25 NOV Madeira, Portugal
With my Google destination in mind I waited to see what the weather would offer – and was first off the shuttle bus and headed for the taxi rank in the business center of port city Funchal (Foon-shall) My Portuguese translation sheet in hand and a moderately English speaking driver – I embarked on my adventure.
Madiera is a rugged, steep and lush landscape. Capes and headlands dropping 3-400 feet into the sea. About 6 years ago they invested in a tunnel system to replace the dangerous roads and access to the small coastal villages. 68 tunnels now lace the mountains and bluffs and I was underground at times for over a kilometer through 14 tunnels on my way to the fishing village of Paul do Mar.
Many voyagers and even my driver mentioned that Winston Churchill used to enjoy Plein Air painting on the coast of Madeira, as well as tea at the famous Reid’s hotel near Funchal.
The flowers alone would be a reason to paint in Madeira, but it helps whwen there is a historic & cultural awareness of artists working on location.
With only one stop for directions (my city driver) we found our turnoff and the fishing pier at the foot of the cliffs in Paul do Mar. Definitely not a beachy location – but what a spot.
As the sun burned off the cool sea mist I peeled off the coat, put on the big hat and got to work. The sounds of the waterfall, gulls, churchbells and fishermen chatting in the sun…it is hard to describe my satisfaction & joy. I hope it translates into my painting.
This one is a keeper.
Always a challenge to find a comfortable level of “presence”in a small town. A tiny town. Where a stranger – even a taxi -is a big event. As I have aged I know that it has become easier. No one really notices an older lady…and dismisses them as a little cooky sitting sketching or painting.
After a couple of hours they always get more curious – as they realize how engaged I am in my work and their place. They usually approach to greet and advise that “that is my brother’s house” or “Did you know our church is 400 years old”. Asking where I am from or staying.
This day was very different. It was 9:30 in the morning. The fishermen were returning from their dawn departure. Walking the pier and dock right past me. Not one person spoke to me. It seems rude on the surface – but having experienced the “strange woman” manners of men in Mexico I recognized their appropriate Spanish protocol behavior.
Men DO NOT speak to a woman they have not been introduced to – or of unknown status. They won’t even make eye contact. So I worked away for a couple of hours in blissful silence. About 11 am a woman was speaking to the group of fishermen at the head of the pier. She approached me with a friendly greeting and long story short…We are now pen pals – and the fishermen were then happy to relax and chat.
Paula lives in Funchal and is the government Fisheries manager at the pier. She welcomed me into the weigh station where we laughed over the ugly eels, identified all the various fish in the huge freezer and she gifted me a couple of local tangerines. We enjoyed a chat over coffee and exchanged photos of grandchildren on our phones and laughed about the manners of the men. No English required. The world is a wonderful place.
I returned, through the many tunnels to the Workers Market – Mercado Lavradores. The scabbard fish from “my” pier were there on display along with the biggest hunks of tuna I have ever seen.
Splendid flowers & fruit were in the adjoining market area and the vendor senoras brightened the day in their traditional costume – red vest, woven striped skirt and soft boots. (it seems the ladies traditional hat has a tassle – if it is worn down you are “taken” if it is up…you’re “available”. Ha Ha if only I had known earlier about the hat protocol ;-)
Madiera and Finchal center seems busy and prosperous – but perhaps I simply hit it at lunch hour ;-) After sitting to sketch in a colorful plaza I moved out of a rainshower to a covered café table and ordered the local specialty. “My” Scabbard fish made a delicate dish with almond crusted roast pumpkin and strips of grilled yams.
What a pleasure to taste the product coming from the strength of those men lifting baskets of fresh catch up from the sea.
2 sea days heading into the North Atlantic – Bay of Biscay.
OK – there was 30 foot swells for about 20 hours.
Even in the Queen Victoria you’re gonna feel that.
It was most bizarre and very challenging getting around with all my gear – as I still had to teach. I thought a lot about those brave explorers, fishers and seamen throughout the ages who have faced the fathoms, won and lost.
Felt very small and very fortunate to be warm & safe.