From The Madeira Island Web Site

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Madeira Toasts the Future
By John McCarry
Sep 15, 2000 - 11:20:40 AM

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A Sunday shower can’t keep the Roman Catholic faithful from church on the island of Madeira, home of sweet wine and independent spirits. A politically autonomous region of Portugal since 1976, Madeira now finds itself pulled into the fray of Europe’s new common market, while wondering: What must we give up to grow?
I am walking through a cloud, and lvaro Silva is showing me the way. Propelling himself with a wooden staff that is as tall as he, Silva, 76, leads me through an otherworldly landscape of mossy pastures and enormous gnarled trees. We are on Faial, a plateau region on Madeira, the principal island of the archipelago of the same name, and though the sun rose more than an hour ago, the thick fog that has settled all around us seems to swallow all its light.

Silva has come to shear his sheep. In the distance, through the fog, we can hear them calling with thin, anxious voices. Silva pauses to pour some watery red wine into a cup made from a bulls horn. "Were losing this land," he tells me, "because nobody cares anymore. Everything is finished for the Madeira Islands."

Hours later I am standing on a stretch of flawless white sand beach on the edge of Porto Santo, Madeiras sister island. A stiff wind sweeps over the turquoise waters from Morocco, 400 mile east of here, lifting the hair of a girl in a bikini who is navigating her way to shore aboard one of Duarte Drummonds sailboards.

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Steep slopes squeeze houses in the fishing village of Câmara de Lobos and elsewhere on Madeira: with 865 people per square mile, the island is one of Europe’s most densely populated regions.
  Drummond, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who rents sailboards to tourists, stands beside me. A sturdy young man with a well-developed tan, he wears only a bathing suit and a watch that is set not to local time but an hour ahead, to continental European time.

In a voice plummy with confidence, he tells me, Now is when everything is beginning for the Madeiras. This is the moment when everything is going to take off.

Such contrasts are not uncommon in the Madeira Islands, a region of Portugal cast between the Azores and Africa that includes Madeira, Porto Santo, and two groups of uninhabited isles known as the Desertas and the Selvagens. Thought by romantics to be part of Platos lost continent of Atlantis, these pristine islands of farmers and fishermen remained virtually unchanged for centuries.

That is until 1974, when a revolution in Lisbon ended 42 years of dictatorship in Portugal and the Madeira Islands.

For the first time since the islands were originally inhabited in the 15th century, Madeirans took hold of their own destiny. Losing no time, the newly elected local government mapped out a bold path of economic growth: While aggressively promoting tourism, which today has replaced small-scale farming as the islands economic mainstay, the region also made plans to turn itself into an international centre of offshore commerce.




Madeiran prosperity was given a vigorous boost in 1986 when Portugal  and the archipelago along with it  joined the European Community, now called the European Union (EU). A cacophony of construction is audible in almost every comer of the main island; half visible through churning clouds of dust are signboards proclaiming yet another project funded by the EU. The regional capital, Funchal, bustles with the kinetic, coin-jangling energy of any European city.

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Dragging their boat ashore, fishermen in Porto Moniz will face a stiff challenge from the better equipped fishing fleets soon to arrive from the Continent. To compete, Madeirans will need to buy bigger boats and stay at sea for weeks, an unpleasant prospect for family men. “They’re worried they’ll get lonely out there,” says one young bachelor.
Yet with growth have come difficulties. Conflict and contradiction have slowed the process of integration in all parts of the EU  and the Madeira Islands are no exception. Although generous amounts of European money have done much to stoke the engine of the incipient service economy, strict EU directives are transforming agricultural production, which still employs 21 percent of the workforce. While young people have embraced these sudden and dramatic changes, an extremely cautious older generation has, for the most part, been left confused and intimidated by them. But if there is a generational rift among Madeirans, one thing that unites them is their deep and touching devotion to their island home.

Standing on a hillside in the arid and empty interior of Porto Santo, Maria Emilia Menezes lovingly groomed a calf with a stone. A smiling woman in a straw hat the color of the wheat fields before us, she told me, Porto Santo is the painting God made.

Twenty-five miles away, on Madeira itself, I felt no less close to the divine. Soon after arriving on the island, I set out on a drive along the rugged north coast. The experience, meant to be an exploratory jaunt, turned out to be a motor tour through the morning of creation. In contrast to the spare, dry beauty of Porto Santo, Madeira blooms like a garden. Iridescent waterfalls crash over the treacherously narrow road. Dreamlike flowers glimmer through a mist of rainbows. Exotic fruits dangle from primeval tree limbs.

