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!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An all-white birthday

It's a wet and windy day here, and the world has just gone all white and upside-downy. Figure I'll curl up with a glass of wine and watch some Columbo.

It's what Shona would want.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Location location

Some days I feel so local.

In the cafe this morning, the nice cafe lady brings over coffee with two sugar sachets on the saucer. "Oh I forgot, you don't take sugar," she self-corrects, and takes the sachets away again. The other nice cafe lady is putting out ashtrays on the tables: "I know you don't smoke," she says, leaving one on mine, 'but each table should have one'.

Later I wander up to the veg shop (meeting Mr Taxi Driver en route: he glances up at the sky, "Today's gonna be a hot one"). As the Veg Shop lady tots up the bill, she murmurs "You will leave Madeira. It is sad." I waffle a little about writing in Ireland, but she's not swayed. All my family are there, I say, hoping this might help. She nods, satisfied. "That is important."

In the afternoon I nip across for pizza (the place with sweet mice on the menu). The waitress is serving a table, and glances over as I come in, "A small Romano with little cheese to go?" I say I haven't decided. Up at the counter, the nicest, most eager pizza chef appears: "Romano? Amalfi?" I decide on Amalfi. "Small pizza, no mushrooms, little cheese, thin base?" he asks. Yep, that would do nicely.

When it's done the waitress boxes it up and brings it over: I get tabasco from the restaurant dresser, she grabs a pepper mill, and we move around the pizza in harmony. As she's closing over the box, I glance up: the chef is standing, expectant, at the counter, waiting to see if it's all okay.

It's great, I tell him. It's just perfect. And it was.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Just sitting thinking...

Two white kittens hang out at the end of my road. Each time I see them, it's all I can do not to bundle them up and take them home with me. They'll grow into nervous, lean, hungry-looking cats - like all the cats in this neighbourhood - but right now they're little balls of delight.

One of my big "can't-wait-fors" is getting a cat or two next year. Kittens actually, that will grow into pampered cats that might like to sit on a windowsill and contemplate a rainy day...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Farewell to Forms

Just finished that grant application. Phew.

In addition to a draft excerpt from the book, I also needed a synopsis of the whole twisted plot. I've spent the afternoon trying to set it out clearly. I'm at the point now where it soooo reads like Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett; I need to let it go before I introduce a smoking gun and a falcon of the maltese kind...

What is that little plaintive sound? Could it be coming from the cafe across the road? Might it be a beer pleading 'Drink me, drink me'. I'm on the case!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Loosening up

At the weekend one of the local hotel gyms was having an open day, so off I went with a friend.

Rather than attempt a Bodyforming class (which turned out to be a Step class - I'd have actually been okay), I asked if I could use the weights room. Sure, said the nice lady behind the desk, go on in.

No form, no waiver, no caution, no instruction.

Granted, using weights equipment isn't brain surgery, but it's useful - nay, important - for someone to show you how to do it properly. Most gyms I've been in have been really strict about it.

But not here. There were several just-in-off-the-street people in the weights room, zoinging the equipment like they were playing with yo-yos.

I talked about it with my friend afterwards, wondering what would happen if they hurt themselves. 'Would that not be their fault?' she asked.

In Madeira, maybe...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Which came first

Scribbling away at a grant application today.

It's kind of a chicken-and-egg situation, in that the grant would help me to do a bunch of research for the next book, but in order to apply for it I should include a draft from... the next book.

I've really worked hard at not sounding sarcastic.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Weather Eye

Island weather changes quickly and often - but this time of year seems particularly lively: sudden winds, enormous banks of dark cloud cascading down the mountain, which break to reveal unusual heat. It keeps you on your toes.

Yesterday morning, little cotton-wool clouds lined the entire horizon.

Down at the sea edge, the Desertas islands were lilac against the sky.

... and the thin early morning clouds streamed over them, like a waterfall in slow motion.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sheer Vagrancy

It just occurred to me that in all the time I've been blogging I never mentioned the ex-Beatles yacht: The Vagrant.

Down in Funchal harbour are a bunch of odd restaurants - you know the kind - each table is on its own miniature row-boat; just touristy and odd.

