First of August

Just to say these words fills me with a nostalgic feeling of days gone by.

Precisely last Monday I was commenting with my younger son: “ First of August…you know, Pedro, my wildest dream is that I could time travel…”. He immediately asked “Mom, which time would you travel to?”. I smiled and replied “Well, I would probably take two different sorts of trips – one to periods I’m very interested in, certainly the Middle Ages…and then I would go back to certain periods of my life – and to several firsts of August, for certain…”. “Why the first of August, Mom?” – he was curious. “Because it was the day we went to Madeira for our summer holidays, year after year”.

As long as the time travel machine is not invented, we must resort to other ways to help us go back and relive the past, such as songs, photos…most of all memories, so strong that sometimes you have to blink to make sure you are not back there. Or perhaps you don’t really want to blink… just stay there, in another space-time dimension, living those happy carefree moments all over again.

….

On the first of August I was already out of bed when Granny knocked at my bedroom door, and as I opened the blinds there was a faint ray of sunshine coming through the window. We always took an early flight, and due to our voluminous luggage Granddad  insisted we go to the airport some two hours before (or more) so that he might check us in (and all the suitcases!) without paying for the excess of luggage we always had.

At the airport, as usual, he was in the front with my brother Chico and at the end of a long row of suitcases Mom and I kept vigil, pushing them forward when we were ordered to do so by the family men. Granny would usually walk between one place and the other. Finally, we sat on the plane, relieved that once again we had made it!

As the plane approached the island my heart beat faster. The first glimpse of the rocky shore, but most of all of the deep blue sea always made me feel the strong emotion of coming home. Even if I was not born in Madeira, the island had become my second home and I always felt so happy to come back. Especially when looking forward to a long month at the Savoy hotel – undoubtedly the best month of the year!

At the airport we had to get two taxis – always the luggage – and Mom and I would invariably share the same one, together with Chico. Back then the road was still very winding – unlike today – and it took us almost an hour to get to the hotel. But we didn’t mind…we were immediately bewitched by the beautiful landscape, the dark rocks, covered with luxurious vegetation – that included numerous banana trees, bananas being the most typical fruit of the island – the traditional yellow houses with green shutters, the mountains rising majestically in front of our eyes, the deep blue sea below, the Deserta islands on the horizon… and finally, after a road turn, we would see the bay of Funchal, in all its magnificence, like an amphitheatre coming down to the sea. As many times as we had seen this view we’d always gasp, as it was – it is – truly magnificent.

As the taxis parked at the Savoy’s entrance the concierge and the grooms would come to greet us – after all we were like family, we came every year. And into the reception we went, greeting everyone and happily listening to the typical accent from Madeira, so dear to us because it was that of our ancestors… we were warmly  welcomed and soon we went back to our usual rooms; they might differ slightly or the floor might not always be the same, but after so many years we already knew by heart many rooms of the hotel.

I remember taking the tons of clothes and accessories out of my huge suitcase and neatly ranging them all in my part of the cupboard – of course Mom always brought a lot of things too! – and after settling in we would all go down to the swimming pool and meet old acquaintances and friends from previous years who had already arrived. And the fun would begin.

By the end of that first day we were very tired, having been up since very early in the morning. Still, it would have been unthinkable not to pass by my friend Luisa’s house just to say “hello, here we are for a whole month of fun”… it was great to hug her parents, Uncle Jorge and Auntie Sara, see her brother and sister and any friends that might be staying there as I so often did, and then, only then, would Chico and I drag ourselves back to the hotel and jump into bed so that we might be in great shape on the following day… and for the rest of the holidays.

And those months of August brought us, unfailingly, very happy, unforgettable months. They were full of laughter and adventure; of sea and sun and the shriek of seagulls; of music and dancing; of old stories told outside as the moon went up in the sky; of dancing tight and wishing tomorrow would never come; of summer loves and tearful goodbyes; of going up the mountains and sitting on a lonely spot looking at the commanding view all around us and feeling close to God; of coming out of the disco at dawn and running to sleep for just a few hours as the only rule Granddad imposed was that we should be at breakfast before ten; of diving into the sea and opening our eyes to the dark blue all around us; of walking the old streets of Funchal and sitting down at the traditional cafés (such as “Apolo” or “Golden Gate”) sipping our favourite passion fruit soft drink, Brisa maracujá… of watching the typical folk dancers and never resisting joining them for the last dance; of going to that special place where true islanders knew one could eat the best espetada (the typical meat brochette) in the whole of Madeira… So many memories I would never stop.

There was also a beautiful love story among all the others, a story that went much beyond one summer and left a cherished memory. It had all the necessary ingredients: watching beautiful sunsets over the sea holding each other, swimming together in the dark blue waters (the colour of the water being due to the dark volcanic rocks at the bottom), dancing endless slow music at our favourite nightclub, coming out and holding hands while looking at the beautiful starry sky and making promises that this love would last forever – how young we were, as only then do you still believe anything may last forever; but then, youth is the time when everything is possible, all is there for you to decide, nothing is closed yet… life is out there for you to grasp it and never did we feel it more strongly than in those months of August in Madeira. When we were on top of the world and it seemed that we only had to hold out our hand and our wishes would be granted. And….

“Mom, Mom! Are you sleeping?”

Suddenly, abruptly, I’m not in Madeira anymore. I’m looking at Pedro, I’m startled and I mutter something like, “No, I wasn’t…”

He laughs: “Mom, not only were you sleeping but you must have been dreaming as well, what a smile you had on your face… What were you dreaming of?”

And I tell him I was dreaming of a first of August of long ago.

…..

For some years we continued to go to Madeira on the first of August… and then one day, we stopped. Life changed, love changed. Suddenly it was all in the past, and the future was beckoning – other places, other adventures in the horizon. Marriage, children, career, divorce, a new love… and then I went back again. A few times, with the boys. The last time, my heart was broken. I had been warned that my dear Savoy, my favourite hotel in the world, was going to be demolished, so that a “6 star” hotel might be built on that site. Instead, the crisis arrived and what I saw as I got there was a huge hole in the ground, that I called “ground zero” after the remains of World Trade centre in New York after the 9.11 attack. And I cried when I saw the hole, and I didn’t want to look at it anymore.

But then after the first shock, I realized that the past, your memories – no one, not even the biggest hole in the ground, can ever take them away from you. They will always be there, ready to come at your beckoning. The moments you have lived, no matter how far in the past they may be, will always be part of your life and will come back to you whenever you call them. So I turned my back on “ground zero” and pictured in my mind the beautiful façade of my beloved Savoy, where I spent so many happy moments, beginning on the very first day of long gone months of August.

 

 

 

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