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God and government make a powerful pair in Funchal, where the Church of St. John the Evangelist rubs elbows with City Hall Because most Madeira’s are Catholic, the church exerts pressure on politicians, most of whom belong to the powerful Social Democratic Party (SDP). “If God could vote,” priests have been known to sermonize, “he’d vote for the SDP.”
Feeling dizzy from this endless roadside psychedelia, I stopped the car and wandered into a garden. There I saw a pink rose, perfect and enormous. Ive never seen such a huge rose! I exclaimed to an old woman who had appeared at my side.
Snapping its stem, the woman handed me the flawless blossom.
I have, she said.

Madeirans loyalty to their soil is matched only by their loyalty to one another. Again and again during my visit I was told, We are like one big family. Mention the name of one Madeiran to another Madeiran and if he does not know him personally, he will rack his brains trying to place him somewhere an the islands family tree.

The Madeiras low unemployment rate -  just 4 percent compared with the Portuguese national average of around 5.5 percent when I was there last year - might perhaps be attributable to this extraordinary familiarity. Ceclia Albino, a young woman from Lisbon who has lived on Madeira for more than a year, said to me one afternoon over coffee, Every Madeiran loves Madeira. And why do you think that is? Because they never need anything. You need a job? Ask your uncle. You need a parking ticket fixed? Talk to your friends father.

At the caf tables around us, people exchanged kisses, hugs, jokes. Although it is unlikely that any of these young office workers had spent more than 24 hours apart, the collective rendezvous seemed more like a high school reunion than a daily lunch break.

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Counting sheep keeps two shepherds awake as they work in the pastures of Faial - a plateau region. Muzzles prevent the dogs from biting the flock and the wildlife; burlap bags neutralize the nip in the air.
More than a quarter of a million people crowd onto these tiny islands. Nevertheless Madeirans are intensely private people. In a place where anonymity is impossible, the only seclusion available seems to be in ones own mind. As a result, I found, Madeirans can be contemplative to the point of morbidity. Wandering through the ghostly interior of Porto Santo in pitch darkness one night, a Madeiran friend turned to me, her face spectral in a wash of moonlight, and said, My only concern, John, is that you may not be sad or lonely enough to really understand this place.

Sadness is a virtue, loneliness an accomplishment for Madeirans. Like my friend on Porto Santo, many believe that no outsider is sad or lonely enough to really understand them  not an American journalist, and certainly not someone from Portugal.


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Rising about 17,000 feet from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, a chain of mountain peaks form the Madeira Islands. Two island groups the Desertas and the Selvagens lack freshwater and are uninhabited. Porto Santo has water and about 5,000year-round residents, but its chalky soil limits farming. Madeira itself is a loamy, lush parfait of five micro climates from subtropical coastline to snow-flecked mountaintops.
Soon after the bloodless coup in Lisbon in 1974, a separatist movement called FLAMA emerged on the Madeiras. FLAMA, led by political conservatives fearful that the national communist government wanted to expropriate their lands, vociferously opposed Lisbons colonial grip on local affairs. The archipelago gained autonomy in 1976, and in the same year Alberto Joo Jardim became president. Perceived by many Madeirans as a man with the backbone to stand up to both the national government in Lisbon and EU headquarters in Brussels (and the acumen to extract ever increasing subsidies from them), Jardim enjoys extraordinary support from the public. There are no strong opposition parties on the islands, and most Madeirans agree that Jardim, who has been in power for the past 18 years, will no doubt be in power for the next 18.

Nowhere is prosperity Jardim-style more apparent than at Canio de Baixo, an area southeast of Funchal that has been transformed from a sleepy farming community into an outpost of Teutonic suburbia. Attracted by its stunning coastline, developers from Germany constructed a holiday refuge there for their wealthy compatriots about ten years ago. Today neat rows of identical stucco houses line the towns impeccably maintained streets; glossy BMWs glide past faux Bavarian beer halls.

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Nestled in the heart of Madeira, Curral das Freiras was once so remote that in the 16th century nuns would flee here to hide from pirates who periodically pillaged the island. Today the village is a 30-minute drive from Funchal.
Not everyone in Canio de Baixo lives an affluent life, however. Walking along the waterfront, I noticed a modest house standing alone in a rubble of construction, an albino dog tethered to its front gate. Several small children with grubby faces played in the shadow of the enormous luxury hotel that was under construction just across the rough dirt road. A young woman emerged from the simple dwelling to hang laundry on a line. A housewife whose husband works in construction, she told me that this was the house where she grew up. I asked her what will happen to her home when the hotel is finished.
They'll tear it down, of course, she said flatly.
Didnt that make her sad? She shrugged. Why should it? The land was there. Why not build something on it?
And build they have. Between 1990 and 1993 the EU invested 370 million dollars in the islands. Much of this money has gone into modernizing roads, bridges, clinics, and schools. But a good deal of it has also gone into the construction of big luxury hotels and apartment complexes.