Anyhoo, among these is a permanently moored (probably in cement) yacht called the Vagrant. The Beatles bought it in 1966 and used it to get away from all the craziness of super-stardom. The story goes that after Apple sold it in the early 70s, it hung out in Morocco, and was finally squodged by a storm in the Canaries.

These days, the Vagrant has been turned into a bar/restaurant, charging an extortionate amount for a beer (by Madeiran standards). But the interior appears relatively untouched, and you get a sense of it being a normal private yacht, with like... The Beatles hanging out on it.

The Beatles.

Very cool.

Obviously, there are no lengths the bar/restaurant won't go to to herald its famed past owners: down to photoshopping in the name of the yacht on to a photo of the fab four.

If they'd just evened out the angle a smidge, it would have been less obvious.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Go with the grain

Wherever I go, people seem to be carrying 1.5m rolls of brown paper.

It turns out that everyone is starting work on their Christmas displays (sorry Shona, but it's all over the place!!). Each home has a lapinha - a three-tiered scene which is lined with painted brown paper. It's not quite a crib (although some of the same people feature); it's more symbolic than narrative. On the top layer is a Jesus - he's usually featured as a toddler. The other two layers hold other figures, fruit and miniature pots of gorgeous soft green grass (which I think is young wheat).

That's the basic structure, but it's often extended into a landscape, featuring a little village scene which can contain a mish-mash of things (Santana A-frame houses, the Three Kings, more miscellaneous fruit). And the whole display is inundated with lady slipper orchids, which are the Christmas flower here.

So there you go. It's crafty-time in Madeira.

And from sprouted wheat to rice... began one month ago today: giving you the chance to play a vocabulary game and at the same time donate rice to end world hunger. It started on 7 October, when 830 grains of rice were donated. Yesterday there were 75,201,580 grains of rice donated to the UN World Food Program. Quite a month!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Looking within

In Funchal, the Christmas decorations continue to grow: the angels are up in front of Se Cathedral, and the massive steel christmas tree is towering over the marina.

It looks like this from outside...

...but the best perspective is from within.

Reminds me of Shona, taking the same photo last year!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Ahh... the cruise ships sail by my terrace at dusk. Now, the idea of a cruise is probably the inverse of my ideal holiday: a super-lit floating hotel with a controlled atmosphere and schedule mapped out for you. Yecchk.

But at twilight, when the massive boats begin their journey and start out across the ocean, they look very pretty indeed.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Neil Hegarty's Dublin

Today's post is about another author: a friend of mine just had his second book published: Dublin: A View from the Ground.

It's been getting lots of positive reviews, including one from the fabulous John Banville, who called it "a fond, informative and entertaining evocation of Joyce's 'dear, dirty Dumpling', and a fit companion for any visitor, or, indeed, Dubliner, ambling through these rain-washed streets".

Well if that isn't worthy of an across-the-ocean toast with a vodka & tonic, I don't know what is!

Amazon listing for Neil Hegarty's Dublin: A View from the Ground.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

At the dimming of the day

When I looked up from typing my blog yesterday evening, the room was bathed in sunset. Nipped up to the roof to take a picture...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Somewhere, a goose is getting fat

At the beginning of October the Halloween trinkets and masks appeared in the shops; all the Christmas decorations went on sale at the same time.

A few weeks ago they started erecting the light displays in Funchal. Now that Halloween is past, they're working in earnest, and although the red carpets (I'm not kidding) won't line the streets until right before Christmas, already the streets are being covered with bulbs and tinsel. They'll keep adding lights right up to New Year's Eve, when the street display will be totally overwhelmed by the fireworks.

It only gets brighter from here!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Day of the Dead

Today is a public holiday here - Dia de Finados.

Each land has its own traditions of dealing with the dead, and Madeira is no different. In addition to burial or cremation, there's a third option which someone tried to explain to me: keeping the body in a 'graveyard drawer' for the first 1-3 years (depending on how quickly they're decomposing). It's normal for the family to inspect the body after a year, but the graveyard manager can check on your behalf, if you prefer. When the flesh has fallen away, the bones are then buried.

