No, Maria wasn’t born in Madeira. But does this really make a difference? She was born with Madeira in her heart, and in the life she chose for herself – she calls herself a “folklorist” – she seeks out the traditions and customs of her parents’ (they were both born in Machico) island.
She was already born in São Paulo, which is also where she was married with Pedro (who funnily enough was also born in Brazil – even if only by a matter of days, also of Madeiran parents), and where she does what she does, always close to Casa da Madeira in São Paulo.
Her connection to Madeira’s folklore started almost per chance. She heard of an international folklore festival which was to take place in Madeira, and asked for a meeting with the managers of Casa da Madeira, and while waiting for the end of a meeting explained her project to a few other people who were there also. Even before starting the meeting with the management she had already gathered some of what she needed, and on her first trip to Madeira she had her say in this festival, stating that she was there to study Madeira’s folklore, and that she wanted to promote it and divulge it in Brazil. She had brought an empty suitcase, but it didn’t remain empty for long – when she returned she had samples, and costumes of the Madeira folklore which are still kept in the group she runs, under the auspices of Casa da Madeira.
One of the first people she got to know was D. Arsenia, of Casa do Povo do Curral das freiras, which she still sees and visits whenever she visits Madeira. And in the meanwhile, over the years, she kept gathering garbs and traditions of the island.
She was invited to be a “conselheira da diáspora” (diaspora councilor), and she says she understood the invitation as a mission. The mission to do all she can for Madeirans in Brazil, and for Brazilians in Madeira, thus completing the bridge between the two cultures.
To keep the folklore group and cover the costs of its activity, they organize every year a sort of Madeira arrayal (feast), with stall where local Madeira dishes are served: espetada (grilled meat on a skewer), gaiado e semilhas (skipjack tuna with potatoes), favas de escabeche (fava beans pickles), pregos no bolo caco (steaks sandwich, served inside Madeira’s special bread) and sopa de trigo (wheat soup), accompanied by poncha (local drink made with honey, lemon and orange juice and rum) and the bebida de arraial (mix of orange soda and wine). The folklore group doesn’t pay her a salary, but “the smiles and the shine in the eyes of those seeing and taking part” are, says Maria, “the best type of payment”. The group participates in weddings and christenings, as well as in a restaurant in north São Paulo, in São Roque, the Quinta do Olivardo, where there is also wine harvesting and the pressing of grapes. In this restaurant, there is Madeira gastronomy and, says Maria, “we made the arrayal flowers together”.
Maria is a sweetheart – I know because I spoke to her. And everything she says comes straight from her heart, and is really felt. As the love and the care she confers on the island and its inhabitants is felt. The inheritance, in effect, that she received from her parents.