Saturday, June 30, 2007

Looking at things with fresh eyes

You know when you wake up the day after something huge has happened, and the memory comes to back you afresh, and it's great all over again? That was this morning.

So I wander out towards the coffee pot, and stop in my tracks.

The apartment is a total kip. I mean, it's a disgrace.

It's almost like the occupant has just been tunnelling little corridors-of-clean between the most used spots: from the printer to the laptop on the sofa, from the sofa to the counter in the kitchen where wine resides...

Obviously I can't prove anything, but it looks like it's been going on for weeks.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Red Letter Day

...or purple actually, because red always seems quite angry in titles.

But my point is this: I just finished my book.

I can't believe it. That just totally snuck up on me.

And then I realised - I moved in here a year ago this week, and there's a lovely symmetry to that, and it's great to be able to go to Dublin next week and put the manuscript in an editor's hands and just... let it go. Because it's finished now.

Did I mention the bit where I can't believe it?

Wow. Am I on my way to pour myself to most ginormous vodka and tonic ever!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mamma mia...

They found Hatshepsut's mummy? Gawd dang it.

For decades there's been talk that the mummy of the Super-Powerful Female Pharaoh had been found. Most archeologists pooh-poohed the idea because:

1) the mummy was overweight, and images of Hatshepsut were slender (sound reasoning - because images are always truthful. You betcha).
2) her body was basically shoved in a back room (aha! but her dastardly successor scribbled out her name all over the place, so he could have thrown her corpse into a Rent-U-Store).

The argument is nearly over: they found a box which reads 'Hatshepsut's tooth', and lo and behold, it contained a tooth, and the tooth belongs to the obese lady in the back.

I had been dabbling with an idea for a novel involving the myth of the missing Lady Pharaoh: that's one to delete from the Idea File. It really only works if she's still missing.

Unless the DNA tests come back negative...

And what's with the tooth in the box anyway? Just how old is the Tooth Fairy?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Off-roading poolside

It turns out, the sunloungers in the abandoned pool aren't for sunlounging, nor for nightswimming.

The mountain-biking crew haul planks of wood into the pool and use the loungers as jump-ramps.

There were three bikes taking turns yesterday: one honed his jumping skills while the other two traced infinity symbols from the shallow end to the deep end and back again.

Now that is a creative use of space.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A world of pink and grey

A day of layers of grey.

Just reached the half-way point in editing the novel. The end isn't quite in sight yet, but I can't see the start either. I'm in that grey middle bit, which fortunately is set in the time of the Pinkindindies - that word always brings a smile. You just couldn't take them seriously...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Blog Road Trip: London

[Today's post comes from the fabulous Sara, who has an affinity for surreal situations. The saintly talk continues as we nip over to London...]

Was yesterday a day for religious experiences?

Yesterday, the doorbell rang as I drooped around my home: ignoring the many chores that were somewhat overdue; feeling somewhat morning-afterish (well, more afternoon-afterish - it was 4pm); dressed in clothes appropriate to the mood and the day (tired, gritty eyes, grey skies, pouring rain outside) - clothes of the aged comfortable variety, liberally daubed with silicone sealant from a previous attempt at DIY (N.B. silicone sealant does not wash out, which, as it is water-proof, should hardly come as a surprise).

I rather tentatively went to answer, half-expecting my neighbour, who has a habit of borrowing things on weekends. Instead I was greeted by an unknown, soaking wet woman holding a plastic bucket. She asked if she could take the drooping rose petals from the rose bushes in my front garden. She admitted that it was a strange request. They were for the Holy Redeemer procession: they were very short of petals this year.

I must have looked a little blank and so she continued, "You know, the annual Holy Redeemer procession that progresses down this road? This year's takes place today and will be coming along in a couple of hours."

Light begins to dawn as indeed I remember previous years. Me, a little bewildered, looking out my kitchen window on a June evening to see what appeared to be a full-blown Catholic procession on foot trailing down my rather quiet suburban back street, complete with bishop, priests in full robes, banners, altar boys and girls, lots of nuns and children and various other people.