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New roads and bridges seem to be sprouting everywhere, especially on the eastern coast, where a grand plan takes shape to turn that part of Madeira into a different type of refuge: a free-trade zone that shelters businesses from the tax man.
Not all the money from Europe has fed the construction frenzy, however. Over the past three years 70 million dollars has been invested in an organization called the Centro Regional de Formao Profissional, a job-training facility located outside Funchal that has prepared 28,000 young Madeirans for the burgeoning marketplace. The center, which has programs in everything from computers to industrial design to hairdressing, has provided direction for a whole new generation, especially for women.

Young women like Suzie Mary de Freitas, whom I met at a village called Cruzinhas in the northeastern part of Madeira Island, have their own notions of progress. I first glimpsed Suzie as she sturdily trudged up a steep hill, an unwieldy bundle of green willows on her back. She carried her cargo to some old men, who were soaking the stalks in water so they could peel and dry them and then weave them into furniture and baskets.

Astonished to see a 20-year-old woman engaged in a supposedly dying business, I asked her about the industrys future.
Suzie responded in impeccable East London English, Oh, I couldnt really tell you about all of that. Im just helping out a friend of the family for the day.
She said her parents are Madeiran, but she grew up in London.
I asked if, having tried wickerwork, she would return to London.
No way, she retorted. I want to stay here, where its healthy. Im going to take a course at the center and learn to be a chef. You can make good money, working at one of the fancy hotels in Funchal.

Before autonomy, most Madeirans in search of a better life had no choice but to emigrate. About a million still live overseas  most of them in South Africa and Venezuela. Today, however, emigration has decreased dramatically, and young Madeirans like Suzie have begun to return to the Madeiras to find work.
   
But while the tourism industry and the service sector are booming as a result of this influx, traditional industries are suffering.

Worst hit, many say, are the farmers. Once Europes largest producer of sugar, Madeira gradually converted its land to viticulture to supply grapes for a growing wine industry. About a decade ago, the agricultural balance changed again when many farmers, realizing bananas could fetch a higher price per acre than grapes, replanted some of their vineyards with banana trees. Now the islands biggest agricultural export, about 25,000 tons of Madeiran bananas are sent to Portugal each year.



Since Portugal entered the EU, the security that growing bananas once gave has been badly shaken. Convinced that bananas are an ideal health food (and may even contain a natural antidepressant), Germans have, over the past few decades, developed a passion for the fruit.
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Losing ground after every rain, the Madeiras suffer from soil erosion. To help stem the muddy flow, government has reduced the amount of grazing land available, thereby preventing sheep and goats from eating grass that would otherwise root the soil in place. Despite these efforts, farmers face a hard road. Demand for Madeiran bananas has been undercut by bigger, cheaper ones from Latin America, and meager profits reflect a new economic order that puts farming in the back seat while tourism takes the wheel.
The rub is that the Germans like to buy their bananas from the leading Latin American producers, who offer bigger, cheaper fruit. The French, the English, the Spanish, and the Portuguese, on the other hand, prefer to buy their bananas from their territories and former colonies. It looks as if, in the name of free trade, the Madeiran banana will lose its privileged position on the Portuguese market. Facing the fact that the EUs generous subsidies come with a price, the Madeiran government plans to reduce the land used for banana production by 29 percent by the year 1996, cutting total output by one-fourth.
This appears to be a sensible strategy to everyone but the Madeiran banana grower. One such farmer is Maria Edite Ferreira. Left a widow before the age of 40 by a man who worked himself to death as an emigrant to Venezuela, Mrs. Ferreira relies on the income her bananas give to survive. Receiving me at her pretty home in So Martinho, she told me that she sells about three tons of bananas during the summer season. Wholesaling at 30 escudos a pound, her bananas bring in an income of about $1, 125. And at these prices, Mrs. Ferreira said, she finds it difficult to make ends meet.
Since everybody started growing bananas, the price has remained at 65 escudos [40 U. S. cents] a kilo, she explained. The problem is that the cost of living has doubled in that time.
Screwing up my courage, I asked my hostess what she will do if changes in Europe make it impossible for her to grow bananas at all. Her body suddenly stiffening, she surveyed the expanse of small banana plots that gracefully descend to the sea.
I dont even want to think about it, she replied.
Sitting with Mrs. Ferreira on the sunny terrace of her house were her daughter, Nublia, 25, and her son, Manuel, 31. Nublia works at a Funchal travel agency and also disc-jockeys a weekly radio program of the latest British and American music. Manuel is an artist w ho studied design in New York City on a scholarship. They led me through the terraced garden that provides their mothers livelihood.
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The grapes that made Madeira famous get picked, pressed, fermented, then heated to produce a heavy sweet wine - too heavy and sweet for many of today’s wine drinkers.
I saw far more than bananas there. Because of the precipitous landscape, only about one-third of Madeiras rich soil can be cultivated, and that only by hand. As a result, it is common for vegetables to be grown under vines to double plot capacity. In Mrs. Ferreiras garden, spinach, sweet potatoes, lettuce, beets, and green beans compete for precious space beneath a translucent canopy of grapevines.
A dark look of concern clouding her pretty features, Nublia told me that she has been trying to convince her mother that the banana is finished as a cash crop, that she should replant her garden with other fruit trees. But like a lot of older people, she sighed, she simply doesnt want to believe that things are changing.

