As I wait to board the plane I think some things never change, such as the gestures, rituals, hopes, feelings, that have always been intrinsically linked to most of the months of August of my life. As coming to Madeira.
Yesterday as I was ironing some clothes to bring with me I recalled it used to be a sort of “pre Madeira ritual”. I did it in Granny’s sunlit kitchen and it made me so happy that to this day I don’t find ironing something tedious as most people do; for me it relates to the feeling of anticipation of the days before we went on holidays to Madeira. Even if this time I was a bit nostalgic, for how different it was from all those years ago: the house was full of people then, the atmosphere was cheerful and everyone was busy and noisy. Yesterday it was dark and I was alone at home.
Then packing my suitcase, always – as before – with the feeling that I’m taking too many things, that I won’t need them all…but what the hell, I think, since I’m checking my luggage, why not? For vanity’s sake…even if my mid-size blue Samsonite has nothing to do with the huge suitcases of the past, such as the one which didn’t fit in Uncle Jorge’s Mini luggage compartment and he had to leave it open and tie it with a rope ( you’ll find that story in my post “New Year’s Eve”).
We also got up before dawn, as our planes were always early back then and I’m keeping the habit – after all, why lose another day when you can already be there? But again, this time it’s only me and my wheeled suitcase, whereas before we were five, Granny and Granddad, Mom, my brother Chico and me, and a never ending row of suitcases that always made Granddad complain we were impossible, it seemed we were moving house…how I miss them all, Granny and Granddad who are no longer there, Mom who is sadly disabled and has aged poorly and my brother and playmate from whom I’ve been estranged for so many years…
On the plane I change places. My seat is taken by a young father who is anxious to sit next to his wife and little baby. When I arrive he gets up and moves to his own seat in the row behind us, but I can feel his wife would rather have him by her side as she nervously holds an adorable blue eyed baby. I call a crew member and suggest I move. As he looks for another place for me the couple thank me and I tell the mother I once had a blue eyed baby too, with eyes just like her baby’s, and she asks me: “How old is he now?”. And I say 22, and she asks if his eyes are still blue. And I say yes, they are the most beautiful sky-blue now, they used to be violet blue like your baby’s but they have become a lighter shade….as I get up they are so grateful, and I’m happy I have contributed for them to have a nicer trip.
So now I sit by a window and I look outside. All is blue: the baby’s eyes, the sea below, the sky…I’m wearing jeans and a denim shirt so I’m blue all over. More, I feel blue inside, a peace, a yearning for the first glimpse of Madeira, for the emotion of arriving there…another familiar feeling I always had forty years ago whenever we landed. I remember coming out of the plane and being invaded by a smell I could not describe, only sense – and I know it will be there today – walking on the runway and being invaded by the green and dark brown of the mountains and the deep blue of the sea. After that we’d wait for our luggage and push a few trolleys (no wheeled suitcases then!); get two taxis and drive the long journey to Funchal (Madeira’s capital city); have the first glimpse of the hotel and of the staff greeting us as we came back every year; we’d run up to our well known rooms, open the dark shutters and step out to the balcony that invariably faced the mountains, as the rooms facing the sea were so much more expensive and Granddad already spent a considerable amount of money with our holidays as it was…
And then all the rest, going to my friend Luisa’s to say hello, going down to the swimming pool and for a swim in the sea, and always that exhilarating feeling of being exactly where I wanted to be! And of course all the other thousand things that made those holidays the best in the world and the most unforgettable.
So many memories, and they never fade. I remember each gesture, each face, each smell, each taste, each breathtaking view, each special moment, each smile, each starry night, each sunny or cloudy day by the sea, each song we danced at the night clubs or discos, each kiss, each hand holding mine, each family dinner when we laughed about the day’s adventures, each mountain, each rock….the excitement, the contentment, how happy and carefree we were…such are the memories of a lost time, happy and sad, happy because we have lived it and sad because we can never get it back. If only one could travel in time to that same place again, say, around 35 years ago? If only that were possible.
But it’s not. Life has followed its course as much as we would have liked to “freeze” the happy moments of the holidays of our youth. The future before us has suddenly become the past behind us. Many of the actors of that movie have been lost along the way. The wheel of life is inexorable. But other actors have come into our lives, such as our children, creating new movies, new moments of happiness, new rituals, and new holidays.
My heart still beats faster
However, some things never change. Or will not, for as long as I live.
My island is still there, strong, beautiful, wild, the sea a dark blue, the mountains still high and proud. And my love for it hasn’t changed, nor will the emotion I feel when I land there, or the exhilaration as I first glimpse its shores. Most of all, one of the most important actors – in this case, an actress – of those movies of long ago is still starring in this new one, my dear friend Luisa with whom I have lived so many unforgettable moments and who shares my memories. So I look forward to the moment when I see her waiting for me at the airport and we’ll hug each other as we always have each and every time we are reunited after a long time.
Ah Luisa, I think, so many things have changed over the years but it’s so good to know some things haven’t, and never will – such a as our friendship and the joy of being together. As the plane follows its course, I look forward to doing so many things in the following days, but most of all I picture us sitting together in your garden, looking at the sea and telling each other everything that has happened since we last met, our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our plans…
The captain announces we are beginning our descent to Madeira and my heart beats faster.
We are now flying over the island of Porto Santo, which unlike Madeira is flat and famous for its long golden sandy beach. I have been there only once and the beach is fabulous, but strangely during my time there I always felt I was not in where I should be, as if Madeira were always beckoning in the distance. The call was too strong.
Suddenly on my right there it is, my first glimpse of Madeira: the “Ponta” of S. Lourenço, the eastern-most peninsula of the island. On the left side, the green of the mountains speckled with houses that look like white dots; I see the dark blue of the sea, and suddenly it’s in front of me, I see it all, the slope seems so close it feels as if I could almost touch it, the island is fast coming towards me in all its splendour and I am overwhelmed by an intense emotion and my eyes – silly me – are filled with tears of joy. I am immensely happy, because I’m finally home.
Yes. It’s good to know that some things never change.