Living in London, of course I have never actually enquired about what this was, but now I know. My Catholic childhood conditioning kicked in, so of course I agreed. The very polite but rather damp lady took my very sodden rose petals and went on her way... and I went back to the sofa.

All a little surreal, but a nice image of rose petals in the rain.

[Love it! Thank you SO much Sara.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Saintly salsa

Fabulous foodie-smells wafting through the neighbourhood. It's the Feast of St John today.

There are always street decorations appearing and disappearing, so I hadn't paid much attention to the bright garlands and the swags of laurel greenery around the place (the laurel smells divine, though). I found out while shopping yesterday: the check-out lady looked at the beer and asked, "Celebrating the feast of St John?" "What? Yes. The beer is for the John thing, that's right. Maybe I should get another couple of bottles just in case..."

Although everyone is obviously having BBQs today, the big celebrations were last night - the tradition is to cook plenty of local tuna with salsa. Here, salsa is not salsa, nor is it coriander, an essential ingredient for really good salsa - salsa is parsley. You only make that mistake once: order fish with salsa and spend the meal thinking how good it would have been with either salsa or coriander, and maybe some freshly squeezed lime juice... well, my point is that you learn the word quickly.

Anyhoo, happy John's day. Off to get some absolut citron now. Bless us, one and all :)

Friday, June 22, 2007

P for prices, P for PR...

I had two non-standard-sized pictures that I wanted to get mounted and framed, so off I went to the local frame shop.

Framing prices seem to veer all over the place (I remember in Michigan being quoted $320 to frame a poster I'd bought for £10) so I had set an upper limit for these two pictures. I play with the mounting cardboards and little frame-edge triangles, and decide what I'd like.

The nice lady in the shop starts looking up catalogue prices for each item. I watch her, thinking: I should probably extend my upper limit. She takes out a ruler and measures various things, gets the calculator going, fills out a form in duplicate. I reason that I can afford to get one picture framed, surely.

"For this one, €4.70, and for this one €11.06".

Does that even cover the cost of the calculator and ink? She warns that they won't be ready though, not until later this afternoon.

I go off in a happy daze, buy some just-out-of-the-oven bread and a beer (for €0.14 and €0.44), and realised I would spend my first days in Dublin looking at price lists, appalled.

Which brings me to Dublin, where there was a big swanky PR award ceremony last night. My favourite nomination was Wilson Hartnell for "the tiger incident at Dublin Zoo". I've got to find out what that was about!! However, my favourite winner was my sister.(1) And since no-one seems to have announced it online yet...

(1) Award for excellence in Corporate communications: Business to Business, Raising awareness of SAS Ireland among the business community.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Night and Day

Popcorn for lunch. Unbeatable.

Ideally, you need a movie to watch as well. I was loitering through tv sites online and came across The Ghost Whisperer.

Your instincts are right: it's like The Horse Whisperer, but with ghosts. And instead of Robert Redford, you have Jennifer Love Hewitt. And some ghosts. Too funny.

Anyhoo, there's an abandoned swimming pool down at the Flat Space (that makes it sound like someone pulled up during the night and dumped it). An empty, unmaintained pool, I should say. Although it's stocked with sun loungers, I've never seen anyone in the pool. I suppose it could be reserved for nightswimming...

And in other news: today is the summer solstice. Yes, the beer mark on the terrace is already shifting, which in turn affects the sunshiney nap schedule. It all goes downhill from here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sign o' the Times

Funchal has loads of signage surviving from the 1920s and 1930s, which I adore. The great thing about that kind of style is that when it degenerates, it turns into shabby chic rather than just plain grotty.

Avoga is a wool shop - it always reminds me of Avoca Woollen Mills in Wicklow. The connection is slim, because Avoga doesn't have a cafe or sell speciality food or shabby chic garden & household accessories. It just sells wool.

Actually, now that I think of it, Avoca doesn't sell wool.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lap 13; unlucky for some...