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Now the local vineyards also grow grapes (above) that produce a lighter, drier wine that goes nicely with, say, tuna steaks - selling for a few hundred escudos at Funchal´s central market.
Equally stubborn are the islands grape growers. According to EU directives, hybrid grapes such as the ones commonly grown by the islands small farmers must be replaced by four noble grape varieties for the production of Madeiras famous wines  the Verdelho, the Malmsey, the Bual, and the Sercial.
This has not been easy, said Amrico Campos, then a manager of the Madeira Wine Company, the islands biggest wine producer. We have had to change not only the habits but also the thinking of the local grape growers on the island.
The company has its work cut out for it. Wine is a way of life here. Stop to ask directions on a drive through the countryside and you will, without fail, be offered a glass of wine. It is considered shockingly impolite to refuse, and then, having accepted, it is equally discourteous to decline an invitation to see the place where it was made.

There are roughly 5,000 small farmers engaged in viticulture on the island, and all of them appear to have their own wine cellar  usually a musty, dimly lit cavern dominated by a medieval-looking wooden apparatus that seems more suitable to the needs of the Spanish Inquisition than to the pressing of grapes. There you will be required to drink more wine, the alcoholic content of which appears to increase exponentially with each glass.

Before I had become aware of the inevitable consequences of such a proposition, I was lured into a wine cellar at Seixal. Handing me a glass, my eager host told me, Drink this and you wont have to brush your teeth tomorrow morning. By the end of the visit, I was drinking pure firewater. And if you drink this, you wont have to brush your teeth for a month, my beaming host advised. Gratefully finishing the taste testing, I headed straight for a four-poster bed. My head swimming on the crisp linen, I wondered if I had any teeth left.



At Santa Maria Madalena's festival in honor of Santa Rita, the saint from Portugal who, when all other saints fail, can make miracles happen, enough wine was flowing to make even an atheist see visions. I arrived a little before seven, just as the sun was setting. The narrow road that passes through the centre of town was filled with people.
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Decked out for a festival, the steeples of Santo António overlook Funchal, where cinemas and cafés, boutiques and BMWs add continental élan to the city’s subtropical surroundings.
I pushed toward the focus of all the excitement: A temporary stage set up in front of the village church, where a local band dressed in tight black trousers and gold-lam jackets was performing a Portuguese-accented version of Volare.
Soon I detected a disruption in the rhythmic swaying of the dancers, and a couple of teenage boys crashed through the crowd and onto the pavement in front of me. Rolling on the blacktop, they drunkenly pummeled one another. After a while their friends descended upon them and pulled them apart. Seamlessly reassembling itself, the crowd again happily danced as one for about 15 minutes, when another fist fight broke out.

The next morning I returned to Santa. The village, now shrouded in an impenetrable fog, was empty. Following the strangled sound of a bell, I made my way to the small church and there found the entire population of the village wedged inside. I spotted the boys who had rolled at my feet the night before, sitting side by side in the back pews. Their hair slicked back, their faces swollen and bruised, they bowed their heads in respectful prayer.

