Never, as on December 31, do I feel this urge to be in Madeira, my favourite place in the world and the very best place to spend New Year’s Eve. It’s not only the fireworks, but the festive environment as well, the friends, the traditions – all of them contribute to the most unforgettable New Year’s Eve of all.
I do have unforgettable memories of this night of all nights in Madeira! I never stop dreaming that one day time travelling will be possible and I will embark on endless trips back to the best moments of my life; I would leave behind this grey, dull, anxious reality of today’s world, and rediscover the light in my eyes and the hopes and dreams for a future that, even if mostly happy and successful, has also shown me that our young years are incomparable, never to be repeated again.
Every single New Year’s Eve I wish I were in Madeira, even if I have spent the last ones with dear friends whom I love as sisters. Still, this year of all years I booked flights to go and spend it in Madeira, before the pandemic came and destroyed our dreams. I might have gone, but all the anxiety of travelling, and leaving the boys behind in such an uncertain environment, made me reconsider and, once again, delay this much wanted trip, this encounter with precious moments buried in a more and more distant past.
This year, because of all the restrictions, namely a curfew after 11 pm, I decided to spend the holiday season at my beach house, in a quiet village by the sea, where I could enjoy a few days of holidays with quiet walks on the beach and spend some time with my friends – a small group – who live or spend holidays here. We decided we’d celebrate New Year’s Eve at my friend Filipa’s – who has a large house where we could keep our distance and still be merry – and dare come back after midnight. After all my place is barely a kilometre from hers…
My other friend, Leonor, who has rented an apartment in my very building while her house is undergoing a major reform, her husband João and I got into their car around seven. The night was cold, windy, tempestuous but we were in a great mood, laughing and making jokes. Suddenly Leonor’s phone rings, and I see her smiling face turn into a frown, while she repeats: “Cancelled? New Year’s Eve is cancelled?”
She hangs up and looks at our inquiring faces, mine and her husband’s, and says: “No more New Year’s Eve, guys. Our friends have just learned that a few days ago they had lunch with someone who has tested positive!” No need to clarify anything else. These days you don’t need to say it, for “testing positive” can only mean one thing, as if there were no more illnesses in this world.
We sat back, absorbing the information, not knowing exactly what to do next, when Leonor said : ”Well, let’s still go there and get some of the food we bought yesterday for today’s dinner. We have to eat something!” Practical Leonor, as always.
We headed to Filipa’s, but the mood was not the previous festive one, but one of some bewilderment – the realization that in this Covid world things change from one minute to the other even more than they used to before, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.
João and I stayed inside the car. Leonor put on her mask and went in to get the food – all in boxes and packages from the day before, no so danger of contagion. Filipa and her husband came to the door, and under the masks you could read the worry in their faces; they are both in high risk groups – he is diabetic, and she has pulmonary emphysema. We shouted our wishes for the New Year from the car and waved goodbye and they faded in the distance, all plans for receiving the New Year together so abruptly cancelled.
Back in our building, we laid the table in Leonor’s rented apartment. She prepared her specialty – crab pâté – and it was delicious as always. We ate it together with some toasts, shrimps, suckling pig and chips – the traditional New Year’s menu. For dessert we ate my fruit salad and Leonor’s apple pie, all together with champagne.
After dinner my phone rang with a WhatsApp video call. My friends Beli and Gabi, with whom I have spent this night in the last few years, were missing me! It was so good to see their faces and also to know they were thinking of me. I may have a small family, but I am blessed with friends who are like the sisters I never have. My friend Manel also called, and I was so glad to know he was spending this night with the love he has waited so long for; he sounded so happy, after such a long year of uncertainty and anxiety, that it warmed my heart. Not all was bad in 2020, certainly. Some dreams have come true.
Before midnight we sit down to watch a TV program that is featuring New Year’s Eve… in Madeira, one of the very few places where there will be fireworks tonight. Gatherings are limited on the streets, but even so we can feel the festive environment. For a moment I wonder if I should have gone forward with my plans to be there, in spite of all the limitations, but I believe not. It would be less than perfect, and I’d rather go there on a New Year’s Eve without restrictions or limitations, so that I can enjoy it fully. This was not the year to go there, as much as I would love to be with Luisa and her family.
Midnight comes and we watch the beautiful, impressive, amazing fireworks in Madeira. The city’s amphitheatre is, as always, a wonderful scenery, unique in the world. As the sky over there explodes in a million colours, we hear a few explosions closer to home; we run to the window and some neighbours are lighting fireworks too, banging pots and pans and shouting welcomes to the New Year. I smile and think that, even in a small village such as this, the New Year spirit can be strong, and one can make merry. João has filled our glasses with champagne and we toast to the New Year. For the very first time in history, I believe all mankind is united in the same wish – that this pandemic may end, and we may live freely, without fear, again. May 2021 grant us this wish, and it will certainly turn out to be one of the best years of our lives.