Oodles of couples hang out at the Flat Space. Some go for a walk, or take the cable car down to the beach, but many just sit together in their cars.

This afternoon there was one young couple: as I passed by I heard laughter from the car - she was nestled in his arms, and they were kissing and smiling, the picture of happiness.

I jogged around again. She was back at her side of the car, arms folded, glaring out the window. He gripped the steering wheel, staring down at it, looking furious. The loving moment was irreparably shattered.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Easily distracted

Landlady is the type of person who, when you're sitting having coffee, will keep scanning the cafe/street/visible world to make sure she's not missing anything.

The result is a continuous series of asides in the conversation: "the car that drove by - that's my cousin's old car; he sold it two years ago", "that woman has a house in Santana, the house beside my grandfather's", "you see her across the street? I have the same handbag" etc. The actual conversation is like a bassline, rarely given sole attention for long.

However, conversation broke down utterly when we were having coffee and she spotted a green car waiting outside the supermarket. The man in the driver's seat is her friend's daughter's ex-husband. He left the friend's daughter for another woman, who used to be Miss Madeira, and is now pregnant.

A woman came out of the supermarket and got into the car. She was not the ex-beauty queen that Landlady was expecting; neither was she expecting. I swear, if Landlady had a camera she'd have taken a photo of them. The green car starts to pull away, and Landlady scrabbles to take down the licence number of the car as 'proof' for her friend's daughter. She also tries to phone her friend at the same time.

The car disappears before she gets the last two digits. Her friend's line is engaged.

She ponders over the half-formed licence number for a moment, then asks "What was I saying?"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Running to standstill

I guess I understand talking to someone while they're jogging. Today while I was pad-padding around a local woman smiled and said "You're doing well", a local man said "Work harder", a couple of elderly sisters on holiday clapped. All you have to do is smile good-naturedly and keep going.

What I don't get is actually stopping a jogger - isn't that like calling out numbers at random when someone's trying to count? It's happened a few times now (all Germans actually, but I'm not sure that's relevant). I stop because I presume they're lost or have something urgent/vaguely important to ask. But no, they're just curious about how long the perimeter of the car park is, in metres.

Do I look like I'm rolling a circle?

Friday, June 15, 2007


Machico is one of my favourite places on the island.

It's on the coast, without steep inclines (praise!), and is a maze of old cobbled streets and open-air cafes - perfect for enjoying a beer in dappled shade. On one wall there's a plaque set about six feet off the ground. It marks the level that the waters rose up to in the big flood of 1950-something-or-other.

It's also been redeveloped, and has a spanky new boardwalk which gives it a very spacious, modern feel. I was imagining all the jogging you could do around that flat space, but was distracted by another cafe tempting passers-by with cold beer...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Because I could not stop for death...

There's a old hearse that hoors around the neighbourhood here. It's from a funeral home on the other side of Funchal - Camara dos Lobos(1) - and the engine sounds exactly like the creepy truck from Jeepers Creepers.

On a regular basis, the long hearse barrels down the road, all clanky and juttery, and screeches to a halt at the supermarket. It's not holding a coffin, but someone's flowers are strewn around the back.

Anyhoo, today is one of those all-white days. I was coming back from coffee when out of the mists came a spanky new hearse - engine thrumming quietly, all modern and sleek and shiny.

It tore down the road and skidded to a stop at the supermarket, someone's flowers bobbing around inside.
(1) Teeny fishing village whose claim to fame is that Winston Churchill painted watercolours there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Health matters

The fire brigade here seem to cope with a lot of medical-type stuff. They run a 'non-hospital emergency care' facility - for example, they'll come over if someone's had a fall and needs to be moved. They also run a 'pre-hospital emergency care' facility, which seems to be like an ambulance, but different. Non-/Pre-/Ambulance: the movers and shakers at Emergency 112 decide what you need I guess.

I was talking to Landlady about this (her dad was sick for years) and she said that there are hardly any nursing home facilities on the island, because everyone is cared for by their families. There are a couple of clinics where you check in for a month or two so that your carers can have a break, but the norm is that everyone stays at home. I wondered if it was a cost issue, but the price for going into the clinic (24-hours care, a zillion nurses, physiotherapy etc.) is 1500 euros. Per month. That's right, per month. It's like stealing!

