Monday, April 30, 2007

Music to our ears

Well, for Sara's last day we decided on a levada walk. We started at Camacha - the land of wicker. Apart from a zillion baskety-type things, they also have a selection of animals and, er, a rather large boat (upper right photo).

When we were all wickered out, we set off. Lovely countryside, pretty flowers, easy levada walk. Until the levada disappeared. We retraced our steps oh, two or three times and kept coming back to the same abandoned creepy house in the forest. Very Blair Witchy.

And so we took to the roads and began heading down the mountain. We found a few levadas along the way, met some locals and more dogs (Sara's dulcid tones can soothe the most rabid hound), and walked down a steep travessa to find ourselves in a lettuce field, having to heave ourselves back up the hill. Three hours passed.

And then we heard it: the strain of music.

Music celebrating onions.

We made it to Canico for the big prizegiving ceremony: young dance groups were entertaining the crowds, the bars were heaving, and yet more onions had appeared overnight.

Beer and Bolo de Caco has never been so welcome. All praise the onion!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Onion Festival

The Feast of the Onion is here!!

Well the little town of Canico is heaving with all things oniony. Here's a little flavour...

Things have been busy busy. Two of the laydees go home tomorrow, so we're out on the town tonight. With my mom's advice ringing in my ears - "Don't give it out cheap" - what could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Low visibility

Just about to go and lounge by a pool; if cocktails should appear then so be it.

I think Sara will post at some point. Until then, let me say that we did an eight-hour tour yesterday and saw loads of the island. It was stunning weather on the south coast; rainy and cloudy on the north.

The bit that I was all excited about was the plateau in the mid-west of the island. This is what we saw...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Flora Madeira

In between key lime cocktails and a whole lotta red wine. Busy busy.
In the meanwhile, we got to see the tail end of the flower festival...

Having a ball!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Before we frolic in Funchal...

Yesterday was a fabulous catch-up day, despite various flights being delayed/rerouted.

Off to Funchal now. And if I should happen upon some glasses that might be appropriate for my new cocktail juice, so be it...

Talk about the perfect present :)

Monday, April 23, 2007

We are go for launch

Surprise visitor morning - Landlady and Mrs C have already been in, bearing duvet cover (another story) and flowers respectively.

I should be meeting up with the expected visitors within an hour or so (one is staying with me; two are staying in a nearby hotel). Everything sees reasonably organised, and I even have muffins made. Heart-shaped muffins :)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Flower Parade Anyone?

It's been a glorious weekend - real vodka & tonic weather.

Just in from a sunshiney nap. The big finale of the flower festival should be on at the moment - a parade with lots of floral floats. Yesterday oodles of kidlets brought a single flower to build a 'wall of hope' in Funchal.

Anyhoo, so I figured I'd catch some footage on Madeiran TV.

They appear to be showing a U2 concert.

Hmmm. The guys seem to be winding up the show now, so I'll wait and see what comes next...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Flower Power

Yes it's Flower Festival time! Madeirans seem to be able to whip up a carpet of semi-tropical flowers at the drop of a hat.

Coming from a place like Dublin, where pot plants are stolen from your front garden, it's amazing to see carpets of unguarded orchids on the streets. Amazing, and very beautiful. Funchal smells gorgeous!

There's only one week to go until The Festival of the Onion...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What sea?

There goes the rest of the known world again...

I've come to like the floaty feeling of days like these. I'm tapping away at the novel, there is ample wine in the vicinity, and I've downloaded a few episodes of House for later.

There's even a tray of apple muffins in the oven. Almost done. Heaven.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


A few months back Mr C described the bone-turning ceremony of the Imerina people in Malagasy. It's been playing around in my mind since.

Basically, once a year the family tomb is opened and the bones of the dead are brought out. Each set of bones is unwrapped from a silk shroud, wrapped in a new shroud, and treated to a day of feasting, singing and drinking. The bones get to catch up on the news of the previous year. If there has been a wedding, the bones are 'introduced' to the new family members; if a new house has been built, the bones are given a tour.

If it's your first year to be bone-turned, the initial part of the day is spent with your relatives picking away your putrid flesh. Then you can catch up with the rest of the dead in their escapades.

There's a really practical interpretation of life as super-transient, and death as a permanent (much better) state. So what if you live in a mud hut wearing raffia clothes, because life will soon be over, and when you're dead you will get to live in a stone house, and wear silk.

The ancestors protect the land, so if someone dies away from home they need to be brought back to 'live' in the family tomb. As a result, you get some kooky lists of taxi fares:
  • Journeys up to 2km - 50 francs
  • Journeys over 2km - 100 francs
  • Weddings, funerals, exhumations - Price to be agreed

At the end of the day of celebration, the bones are taken for a final dance around the land, to bring fertility. Then they're brought back to the darkness to rest for another year. Remarkable.

