Sooo late for this one. This is a Chuck Wendig Prompt, in honour of Anthony Bourdain. RIP.
You ever been to the Island of Flowers? No? You shouldn’t miss out on this one. Portuguese Madeira is a hungry but beautiful place. The mild climate and the rich soil gives it the most precious gifts Mother Nature can give an island.
Okay, I’m done with the touristic daisy-incrusted crap. Pull your fingers out of your ears and stop with the ‘la-la-la-la’.
We’re free for the real stuff, the naked appreciation of food, nature, life.
My team and I arrive in Funchal, by plane. The pilot does a great job to land us on a piece of a runway as big as a towel. We congratulate him and go for a drink in our hotel bar. Tomas, the pilot, a man, too-polite-to-decline-a-drink-with-strangers vanishes after the first cocktail into thin air, and we are soon left to our own devices.
Coincidentally, our own device, is always a glorious event, with hearty meals, matching wine choices, and an irresponsible amount of booze, dance and bad singing. A real riot. To our luck, the Reids is a fancy place, with understanding waiters and upscale butlers. We are kings, metaphorically speaking.
Even the police are obnoxiously awesome guys, making me a list of great restaurants and must-see places. I haven’t told them, that I’m not interested in the postcard spots, I’m looking for hot messes. The crafty, the mean, the desperate. The delicious. It’s right where I’d lay my head to rest.
In the morning, a thoughtful bartender makes me a prairie oyster and a fantastically strong espresso. That hangover drink is equally nasty as it is effective and the coffee is supposed to raise the dead. Bottom’s up.
I have my own little routine when being in a new city. In Lisboa, a friend introduced me to this entertaining opportunity: I go on the first day to the marketplace and talk to the sellers, to the customers, the hobos and from there, it’s a piece of cake. Let’s see what Funchal has for us.
I meet Jorge in the market, petting a scraggy orange tabby, selling leftover fish. He’s a young man, barely 25, lean, an old T and torn jeans. His dark eyes match the black curly hair. They do look alike, both a bit rough around the edges; the man and the cat, not the fish. I just wonder how no matter the species, one can always tell the strays from the sheltered. He still has a handful of sardines, three bug-eyed black scabbard fish on his table. After some questions and fooling around with the cat, the fish, he tells me about Funchal, his worries, his art, his company ‘The Walking Frame’ and his life.
He designs T-shirts in Old town Funchal, occasionally longboarding down the mountain in his spare time. Cause, you know, living has to terrify you, if surviving keeps numbing you. We share a cigarette or two and he tells me about his first love, film making. He cannot afford to study on the mainland, so he takes printmaking as a mistress. Not being able to live off of art, he goes out to the sea, twice a week to help his uncle make a livelihood.
They catch the famous deepsea fish like they used to in the old days, with a line and multiple hooks. The local fishermen are the only ones allowed to do that. Legally. Since I arrived here, a lot of people keep adding this term ‘legally’ to our conversations, as if it was a versatile filler word or an inside joke.
I’m curious about the black scabbard fish and a specific recipe with banana and maracuja. “They are delicious,” Jorge states and promises me an adventure and a hearty meal for the next day. This is all coming nicely together.
Jorge packs up the sardines and waves an elderly woman over, who tries to sell me herbs. She tries to sell them to everybody passing her or looking at her. He shoves the little packet into her bag and he takes some of the herbs in change. “One good turn deserves another!” laughs and tells me where to meet tomorrow.
(to be continued)