I wander around the small graveyard in Canico from time to time, perusing the gravestones. Traditional graves here are more ornate than I'm used to: most have photos in oval gilt frames, and inscriptions are more wordy. I am always struck by the upkeep of the graves - fresh flowers are everywhere, and you get stunning orchids arching from one grave to another, shading the little gifts or family photos that have been left for the dead.

And all that's in a normal week! Who knows what goes on on All Souls' Day...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And the healing has begun...

When I first talked to her about moving, Landlady was pretty upset, but she's getting into it now. As we sit and chat, she scans the environment: "Are you taking this plant? Are you taking this television? What about this plant?"

Time heals all :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New horizons opening

It's a big week for Funchal airport. Today, Aer Lingus debuts its Dublin-Funchal direct flight, which will run twice a week. Yesterday, Easyjet started its new (daily) Stansted-Funchal route, with ticket prices from £24.99. The improved accessibilty should make a big difference to tourism here.

And on that note...

...I'm moving from Madeira.

I know, I know - semi-tropical island, cheap cost of living and my very own Flat Space - who would dream of moving! Well, the next book is taking me (briefly) to New York, and there's another batch of research for a non-fiction book waiting in Dublin.

And so, having not lived in Ireland for almost a decade, I'm ready to surround myself with its voices and stories. I'm heading off during the second week in December. I've spent the last 3 Christmasses in Madeira: this year it'll be West Cork, followed by New York in January. And I'll take it from there, and somewhere along the way I hope to find another horizon at which to wonder.

The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

--Charles Dubois

Monday, October 29, 2007

Almost All Hallow's...

Another regular afternoon: Herman (the neighbourhood three-legged dog) is busy making his rounds, and the enormous shiny hearse just pulled up at the store -- stocking up on nuts and apples for Halloween, I expect. The Classic Tales podcast this week is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - I'm waiting until it gets dark (the wind is already picking up - it'll be howling by twilight): I shall curl up with a glass of wine and listen to the tale of Ichabod Crane...

And on another subject entirely, musician Bob Mould (who you can see interviewed on Fora TV here) held an interesting poll and discussion of the future of music distribution, as changing technologies redefine the relationships between musician, label, distributor and fan. Well worth a look.

I hope readers in Ireland are enjoying the bank holiday :)

Friday, October 26, 2007

A pocketful of posy

I somehow spent the afternoon researching flowers. I've been at it for hours: reading up on gardenias, magnolias, freesias, peonies (vs peony trees, which are sooooo different), lily of the valley -- finding out when they bloom and what they symbolise and if they could realistically be in the same place at the same time.

Then I stopped, remembering that today was supposed to be filled with research for the New York book. How did I get here? And I traced it back: to a (NY-related) scene this morning which featured 15th century posy rings...

Some minxy corner of my brain probably thought 'posy... posy... what about that other thing you were working on, why don't you just google gardenia, see where it takes you...'

Have a lovely weekend :)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Dawn Café

Café life here - as anywhere - is fascinating. The Madeiran coffee experience is very cheap and very fast - the inverse of my experience anywhere else. There are other differences as well - bread and pastries are all baked in-house, and no-one seems to think that warrants bragging about; and everywhere serves alcohol (in addition to beer and recognisable spirits, there are a few strange bottles occasionally brought out from under the counter).

But the early mornings are when Madeiran café life really stands out. You know the usual: people queueing impatiently for a vat of coffee to drink on the way to work; a few solitary people taking the time to sit with a danish and a vacant expression.

It's different here: parents and children pop in on the way to school for juice and a pastry; suited types stand at the counter, chatting with the staff; friends catch up over breakfast before heading off separately to work. They make it seem like elevenses on a Saturday morning. It all happens very quickly, but without being rushed. And it continues through the day - people coming together for a few minutes and a thimbleful of coffee.

A 20-oz coffee to go would be unimaginable: What a ridiculous amount of coffee, and you say I'd drink it walking down the street... where's the point in that?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Day Off

Aah, the deadline was met at some point in the early hours of the morning. A contented sigh followed, then a glass of wine to de-work my brain, and a sound night's sleep.

So, today was like surfacing. Yes, I noticed that the apartment had grown those little 'tunnels of clean' again from room to room. And I'm sure that empty bottles must breed while waiting to be taken for recycling; there's just no other explanation for so much glass...