Religious festivals like the one at Santa are constant events in the Madeiras, and drinking, it seems, is part of the ritual of such celebrations. In a place where even the slightest eccentric act can cause people to knit their fingers  a uniquely Madeiran gesture in which you move your fingers as if knitting and then swoop your right hand over your head to prepare the listener for a piece of gossip  religious festivals offer a kind of socially sanctioned excuse to tie one on.

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With a glide in their stride after attending a friend’s wedding, Lucina Branco and her boyfriend, Manuel Calaça, check out the scene at Caniçal’s annual summer festa. Music, food, floats, and the traditional procession of fishing boats across the harbour - it's all intended to bring good fortune and favor from Nossa Senhora da Piedade, Our Lady of Piety. “I don’t believe in that 100 percent,” says Luciana, but she doesn’t let her skepticism spoil a good time. She and Manuel danced, ate, and drank wine with friends until dawn.
Some worry, however, that Madeirans are increasingly finding reasons outside of festivals to drink too much. According to a recent investigation by the leading daily newspaper, O Dirio de Notcias, alcohol is involved in more than 90 percent of homicides. This rise in alcohol-related crime has occurred not in urban areas, where one might expect, but in the countryside. When asked about this unsettling trend, many Madeirans will tell you that it is the fault of American TV.

Hours later I am standing on a stretch of flawless white sand beach on the edge of Porto Santo, Madeiras sister island. A stiff wind sweeps over the turquoise waters from Morocco, 400 mile east of here, lifting the hair of a girl in a bikini who is navigating her way to shore aboard one of Duarte Drummonds sailboards.

Drummond, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who rents sailboards to tourists, stands beside me. A sturdy young man with a well-developed tan, he wears only a bathing suit and a watch that is set not to local time but an hour ahead, to continental European time.

In a voice plummy with confidence, he tells me, Now is when everything is beginning for the Madeiras. This is the moment when everything is going to take off.

While 20 years ago much of the news from the outside world was gleaned from scratchy radio broadcasts from the Canary Islands, today television sets are found at almost every turn: In restaurants, in the front windows of stores, above the checkout lines at the hipermercados,  hypermarkets, or really, really big supermarkets.

A teenager from Cmara de Lobos, which  fairly or unfairly  is known around Madeira as a village of toughs, dismissed the television theory, however. One of the islands three principal fishing villages, Cmara de Lobos lies on the most crowded flank of the island. Leading me through labyrinthine alleys, where houses are virtually stacked up on top of one another, the young man said, You want to know why people an Madeira get violent? Just look at the way we live. Were practically sleeping in one anothers pockets. When you live like this, you get sensitive. Here in Cmara de Lobos, the worst insult you can give someone is to say theyre messy.
Messy?
Yes, well, a messy person is someone who doesnt sweep up, who leaves trash lying around. Someone who doesnt respect his neighbors. You have a couple of drinks, you get mad, you call someone messy. And then, well, things happen.

Messiness is known not only in Cmara de Lobos. Despite the Madeiran peoples respect for their land, many are incorrigible litterers. It is virtually impossible to admire one of the islands breathtaking views without noticing, from the comer of your eye, the glint of an empty bottle or the glitter of a discarded Coke can.
What to do with garbage is a problem that concerns all islands. The Madeiras answer is a series of landfills, including the main islands principal dump at Santo da Serra, where bulldozers relentlessly gouge the arcadian landscape as they work to bury the increasing supply of hipermercado refuse.
For Raimundo Quintal, Madeiras leading environmental activist, it is junked cars, the surest sign of prosperity, that concerns him the most. Quintal estimates that about 3,600 new cars enter the port of Funchal each year. Its a cultural problem as much as an environmental one, Quintal told me. Cars have become an accessible status symbol now. Everyone wants one. Because Madeirans think that if you are in a car, you are a different person  a better person.

Newly rich, Madeiras golden youth is doing its best to accelerate the pace of life. When they are not in their cars, they can be seen at Funchals many high-tech dance clubs, frantically spending cash. Visiting one such establishment on a Friday night, I fell into conversation with a 30-year-old banker, who disdainfully regarded the throng of nattily dressed, Scotch-drinking teenagers that surrounded him and remarked, Look at these people. Just look at them. Materialism has infected them like a disease.

Before there were discos on the islands there were tascas, a kind of bar-cum-convenience store-cum-neighborhood living room. There, amid cans of Vim detergent and Dum Dum insecticide, old men still gather to drink house wine and eat olives.

