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.

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