Plumes and Palm Trees: A flutter in the urban context

During the Carnival, among the peculiar landscapes of Madeira Island, we find carnival revelers carrying feathers attached to their costumes. In this essay, I seek to express some tuning between these props and the palm trees scattered in the urban landscape of Funchal. Characterized by their fluffiness and fluttering, these two representations captured my gaze. Their dances traced something in that context and there was something more else to be awakened besides the breeze that cradled them. I had to wait for a reflective period to adjust this intriguing relationship, which was gaining imbrications, sometimes provocative, that were between inspiration and mental exercise until I laid bare this perception and, finally, validated it.

Slowing down the thinking engine in order to unveil the layers of memories is crucial to this course. It gives clues to better understand the connections of the creation process (Salles, 2006; s.d.). But, in the dynamic between insights and chance, it is also intriguing to check other alignments added to this system, which become sine qua non to decipher the questions embedded in this task. By dismantling and verifying this network, one can even understand the very categories of signs proposed by Peirce (Ibri, 1992): the firstness, that is, its quality and unpredictability, the first moment in which we come across the object, still immersed in the experience, without being able to reflect on it; the secondness, when the sign is inserted in confrontation with reality, coming to our consciousness, exposing itself to a dyadic condition and discontinuity, making us reflect on the experience lived and then interpret it; and the thirdness, when it is exposed to beliefs and habits, enabling mediations and our own choices, the object/sign will be taken under our interpretations according to the different principles that guide us.

When leaving the firstness, that is, the sensory experience of the perceived consonance between feathers and palm trees, it was the dyadic relationship, the secondness, that made me realize and reflect on this repertoire, giving attention, for example, to the (dis)similarities between both. In the context of Carnival, the spotlight is turned on the “black box” – an expression used to refer to the stretch of asphalt where the carnival revelers parade – where the feathers exacerbate their colors. Attached to the costumes that fit on carnival revelers’ bodies, the swing of these pieces is part of the scenery. They differ from palm trees as their feathered or fan-shaped leaves are attached to an immovable trunk, stuck to the ground, and sometimes covered by cement or asphalt. However, they are at the heights, and there they move with the partnership of the breeze. They float, and flutter, filling spatialities and, like the feathers, indicate the power of the collective in their compositions.

In this dyadic game, it is worth noting the colours of the objects treated. The feathers of Carnival open up to the rainbow, suggesting the baroque mark of the festival. The vivid colors and rounded shapes illude an embroidery of fits, marked by irregularities. A composition supported by an excess of information, engendered by imprecision, delegated by mobility. The palm trees play with other shades. The green of the leaves encapsulates the top of the brown trunk, and the indigo-blue sky frames the slender piece, enhancing the aesthetics of contrast. It is the blows of the breeze that move the foliage of the canopy, rehearsing different designs in the air.

Still in the stage of confrontations, the scope of palm trees is beyond what is seen, for they are organized in a family of thousands of species. Some gain emblematic meanings in certain eras and cultures, as happened with the Imperial Palm, an exotic specimen destined for Rio de Janeiro in the early 19th century when the Portuguese court was settling in the colony (Araújo & Silva, 2010). Two hundred years later, Portugal proceeded to a reverse movement, seeking palm trees from sub-Saharan Africa, to add exotic characteristics to the tourist destination of the Algarve and, consequently, causing the entry of another exotic component in the country, quite harmful: the red beetle pest, which also inserted itself in Madeira Island (Ramos et al., 2015).

Perhaps it is the exotic signifier that accounts for expressing the starting point of this exercise. In the condition of a trigger, it appears camouflaged but gives strength to capture, and justify the state of quality (primality), that “essence” of the experience I had, in the face of the perception generated by this communion between the palm trees and the feathers in Funchal. To try to unveil this hypothesis it is worth checking the state of the thirdness of these elements, I mean, to argue about some beliefs and habits that end up relating to these objects.

When it came to the carnival that was seen – and heard – there, the party created a lot of strangeness for those who have a broad syntony in their memory a connection with the process of creation of a samba school parade in Brazil (Luderer, 2007). It was very different to see the simulacrum of this spectacle, moved by Brazilian or Latin American melodies, among other musical sources, directing the procession of the troupes in the “black box”, moved by carnival revelers carrying feathered costume shapes, reminiscent of those designed for Brazilian carnivals. Such restlessness was similar when touching the theme of palm trees. Lined up by the sea, stretched next to tall buildings of hotel chains, they mark a process of hygienization aimed at tourists, emphasizing a landscape sheltered from the various hills of the island, covered by banana trees.

In the face of this composition of elements that are not very intertwined, three assumptions can be made: (i) there is harmony between the feathers and the palm trees, but beyond the swing, this similarity is supported by a model of society that privileges images, just as Debord (1991) warned us; (ii) seen in this light, artificial models are composed around urban landscapes, which create stigmas in culture, and being given due attention to the system of objects (Baudrillard, 1997), these signs become an ephemeral representation in this landscape and, (iii) in the context of these particularities, we can see that, between the feathers and the palm trees,  there is a fluttering of cultural roots, which moves in favour of a landscape filled with tomes that circulate globally, by favouring the promotion of a non-place (Augé, 2005).   


Text and images: Cynthia Luderer

Published on: 19-05-2023



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