There's an account of a bone-turning from earlier this year here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It's cake Jim, but not as know it

You can't get madeira cake on Madeira. That's the short version.

There is a traditional madeiran cake, which is called 'Bolo de Mel' - honey cake.

There's no honey in it. Well, no bee-honey, but it contains sugar-cane 'honey'. The cake isn't golden and light, but dark and heavy. Worst of all, it has nuts in it. Gakkarama.

Other people like it though.

As for what the rest of the world calls madeira cake: they've never heard of it here. Now there's a niche market waiting to be exploited: sell tourists the cake that they expect to find. I can see it now: the madeira cake wars...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Singing like a canary

There are birds that trill around during the day, and I finally figured out what they are.

Canaries. I should have figured.

So, the wild canary is indigenous to the islands in the vicinity: the Azores, Madeira, and you guessed it - the Canary Islands. The birdies are named after the islands, but it turns out the islands are named after dogs. Folks there kept a load of dogs, and the Romans took to calling it canaria - of the dogs.

Lots of people here keep pet canaries out on their terraces. It must be strange, being locked up in a little cage and hearing the wild version of you twittering around. Quite tormenting...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Anne-Flore's Morning

One of my friends is running the Paris Marathon today (along with 34,999 other people that I don't know).

I went to check on the race, and saw that it was won ages ago. They start the marathon at 8.45am - sheesh! I toodled around a map of the course while curled up with coffee and muffins.

My friend is running for Médecins Sans Frontières. Yep, not only is she super-fit, makes the best chocolate cake ever (recipe from French grandmother), but she would spend four hours running for a Nobel-prize-winning charity. Quite a lady.

Well done Anne-Flore! Just amazing.

Time to put on another pot of coffee, and get back to my cryptic crossword. Busy busy...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday 13th

Gagging for a glass of wine so will keep this short:

I went to see 300 today. It's difficult to make a classical film without constantly evoking Gladiator or (shudder) Troy or (shudder shudder) Alexander, particularly if you include 1) wheat fields and 2) yer woman from Gladiator. I think they succeeded through omitting 1) the Peter O'Toole/Richard Harris character and 2) Sean Bean.

Anyhoo, I loved it: fabulous cinematography, spectacular story, the best fiery sparks ever, and the end credits are a blood-splattered treat.

And now for wine. I go through phases with (red) wine. At the moment it's one called Periquita, which is scrummy and oaky and whose only disadvantage is that a little Elton John voice in my head sings "Periquita is it cold, in your little corner of the world..."

I see that I haven't managed to keep this short after all. But then I did pour a glass of wine as I was checking the spelling of periquita, so it all evens out.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's a small world after all

The world just keeps shrinking.

I met a Madeiran woman who said "You're from Ireland? I love Ireland."

Now, when people say this it can mean many things. It certainly does not imply that they've ever visited Ireland, or could find it on a map.

But in this case she had. She'd lived there for twenty years, and used to love going down to Kinsale to stay at Actons and go shark-fishing.

Which I used to do.
Around the same time, as it turned out.

She asked if I was writing about Madeira. I said not really, but that I was curious about George Bernard Shaw learning to tango here. I thought it might make an interesting short story. It turned out she used to live in Shaw's house in Dalkey.

At that point I figured I could have said anything and there'd have been a link.

I should have said 'Armadillo' just to see what happened. Or 'Elvis Costello'. Darn.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The dawn chorus

This morning I was woken by Landlady calling for me from below the terrace. I decided to ignore her (and fought the guilt) and a minute later she was buzzing away on the doorbell. So I gave in, and opened the door to a frantic Landlady with Landlord in tow.

The apartment with the bathroom-sans-one-wall had got water damage because of the building work, and they were worried it would trickle down to mine. So they raced through every room while I stood very still, deciding between Lady Grey or coffee (the latter won).

Then they apologised, a lot.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A sedate haircut

An epic morning.

So, Landlady was raving about her hairdresser, and I mused "I must give her a go next time". I presumed she'd just give me the name & salon, but no. She booked an appointment, and she was taking me personally. Her husband was driving us - heaven forfend we should take a bus. And because her husband was actually busy, we met at 8am outside the apartment, two hours before the appointment (yep, that bit I only discovered en route).

Landlady wasn't her normal hyper self; it turned out she'd taken a 'calming pill' last night. It was like when pets come back from the vet - all dopey and floppy. It wore off quickly, but it was a treat first thing.

She needed to take the pill because of building-work-related stress. The lady in the apartment adjacent was taking a bath and noticed a drill hole in the wall (very Porkys). She got in a strop, but it transpired that when her bathroom was redone last year, the workmen pulled down a wall and didn't bother putting it up again; they just shoved a new bath against the wall of the other apartment!