At one cramped tasca in the old part of Funchal, a group of day laborers playing a game of dominoes invited me to join them. Wearing traditional barretes de orelhas, or ear caps, which are woolen hats with earflaps and a big pompom stitched to the top, they filled a glass for me and told me that they have been coming here to drink wine and play dominoes for more than 40 years.

Slapping yellowed dominoes against a scarred wooden tabletop, one man said, I dont know where we'll play when they close this old place down.
Theyre closing your tasca? I asked.
The government says theyre not dignified. But let me ask you this: What dignity will we have when all of our traditions have been outlawed?
   



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No stone goes unturned in Seixal, where residents utilize every square foot of arable or buildable land. In the 1800s farmers cultivated terraced tracts that were accessible only by rope.
Others fret that the good life might not be so good if the EU stops sending money. Madeirans like Francisco Costa, chairman of the local development company and the force behind Madeiras international business schemes, are attempting to ensure that prosperity continues with or without hefty subsidies from Europe. Costa told me, Everybody in Madeira  or at least everybody who matters  recognizes that traditional activities are facing severe difficulties. Of course, we have tourism. But to base our economy on one industry is a risk we cant afford. Compared with the offshore banking and financial services, the free-trade zone - an initiative to attract foreign industries by exempting them from taxes on profits until the year 2011 -  has gotten off to a slow start. According to Costa, this is because they had to build an entire infrastructure from nothing. With 80 acres of an industrial park already set up, another 19 under construction, an additional 197 acres in the planning stages, and with deep-sea port facilities at last completed, Costa believes that the zone is poised to take off.

The free-trade zone has been set up at Canial, a fishing village on the eastern end of the island. To get there, one must pass through a roughhewn tunnel that first connected the settlement to the rest of the island in the 195 0s. Historically isolated, Canial had only fishing and a little farming to support itself before the arrival of the zone. Today the village looks like a boomtown about to happen. Ribbons of blacktop lead to freshly constructed industrial plots; suburban-style bungalows stand ready for occupancy among ramshackle fishermens huts.
    
Having spoken to everybody who matters about the zones prospects, I set out to find out what the local residents thought.
What I discovered was probably best summed up by Mario Correia, a local bar owner, who told me, People here arent stupid. Were just waiting for the zone to fail so that we can keep the nice new streets and the new harbor for ourselves.

Up the road from Canial, at Ponta de So Loureno you can just make out the profile of Porto Santo if the weather is clear. And there, in the dry, disused interior, Carlos Manuel Afonso is making the desert bloom. A city kid from Funchal with matinee idol looks, Afonso got the idea of making his garden about four years ago. Having found a plot of land, he consulted with some engineers, but they told him that the land was too dry and the winds too violent. Afonso planted anyway.

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Spirits are high in the Madeiras, where, in years past, young people grew up, then emigrated to find jobs. In that exodus there was an echo: “Little islands are all large prisons,”wrote one visitor to Madeira in the mid-1800s. “One cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of the swallow.” Yet today many young adults are migrating back for more than jobs. Alicia Camacho, a 32 year-old native, returned to her roots after getting a taste of the Continent. “I had to come back home,” says Alicia. “I missed the sound and smell of the sea.”
On Porto Santo you feel close to North Africa. The landscape is a composition of sunbaked tans; the winds that sweep from over the ocean are stiff with salt. An overwhelming sense of emptiness hangs in the air: Farms lie abandoned by owners who have gone to Funchal or beyond to make an easier living; fields lie parched and forgotten. Amid this moody landscape, Afonsos aesthetic arrangement of vines and fruits and vegetables rises like a mirage.
Afonso tells me that he had heard at first that the EU was giving out agricultural subsidies, but so far he has received no money. Shrugging his shoulders, he tells me that he doesnt care now. He is able to keep the farm going himself, although so far he has made nothing even close to a profit.
I ask him how he does it.
He answers that several times a week he brings water in a truck from the other side of the island, but now he has plans to construct a tank so that he wont have to make the trip so often.
Okay. Then why does he do it?
Afonso surveys his garden, admiring its fertile symmetry. His handsome tanned face slowly opens into a smile. It is the smile of a poet.
I dream.
So often during my stay I had heard that the stubbornness of the Madeiran farmer was the islands biggest obstacle to success. Yet wandering through Afonsos farm, it occurred to me that that undeniable quality may just be the Madeiran peoples greatest strength. Guided only by the gloomy poetry of his soul, Afonso, like his ancestors, is making an impossible dream come true. And like them, he is making it happen without anyones help  not Brussels, not Lisbons, not even Funchals.




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