David Fernandes
Producer, Director, Writer

Madeira is a garden… with a lot of condos.

There’s a saying here that Madeira is a garden – it’s even a lyric in the unofficial national anthem – and as much as it is a place of intense greenery, flora and beauty, it’s also a place that is very quickly loosing it’s soul. I’m feeling that on a really personal level these past two days.

Yesterday, my first full day here, I got to visit the site where my dad grew up (now a massive seaside hotel), the place where my dad’s grandfather lived (still a banana farm, but about to become apartments), and also the site where my dad was born (now a half torched and rotting banana farm, soon to be massive apartment development).

Basically, all the places my parents and their siblings grew up are now or are in the process of being resortified. This is beyond gentrification, this is wholesale demolition and reconfiguration of the whole landscape, to a point beyond recognition. It’s actually quite shocking. And it’s all made more poignant since I am staying with my mom’s sister – my Tia Rita (a true gem) – who’s home is a window into another era – worn down and original in almost every way, with no way to access it but a very steep, winding footpath.

Like in Cuba, tourism has become a really major industry here, and as a result, anything at all seems to go. Massive concrete hotels owned by English, German and Dutch chains are eating up the coast of the cities here, and on an island that is only 55km long, with a population of 350K – it’s having a big impact.

So, I’m feeling a bit torn. I’m so happy to be here and to get to see these places and meet these relatives before everything turns into condo-resort-land. But I’m also feeling a real nostalgia for a past that isn’t even mine and maybe isn’t even my place to be holding on to. The things I personally find beauty in are the old places, the crumbling shacks, cracked walls, clay roofs, old people and stories about a much more rural, simpler time. That’s the Madeira of my parents’ generation. But the old people are dying out and the children are selling the farms.

It’s all very strange. I get the sense that average Madeirans resent all this development, and yet, it’s average Madeirans, with inheritances, who are selling off their heritage to develop them as condos and hotels. And there’s plenty of money in it. They’re selling a crumbling old banana farm and turning that into a fortune. Can I blame them? Are young, well-educated, english-speaking Madeirans really gonna toil on a banana farm in an age of online shopping and 24h satellite TV? Would I?

It’s bittersweet. I love being here and spending time with my father and getting to physically experience where he grew up – take tonnes of picture and video to boot. But it’s kind of like taking pictures of ghosts – these places and people are going to disappear very soon and then all any of us will have to remember them are words and pictures.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos and hours of video so far. I’m feeling extra motivated to document things, preserve them in some form – ANY form – because i know i won’t get another chance. My dad’s immediate family don’t own anything here anymore, so what’s left is in the hands of cousins and great aunts. It’s really all quite futile though. I’ll never capture everything, and I know that i can’t. Maybe I’m feeling inadequate with just pictures and video. I want to be able to come to these places 20 years from now and show my kids or something. It’s a selfish thought, for sure.

Anyway. Weather is great, island is as beautiful as ever, and I’ve learned the hard way that one should absolutely NOT, EVER, park a standard transmission car facing uphill at a 40° angle and expect to go anywhere but backwards. Um, oops. No one got hurt. And the tree is ok too. The bumper on the other hand…

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