Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Lizards, Cane-work, Fruit, Flowers and Embroidery

A colony of little solar-powered lizards flatten themselves against the warm black volcanic rocks. As they reach optimum temperature they raise themselves on their four tiny legs and scamper off, zig-zagging between the cobbles on their frantic lizardy business. I sit so still that the flowers on my skirt interest one of them who skitters up for closer examination, then skitters down again for a quick look in my handbag.
These little creatures are brownish-khaki with white stripes and vary between four and eight inches in length.
I am in Madeira, so they may be Portuguese or Madeiran, because the origins of many things here seem to be open to debate. I sit still in warm sunshine while they continue their important businesses, turning over tiny scraps of leaf and finding things infinitesimal but delectable underneath.
I hear that it's snowing back in England, so I sit some more, only discovering too late that I have burned in the hot sun and stiff Atlantic breeze.
More active humans pass by and the lizards flicker into the myriad cracks of the stone walling but they, in turn, generate shrieks of horror from the German ladies tramping past.
Everyone seems scared of everyone else. But not of me. Old ladies can be invisible.

I am sitting in the President's Garden in Funchal.
What a kind President.
He has beautifully labelled and manicured gardens, and when the gates are open anyone can stroll in and enjoy  them. The only thing I'm not too keen on is his collection of Macaws in an aviary. They scream constantly, and have an avian monopoly on the place. Madeira is not on any of the great migration routes and there are not so many other birds around apart from sea-gulls and pigeons, so the Macaws are unchallenged as they shriek their messages over the marina.

I have not been here before, and I am captivated by the drama of the landscape and the fecundity of the rich red earth, so rich that it goes on producing fruit, flowers and vegetables all through the frost-free year. Three crops of potatoes a year, bananas by the ton, papaya and sugar-cane, all grown on steep terraces on precipitous hillsides. The work is all done by hand, the land being too steep for machinery.

Willow is grown, often to spectacular heights in the damp mountains. Then it is peeled and boiled and hand-woven into baskets and furniture and mirror frames as well as into a  veritable zoo of creatures, including anatomically correct dogs.
Camacha, in the hills above Funchal, is the centre of the cane-work business. It remains a cottage industry, with workers being paid by piece-rate, but the village is now dominated by showroom, shop and parking facilities. Madeiran crafts are threatened by much cheaper imports, mainly from the Far East, and the makers attempt to protect their products marking them with a seal of authenticity under the IBTAM ( Instituto be Bordados, Tapecaria e Artesanto de Madeira). Conservatory furniture remains expensive and difficult to transport back home.

                     A  few of the thousands of  embroidery patterns stored by the factory of Joao de Souse Viola, Funchal.

Sadly something of  the same may be said of the other Madeiran craft of cut-work embroidery, which was probably at the zenith of  its fame in Victorian times, having been made popular by the Great Exhibition of 1851. The emboiderers are still home-workers, paid by  the stitch, although the 'factories' print the cloths, prepare the threads and market the finished products. These 'factories' now hope to survive on customer loyalty, with a client base of rich customers for whom they make personalised items such as table wares of specific sizes, embroidered with armorial bearings. Their work is of very fine quality, but however much I love my grand-daughter I am not able nor willing to pay upwards of £80 for a baby-sized dress.

As I continue to sit among the lizards I look at all these giant, rampant plants that I fail to grow at home. Things that struggle in a conservatory reach up to twenty feet here - the Bird of Paradise flower is a tree, as is Aloe Vera, and Agaves are great succulent things that people carved their names into. Bougainvillaea clambers everywhere, turning walls purple, and orchids bloom happily in flower beds - and yet it is still technically winter.
There are dates and passion-fruits and mangoes and there is, of course, Madeira wine.

The lizards and I like it here.


Molly said...

Maybe you could get a little pied-a terre there to which you could retire when winter in the UK gets too unbearably dismal! It sounds like heaven! We have lizards here too...very territorial little critters!

Relatively Retiring said...

Molly: Madeira is beautiful but so steep-sided that much of it is barely habitable. I couldn't do my gardening on a 1:3 gradient!

Zhoen said...

Oh, I do hope I become invisible soon. That was what I most wanted when small. Let the lizards wander over me.

The plants grow large, because we always stretch out when we are home?

pohanginapete said...

I think I'd like it there too. Lizards and warmth and tropical fruits and Madeira wine and the sea.

Mmmm. Yes.

The Elephant's Child said...

I think I would love it there - in the cooler months. If there are any.
The President's garden sounds wonderful, as do the lizards. My mother did cut-work embroidery and I find it fascinating. And I am enjoying my own inivisibility. Thank you for another wonderful post.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: yes, invisibility is good, and it's a great honour when the wildlife climbs over you.
An interesting point about stretching at home. I think it's mainly warmth and light for this vegetation as the truly indigenous plants are fairly scrub-like heathers.

P.Pete: I was rather relying on you to tell me the lizards' proper name.

Elephant's Child: this was the cooler month - the middle of winter, and the locals were bundled up to the eye-balls. It was around 18 -22 degrees, but the very strong winds from the Atlantic made it feel much cooler (until I sat just a bit too long and was really burned!).

Jee said...

You're much better off there, it's been freezing cold here though the snow hasn't settled.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee: yes, I know! I'm back now, and it's a bit of a shock.

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: I've conquered my laziness and found out that my little companions are Madeiran Wall Lizards (Lacerta dugesii)

pohanginapete said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pohanginapete said...

Correcting my now-deleted comment: they're closely related to skinks.

I should have guessed. They amaze me with their ability to run and stop so fast that my eye carries on past and I end up looking where the little lizard would have been, not where it is.

A real honour for them to accept you as part of their habitat :^)

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: your description of the movement is so accurate, and is what alarmed the German ladies...."Where are they? Where have they gone? Whaaah!"
And I felt honoured.

Leslee said...

Oh, lucky you to get away from the cold gray winter to such a lovely verdant place! Glad you're enjoying communing with the local flora and fauna!

Isabelle said...

Looks lovely. Maybe we'll go.

I loved your comment re my granddaughter! Hooray would be very suitable since we were DESPERATE for her to get on and be born, but it's actually Louisa.

mm said...

Aloe Vera is a tree?! I shall look at the baby one on my kitchen window sill with increased respect.

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: it was wonderful to have some light and sunshine again as well as to meet the locals.

Isabelle: take your walking poles and a set of crampons!
That's a pretty name.

mm: how good to see you again - maybe you'll get on a train again one day?