Thursday, June 16, 2011

Madeiran Lifestyle of a different Era…..

When I was eleven years old, my parents decided to take a trip to Madeira to visit some of my dad’s relatives. They lived in Funchal, the capital, and it was a fun experience just getting there by a large cruise liner. As soon as we arrived at port and got off the gangway, we couldn’t help but notice all the festivities including music, wine and cheese merchants, flower stands, fruit and veggies being carried around by a ‘bull-cart’, and other vendors with hand-woven baskets and beautiful crochet items for sale. We vowed to purchase some on our way out, as we planned to spend one week with our family in Funchal. We were met by one of my dad’s aunts who took us to their home very near the sea with beautiful views of the harbor. It was my brother and my first trip to Madeira and we both immediately noticed that all the little kids in the area seemed very happy and healthy-looking, and their cheeks in particular were quite plump and rosy. I assumed at the time, that it was because of the breeze and cold air blowing off the snow-capped mountains in the surrounding area. But we were soon to find out the real reason….

On the evening of our arrival, we brought out the special gift for our family which was a floor polisher. I remember it as a square, shiny, and relatively heavy metal contraption, with some thick buffing material on the bottom which could be easily removed and changed when dirty. There was a spiral hole in the middle of the polisher where you would insert a broom handle to make is easier to push. Now remember, this was approximately 45 years ago, when people (Portuguese) still hand-polished their floors and made their own floor polish, by melting candle wax and adding some brown crayon color to it (I had often witnessed my Aunt E. making her own special blend of polish). Therefore, this gift of the ‘latest technology’ in polishing machines, was received with great amazement and excitement from our Madeiran family, as it was certainly an improvement over my aunt having to get down on her knees to hand polish the floors.

They could not thank us enough for this amazing gift! My dad’s aunt started bringing out food and wine of every type to share with us, and amongst all the drinks being offered, was a small glass of very green looking ‘juice’ being handed to my brother and myself to drink. My parents told us to go ahead and drink it, and we both took a huge gulp at the same time, and had such a shock, as we realized that we were drinking a home-made Madeira wine. It was very sweet, thick, and a pretty bright green color, and of course, not being accustomed to this drink, which had a fairly high content of alcohol in it, our taste buds and stomachs were in shock!. Our Madeira family was quite disappointed to see that we did not finish our drinks, as all of our younger cousins were drinking theirs with enjoyment and wild abandon. We realized then the reason for their simple, enjoyable and happy way of living….

Today of course, I would drink that same home-made Madeira wine with wild abandon.