Having glimpsed healthcare in other countries, this is very different indeed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The big trill

There's some type of little bird here that chirps and trills endlessly. It's like having twenty miniature R2D2s darting from palm tree to palm tree. And with that many R2D2s, you really miss having a smooth-talking C3PO to cut through the gibberish.

They quieten down about this time of evening, but the weird thing is they start up around 5am, way before the first light of dawn. The other birds, they stay snuggled down until the sun appears. Not our little R2bleedin'D2s. They're the caffeine-fuelled, get-up-and-go kind of birds. Chirpy chirp chirp trill.

In other news, my mobile died, and I had an interesting few moments with its replacement, as the operating system and all the instructions were in Portuguese. Higher powers guided me to >Settings >Language >Set Language. Praise!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Stony inhabitants

With the Super Heat come the lizards. I mean, they're always around, but they're more noticeable at this time of year. You see ten or fifteen laying out on the pavement, then they scurry into crevices when you get close.

But if you're standing by a wall at an (almost imaginary) bus stop, the wall slowly fills up with lizards. Some stretch lengthways in the sun, others poke out their heads, the cutest ones lift up their little alien hands in a stick-em-up position.

If someone else comes along they all scurry at once, and you get a sense of writhing movement, which is weird.

And their name? Well, I'm reliably informed that they're called the Madeiran Wall Lizard. Named by someone with a lofty poetic sensibility, I'm sure...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Burnt Offerings

The other morning the Flat Space was pretty quiet - just Big Smiling Man and Territorial Guy and the lean German dog-walker who calls across 'Hello Ireland!' when he sees me.

A little car pulled up, and a little old man got out slowly. He was in fawn and green, and hunched over. I had seen him a couple of times before: making his way up to the Cristo Rei statue slowly and painfully, one careful step at a time. Somewhere along the way he came to be called Turtle Man.

Anyhoo, my pad-padding around that morning coincided with him getting out of the car. We said good morning, and I saw that he held a night light cupped in the palm of his hand. The atmosphere was suddenly transformed. The rest of us were loitering as guards or jogging or striding along with a dog, but his purpose was somehow sacred.

He set off on the steep path, slowly picking his way between pizza boxes and condoms, holding his candle before him.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Blustery day

Stormy howling winds all day - the shutters are locked down, the building is creaking, and broadband has pretty much died. Before I tuck into pizza and red wine, I' ll just try to heave these few words onto the blog... again!

Have a lovely weekend :)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Surf's up

I am fascinated by the CouchSurfing phenomenon.

In case you haven't come across it, it's a web-based project which allows travellers to network, enrich their lives, expand their horizons (and to stay in someone's home for free). Say you plan to meander through Italy for a week: you check out the registered couchsurfers in various towns, email them to see if they can let you crash on their couch for a night or two, and schedule your trip accordingly. You get to meet a friendly local, and although you don't pay them anything, you try to do something nice for them in return: cook dinner, fix a leaky tap, whatever...

I know, it sounds like it's just waiting for the serial killers to sign up and ruin everything, but it seems to be working. Over a quarter of a million people have signed up so far.

Their mission statement is:

Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time

CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding.

CouchSurfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it's about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!

I presume if they have a spare room you could stay there instead. It seems pedantic to make someone sleep on a couch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

One kooky canine

I took Landlady for coffee. She's feeling pretty good today, as it turns out. Her dog, however, is a different story.

She has a dog called something like Koh-koo (in my mind it oscillates between Kooky and Cuckoo - either works just fine). Anyhoo, Cuckoo's been a bit highly strung of late. "She's... what's the word? Very very cray-zee."

That comes as a shock, I'm sure.

The doctor-for-animals was called to the house (Cuckoo doesn't like going to the doctor's - she catches a glimpse of a white coat and frantically tries to hide, so these days the vet comes to her instead). The vet looked her over, assessed her behaviour patterns, commented that the dog appeared to be very spoiled.