All is quiet today as they discuss the next steps.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote

I swear, every year it's the same routine. In April I tend to get stuck into some bit of Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales are set in April), which leads me to some books with pretty manuscripty pictures, and then I start into calligraphy.

I've spent seven or eight hours writing out the same words: The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

It might as well read All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I adore calligraphy, but man its brain-frazzling powers are mighty. Time for a vodka and some fruit-juicy-type-stuff.

In other news, the sun is just starting to fade, and the sky is all lilacy. Heaven.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Sunday

Just in from a sunshiney nap. It's a glorious day here: had a great lunch with the Codebreakers, which was a smidge boozy (I know, shock horror).

I was responsible for dessert: the original plan was to make brandy truffles, but I opted for something non-alcoholic, which was like a mini-trip to a detox clinic.

Or it would have been if we hadn't been drinking at the time. Or eating a buttery-sugary cake. Okay maybe the detox analogy doesn't work.

In other news: for Lois and the guys still shovelling snow in Michigan, here's some sunshine :)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Propitious timing

I just realised that my next visitor is going to be here for the Onion Festival at Canico.

What fun we'll have!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Now is the winter of our discontent

All the clouds that loured upon our house are about to be in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

And there's a misty bank of clouds rolling down from the mountain. The world will be snowy white in about twenty minutes.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

When clichés take form

The guys I worked with in Michigan owned a place in Herefordshire called Hampton Court, and we held annual academic conferences there. So ensued much high jinks and hilarity, especially when the American flag was hoisted over the castle: the guys from the local RAF base would buzz the castle in their Harrier jets. Try listening to a paper on the Dead Sea Scrolls while the chandeliers are tinkling overhead...

Anyhoo, in scanning photos I came across one of the non-crystal chandeliers from the place. The castle is fifteenth-century, but pictured above is a spanky new chandelier, made with freshly-culled deer.

You know the cliché of the eccentric English gent? Well the owners bumped into him, larger than life: some bat-crazy oddball who looked at a deer and thought: light fixture!

His chandeliers also came sans animal heads, for the zen minimalist downsizers among us.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

There's no place like home

This morning over madeira wine with the Codebreakers I learned about the early life of Mrs Beeton. (Total aside: I can't get the image of her as a matronly Victorian Martha Stewart out of my head, despite the fact that she died at the grand old age of 28.)

When her father died, her mother (who had 5 or 6 kids) married her dad's friend (who had 5 or 6 kids). Then they some kids of their own, which brought the grand total of children in the house to 23 (apparently one prankster son posted the dad a condom, which was the equivalent of calling him one who frequents prostitutes. Cue: one unimpressed father).

Anyhoo, so the bizarre bit is this: the stepdad happened to own the Epsom Racecourse - yes the Epsom Derby place - and since it was only used on a single day each year, he moved the family in there. Moved the family into the racecourse.

I imagine a few throw cushions, some nightlights, and any stadium becomes cosy.

That is some family. I see now why Mrs Beeton's recipes nonchalantly call for 12 dozen eggs.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Too many bits to count

Okay, me getting a bittorrent client may not have been the best idea. There's so very much out there to watch, and the temptation to download an afternoon's worth and relax in a cafe with laptop and headphones is pretty tempting indeed.

In other news, I'm back scanning all my pre-digital photos. I keep coming across shots of gargoyles: from Antwerp, Oxford, and these little guys from Exeter Cathedral.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Juicy Days

The nice thing about Monday is because it's one of the flaffier weekdays, it's only reasonable to expect an afternoon tipple.

I was going to blend some pineapple and do something rum-my, but the fruit needs another couple of days to ripen. And so instead Absolut Raspberri shall be served with freshly squeezed orange juice.

Speaking of which, this morning I juiced the most enormous pomegranate. There's probably a knack to doing it in such a way that the kitchen doesn't end up looking completely blood-splattered. It tasted great though :)

Tum de dum. Busy busy...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Travelling Tales

Some of my family should be in Singapore by now, en route to Australia. And with that in mind...

Mrs C lived in Singapore for several years when she was a child. She faced almost daily air raids from the Japanese in early 1942; then the Japanese landed on the island in overpowering force. Churchill gave the okay to surrender on 14 February.

While her mother packed a single suitcase for the family, Mrs C and her sister were allowed to choose one thing to take with them. Mrs C decided on her stamp collection; her baby sister was desperate to take her white mouse, but couldn't. She spent her time setting out food and water for the mouse.

The family made it to the harbour safely, to the evacuation boats. Before he boarded, her father drove their gorgeous car into the sea rather than let the Japanese get it. Mrs C was twelve. They got onto one of the last ships, which made its way through the Battle of Pacific and beyond.

Mrs C visited Singapore decades later. When she was a child, Orchard Road had shops on both sides of the street. These days it has the world's largest concentration of shopping malls.

So enjoy the shopping guys, and safe travelling.