I wanted to kayak at the point Brazil, Colombia, and Peru meet, or at least bicycle in Argentina, but it hadn't been easy to get away, so when a week-sized opportunity opened up a week and a half in the future, I decided simply to go to Portugal. No visa required, and the flight was cheap. My objective was to mop up some of the few areas of that country I hadn't yet seen: Madeira for one, Bragança for another.

Europe is eye candy, and analysis of Europe is the biochemistry of digesting sugar: this doesn't sound like much fun. But I must say here if nowhere else that Madeira is fresh and attractive and functional, the people are OK, and there's tons to do. You should take someone and go.

Something Europe is very good at reminding you of, though in truth quite a lot of American places can remind you of it too: just how neurotic recycling is.

Portuguese girls figured out at last: they don't smile. They do everything else right. They dress well. They look intelligent. Nobody wears glasses better. But that's all. Had me wondering for years.

Word I've never heard before, yet for which I will take no credit for inventing: "euroglyph." Any of those alingual graphic interjections, meaning anything from "Your brakes are shot" to "Your toast is done." The coinage is so obvious I can't believe I'm the first person to think of it.

You hear about those towns in Nevada where the only building is a brothel: I've been all over Nevada and I don't believe I've seen such a thing. But I thought of this all the same, as I tried to find something to compare a tourist town (or island, in the case of Madeira) to. At first I wondered if all one-industry places do a certain thing a certain way, regardless of the industry itself; and maybe they do. For the moment, though, I'll venture that if your industry depends totally on visitors, the word happiness crops up with outsize frequency. "If somebody isn't enjoying himself, somebody else isn't doing his job!" Bet nobody ever says THAT in a mining town.

Good example of a stupid question: "What's the mission statement of the Portuguese Skating Federation?"

Possible example of a shrewd question: "If the EU flag were flown at half-staff, what could it possibly mean?"

Portuguese data that actually mean nothing: (1) octopus on pizza; (2) special line at Immigration for people from any of the eight lusophone countries.

And while Canadians wonder where they'll get same-day healthcare if the U.S. puts that out of business: Africans might wonder what they'll do if Europe goes Moslem. Portugal turns out to be a good place to think about this because its journalists cover its ex-colonies with above-average attention. And absolutely-average insight: before, after, and during the recent fracas in Guinea-Bissau, Africans have remained statues, requiring only slightly more food, and being asked their opinion a good deal less. Europe insists this be so. Anyway, I'd guess that an Islamic European government would view bleeding-heart "charity" in a very different light.

Managed Islamification: an oxymoron, of course - "promoting or accommodating political Islam" and "thinking clearly" are two different things. But I do wonder what would happen to putative moneymakers like Madeira. Would anybody have the sense to keep them running as outer-orbit amusement parks? And do they in fact turn a profit? I suspect Madeira collects a lot of cash from visitors - it sure did from me - but how do EU subventions compare to this sum? It may be worth noting that Funchal's central plaza is the Plaza of Autonomy. "Autonomy" translates as "Mom and Dad raised my allowance!"

In praise of Latin spirit: looking at a fine old restaurant in Terreiro da Luta, I might have snorted at this comical survival - around 1910, the locals built a tiny railway and the only trace of it now is the food service facility for the hungry Casey Joneses working what looks to have been a two-mile line. But then I thought better of it. The Portuguese themselves undertook this and, when you think about it, quite a lot of other things, on their own initiative, over many centuries, on continents and on specks in the ocean, in response to nothing. They decided to do things and didn't ask anybody else first. I thought of Slovenia - and I might have thought of pretty much all non-Latin Europe - and how pretty much everything there was a reaction to someone else's empires and someone else's wars.

The 1993 plebiscite: just tens of millions of hanging chads, and Brazil would've had an emperor again - and he would've been half-Bragança! It could've been a good story, and maybe it even has something to do with the Portuguese town of Bragança, where I went after Madeira. The place had an odd but familiar look, and could be taken to contradict what I said in the preceding paragraph. It comprised a smallish castle, a handsome village-sized downtown, and great aseptic hemorrhages of housing projects, apparently all built very recently. They looked OK, but the function of Bragança-vs.-time was clearly not differentiable over all ranges. The projects wouldn't stand out elsewhere in Europe. In Austria or Slovenia, you could jam them into a tight valley and they'd achieve a coziness and tourists would speak approvingly of these neat settlements. In this broad bare hilly space - ideal for a windy country walk - they were just too stark. Undoubtedly they had been summoned into existence by one not-exactly-Portuguese-government fiat, and paid for by another not-exactly-Portuguese-government's tax revenues.

© 2009 J.A.Hutter

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