Friday, 16 June 2017

Early One Madeiran Morning

The warm, humid, flower scented air greeted me as I stepped out of the cool, conditioned atmosphere of the hotel around 7am. I was still feeling a little groggy and bleary eyed, but I wanted to wander through Funchal in the quiet of the morning and head for the fish market with the camera, before it filled up with too many tourists. 

As I headed down Avenue Sa Carneiro, there was a group of local youngsters, late teens, early twenties perhaps, all gathered around a Renault Cleo parked up on the wide promenade. There was dance music thumping out of the car stereo and they seem to be still buzzing from partying all night. They were a little raucous but good natured enough. They went quiet, throwing wide eyed looks at each other as the group parted to let me pass. There were stifled giggles from some of the girls as I strode through in my rather obviously touristy attire. Across the road there was a burger van, there to cater for the late night/early morning partygoers in need of breakfast.

Every weekend in June there are concerts, street performances and a huge fireworks display out over the harbour, all part of the Atlantic Festival. There were little groups of activity all along the otherwise empty promenade in preparation for the first night of festivities.  As with any kind of activity like this, there is always an audience. Older folk, usually, take a seat or just stand and watch as chattering workmen go about their tasks. Maybe I noticed it more, being in a different place, but there seemed to be a lot of just observing - people sitting and letting the world unfold around them. Some sit alone looking out to sea or watching boats come and go in the harbour. Some sit in pairs, occasionally making an exchange of comments.

As I approached Mercado dos Lavradores - The Farmers Market, I paused across the road and just did what several locals were doing around me. I watched.

There were the flower sellers, just setting up on the wide pavement. The two women were dressed for the tourists, in traditional costume. The younger of the two was talking with a passer by, an acquaintance it seems, who appeared to make fun of the traditional hat, carapuca, that her friend had to wear. 

All along the streets there are little espresso bars where people stop, briefly, to sip down the morning caffeine. Here, outside the market, people were a little more leisurely, some sitting at tables perusing the newspaper, and some simply staring into their coffee, not quite ready to take in the activity around them.

On entering the building, I passed by the aromatic flower stalls, the colourful mounds of fruit and veg, and headed straight to the fish market. The locals had already gathered on the steps overlooking the hall below, and I paused for a while to observe with them, while acclimatising to the rising fishy smells. 

The people buying fish here seemed to be mostly women.The housewives and restaurant owners, I presume, seem to spend a long time discussing the cuts and prices. One pair of ladies were with one vendor for about an hour and watched like hawks as the vendor carefully cut up his wares. Whatever the language, you can always understand the gestures and sounds for “no way!”, “Too much”, “smaller”, “bigger” followed by the final smiles of agreement and exchange of cash.

Some seen to cut more carefully than others, or maybe its a matter of different techniques and cuts.  Some hack more than cut, quickly making chunks. Others are almost like surgeons, slowly deliberating and assessing before making precision incisions into the flesh.

I descended the steps and hovered around the periphery of the rows of stone slabs, steel sinks and chopping boards. Doing my best to stay out of the way as crates of Scabbard Fish were dragged around the floor, I started looking for pictures. 

I’d been shooting for while, wandering from place to place. A couple of times I got a prolonged stare from the some of the women going about their shopping. I knew I stood out, white legged in my shorts and wearing my creatively decorated “summer” hat! There were still no other sightseers around at this point, so I carried on wandering and snapping. At one point, I stopped to change lens, and as I looked up, someone beckoned me from across the room.

“Hey camera man!” he called with an insistent wave. I walked over to where he stood, behind a stone slab where he was working on what looked like Tuna.
“Americano?” he asked
“No..err…”, I grappled for the Portuguese for Welsh, only to come up with the French!
“Inglés?” He continued. Then I remembered.
“Galés!” I blurted out, and for a second he looked thoughtful.
“Ah, Galés,” he nodded, then picking up the cleaver, looks more like a machete really, in one hand, and giving the thumbs up with the other, he struck a pose.
“You take my picture camera man Galés!”

He laughed, and the couple of people who had gathered to watch ( yes, even in that short time an attentive audience had formed! ) joined in as they dispersed.

I noticed a few people taking snaps with their phones, selfies with the ugly Scabbard Fish, as a the trickle of sightseers increased. Very soon the fishermen, fishmongers, their everyday customers, and not forgetting their regular, early morning audience members, would be outnumbered by visitors. Just as I started my way out, I had to struggle against the incoming flow of a torrent of Japanese tourists being led by a tour guide. Once they had passed I climbed the steps, and almost immediately, the distinctive, cold, sharp odour of fish and their entrails was replaced by a warm mixture of floral, fruity, earthy and spicy aromas. I’m getting a bit peckish by this time and buy a few bananas, then it’s back out onto the street. There was a little more traffic now, and I followed a man carrying a large sack of potatoes on his shoulder across the road and away from the busier streets. 

Sitting down under a tree to eat my purchases, I noticed the thermometer outside a nearby shop. 21 degrees, at 9am.  Nice.  Its going to be another good day.

More Photo's from Madeira HERE