Anyhoo, today was a gorgeous warm day. I'm rested, fishy-swimmed, and email is up to date. And I think I may actually turn off the laptop for the evening.

Or maybe I'll just set it to standby...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Holy perspective, Batman

I'm busy meeting a ghostwriting deadline, so for your viewing pleasure, here's some fun street art:

Trompe l'oeils wreck my head, but pleasantly so.

And my personal favourite...

Monday, October 22, 2007


I've been thinking about the whole Dumbledore-is-gay news. I think what surprises me is that the crowd reacted with a standing ovation. Presumably it was an expression of solidarity, but honestly, if Rowling thought that the fact was important enough, wouldn't she have mentioned it in one of the books? I mean, now that we all know, it's changed children's literature for the better, but it seems a little after-the-fact to me...

Now, if, after the unprecedented success of Book One, Rowling had written Dumbledore's coming-out scene for Book Two - that would have been audacious. That would have been worthy of a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day of rest

Classic Sunday afternoon here: bit of lounging, bit of writing, and a swim followed by a beer (or two). Heavenly :)

Friday, October 19, 2007

A word from the stage

Funchal's Baltazar Dias Municipal Theatre is a gorgeous old building from the 1880s, which was apparently intended as a mini-La Scala.

I went last night - we arrived late, and I figured we wouldn't get in until intermission. But no, the nice man unlocked the enormous foyer doors, and the nice lady reopened the ticket booth (tickets costing an outrageous five euros). Another person guided us towards the theatre, and unlocked another enormous door. My first thought was "They lock the audience in?? That's got to break every EU H&S law going..." but it turns out she was opening a private stall for us, so we didn't disturb anyone as we took our seats. I felt like we were being rewarded for showing up late.

The play was a good laugh - I scrabbled enough Portuguese together to follow the plot. Some lines I understood fully, like "Where is the parsley?" (she asked for salsa, which we all know is not coriander but parsley, yessirree). The play was ruled over by an Italian harpy-granny, who barked orders in Italian throughout. When she shrieked"Vaffanculo!" I understood perfectly - thanks to my mother's careful instruction...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A time and a season for all things...

As I was sewing up the super-thick wool jumper that I've been knitting for myself, it occurred to me that this would work in Dublin/Devon/Michigan. Finishing up a jumper as the night-frosts are beginning is entirely appropriate.

Not here, though. It's sweltering; Madeira never gets frosts. There was snow once up on the highest point - the restaurant up there has photos framed in wonder. I've just shoved the mound of knitted sleeves and bits to one side. I'll wait till the sun goes down.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Disturbance in the kitchen

There was a mini-crash in the kitchen, and I found my Feathers McGraw fridge magnet in pieces on the floor. And then I noticed the card that he had been holding up on the fridge...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tales from the Flat Space

Last night I was down at the Flat Space, padding around just before sunset. A tourist couple walked down: they didn't speak or pay any attention to each other. They stood around, and were about to leave when they noticed that the sun would be setting in a few minutes. So they stood and waited, looking bored and slightly pissed-off.

I see many sunsets here, but this one was particularly gorgeous: against a pale clear sky, the fiery orange sphere melted into the thin bank of lilac cloud lining the horizon. It was really stunning.

And I wondered if that last radiance of the day would transform their drab expressions, or if the couple would slump back up the hill, mentioning to friends over dinner, "Oh yeah, we took a walk, watched the sunset"--making what was clearly a chore sound romantic and pleasurable.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Working night and day

A short film about the workings of the solar system. The textures are lovely, and when the guy hefts the moon - you really feel its weight. A lovely fable.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Views from the edge

I went down to the Flat Space this morning to have a walk around the new development before the Superheat came. The dawn-clouds were just burning away as the first yacht sailed by...

The place was very quiet: just a few scuba-divers out, and some early-birds sunbathing & swimming.

Beyond the statue of Cristo Rei is a tapering cliff - they've built a path out to the edge, which will have some little seated areas along the way. At present it's filled with bits of timber and iron bars (if only I could unlearn all that Health & Safety training) but it looks like it'll be lovely.

The view from the edge is great - not only can you see the statue of Cristo Rei properly, but it turns out there's a cool cave along the coast just begging to be explored...