Cuckoo's been started on valium.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

More tales from the flat space

Now that the Super Heat has arrived, I've been jogging in the evening. The Flat Space is a whole different world then, with different visitors (guys using the space to lay out parachutes and fold them neatly). The security guards even wear a different uniform (the AM uniform is like an old theatre usher - all maroon and buttons).

Anyhoo, yesterday I was pad-padding around (Scented Man was on duty) and noticed that two guys had brought a dog to train. The actual dog from The Omen. I'm just sure of it. Trainer #1 is about 17 stone, and when the dog lunges for me it takes all of his strength to heave the chain back.

So I pad-pad around again, and cautiously approach the end of the Flat Space, where they're working. The dog is now in the care of Trainer #2, a slight man. He has the dog lying down in the car park, watching me approach, and he warns "No... no..."

You know when you're training a dog and you put a treat in front of them but don't let them touch it. And they're salivating and quivering, and you say "No... No... No... Okay take it". It was exactly that kind of moment.

I did my twenty laps with extreme caution, trying not to look treaty.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Anyone? Anyone?

Aaah, there's nothing like getting acquainted with the A&E système of another country.

A friend had to go in to hospital (suddenly) for a test. We found the A&E entrance (the doors with the big 'no persons allowed' signs on it), registered, got a bar-code sticker each, and waited. After 2 doctors had seen her she was travelling on to other floors - I wasn't allowed to wait with her.

So I headed back to where we started. A guard appeared: I can't wait there! He led me out of the building and pointed to the building opposite. Sure enough, there's a waiting room over there, filled with muted tvs and people waiting with vacant expressions. The only signs of life came from the three receptionists, who moved bits of paper around and tapped at keyboards.

In theory, I thought it was a good system: keep the friends/family from clogging up hospital corridors; the medical staff would log updates on their system, which the receptionists would be able to access.

After an hour, no-one had been given any news. I caught a glance of the reception's PCs on the way to the vending machine.

They were playing solitaire.

I interrupted to ask about my friend. They scribbled her name on a piece of paper. A few other people came forward with other names, which were added to the list. The guy then left our building and went across to the hospital.

When he came back he sat behind his desk and announced the private/sensitive details to the entire room. It was the equivalent of: "Kelly? Yeah he has a problem with his colon; they think it might be cancer. They have to do another test... okay who's next... Bueller?"

I don't know if anyone ever got out of that room. About four hours later, Landlady phoned and bulldozed me into the hospital, saying "Just hand the phone to a doctor". I did. I don't know what she said but they led me straight to my friend and said I could wait with her.

The new waiting area didn't have any tv-zombie people. Instead people were bleeding and being violently ill into plastic bags and moaning in a zombie-like fashion.

By nightfall we got to go home. Remember that wine glass - my going-away present from work? The one that holds an entire bottle of wine...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Did you check the freezer?

I went for coffee with Landlady earlier in the week. In addition to the usual myriad complaints and illnesses, she's now worried for her mental health. She has started taking vitamins for her brain.

The brain-vitamin decision came about like this:

She unpacked shopping the other day (in one of her two kitchens, the one they use for frying, but they don't fry anymore because they're much healthier, they - what's the word for it? Grill? Grill. Anyway...) and she neatly organised all the freezer stuff - meat and ice cream and vegetables - so they were all lined up in rows (obsessive compulsive disorder). Days pass, and she can't find the laundry detergent. She blamed her mother, figuring that she had put it somewhere strange, that she was probably going senile.

Then Landlady went to get something out of the freezer. Lo and behold, there was the box of detergent, neatly lined up with everything else. Time for brain vitamins.

Last night she called for me out of the darkness below the terrace. She came up in a beleaguered state, and we talked for a bit (while I swigged wine). I offered her a glass, but she said she had already taken four pills and they would kick in soon.

I find her loopy in a very endearing way :)

For those who are about to start a bank holiday weekend, enjoy!