom calls? Kinda creepy.

Here's one of the many sculptures around Funchal (this one is in front of the ex-Beatles Boat). Most of the sculptures are related to exploration/sea/peace. They have a lovely chunky style, and are well weathered by these gales (often to a gorgeous verdigris), which makes even recent pieces seem well-settled in.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Storm season

Today is Day #3 of the Big November Storm. It's not at full force the whole time: it dies down to just rain for a while, then winds rise, and thunder & lightning recur randomly through the day. Nights are very loud indeed - think Dorothy in that little house being spun to Oz. Flying screechy monkeys would be no surprise at all.

I like to make the most of all weathers: in Devon, a day like today would have been perfect for snuggling down in a pub with a book and a crossword (but would have been hampered by the fact that I was working). But Madeira isn't cold enough for that - even if they did snuggly pubs (which they don't; it's all cafe-bars with pointy furniture). So instead I'm at home, shutters rattling and sea gales shoving debris under the patio door (note to self: hoover up debris).

Thank goodness for an Absolut disco ball. Bringing sparkle to darkness.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Celebrate good times...

All things considered, I think I'm pretty resistant to Absolut marketing. No, wait - hear me out.

They did a limited edition gold bottle last year, and although I was tempted by the super-shiny bottle, I resisted. I don't go near vanilla or mandrin or peach (way too sweet). I stick to citron, raspberi, plain - a woman of simple tastes.

But today I saw the disco bottle spangling on a local supermarket shelf.

Get this: the outer casing unhinges, so after the vodka is long gone, you have an absolut-shaped disco ball. Who would be without one of those!