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Lanes, paths, alleys, and doors

There comes a time, and again from time to time, when a road must be selected, or, if not selected, set upon by someone’s urging, a push of fate, or — as with our present situation — by vacation planning.

Usually, no matter how the journey begins, it moves along pretty well. We encounter and explore alleys, paths, lanes, and doors found along the way — those nooks, crannies, colors, and textures from whence travel’s delights and revelations flow.

Being an island, the road to Madeira is by air or water. Once here, “rapidas” — modern highways — move you from the airfield through tunnels under mountains into the city’s paths, lanes, and alleys — the cobblestones in the old city of Funchal.

I previously noted in this column what my old friend John Kaufman would occasionally opine that engineers, those smart people who build so many things we could not do without should nevertheless not be allowed to vote.

Here, on Madiera, engineers have been voting, and it appears to have worked out well. Without them, curves, slopes, and the areas under them could not be accurately determined — matters of routine concern here. Tunnels bored through mountains come out at the locations planned. Bridges are built in sufficient lengths to cover spans. Water; tranquil, flows in the lavadas built for it.

Without engineers, we would have trouble reaching the paths, alleys, lanes, and doors we came here to see — not to mention the climate. We should invite those engineers in for a glass of wine or a mug of Poncha. When this social distancing ends, I’ll do that.

What’s the difference between a path, an alley, and a lane? It appears to me lanes are wider than paths but not so wide as to allow the parking of an automobile. People live along lanes but not along paths, paths are used to get to lanes. Alleys run between paths and lanes or behind them. Sometimes people park their cars in alleys.

The paths, alleys, and lanes here are all of Portuguese pavement — individual stones, some black basalt, others white limestone — all hand-laid in attractive patterns going on for miles (Google: Madeira Pavement).

On the narrow paths, the patterns are alternating stripes of black and white. Where paths have broadened into lanes and squares, the patterns become ornate. Either way, while walking, you stroll along on art.

All along these ways are doors. Some, the entrances to government buildings, cathedrals, or museums, are massive with soaring ornate frames — 20 feet high and more, with their carved panels in high states of varnish and polish — though sometimes not. When not, their grandeur is such it can survive the absence.

Small doors — openings in the walls along lanes, paths, and alleys — even those whose paint and edges are worn — still intrigue. Both large and small, ornate and simple, those that are grand and those that are humble have equal appeal when closed, for that of interest behind them can be a garden whose beauty is not dependent on the size of its door.

Now, we are moving down a road we’ve not traveled. Many of the lanes, paths, and alleys are empty and all along doors are closed. This is not as bad as it may initially seem, because, now, closed, the beauty of a door is fully displayed. Before the virus came, they were left open, lacking complete expression and full appreciation.

Now, too, the road home is confused, its timing uncertain, so we stay in place. The virus appears to be controlled on Madeira. The authorities acted promptly and limitations were implemented early. But no one knows for sure. Travel has been constrained.

We are comfortable here. We miss our home but feel safe, somehow content. If not totally so, then we are accepting, patient — our age helps with that.

Until we get home, we’ll spend time walking along lanes, paths, and alleys all paved with art viewing the full beauty of doors now closed.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.

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