TIME: US | UK
WEATHER: US | UK
THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE ONLINE
Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
Money Means Choice
Praia da Luz, a Personal View
Praia da Luz
The American's Wining & Dining correspondent Virginia Schultz was in Praia da Luz recently. Here is her personal view of the tragedy that has filled the media over the past months.
I was in Prai Da Luz, Portugal in late September, early October for no other reason than to vacation with three friends. We had been on holiday together several times before and the offer from another friend to use his flat for a week seemed the perfect chance to get away from the gloomy and cool weather we’ve been experiencing this past summer.
The village was originally known as "Praia de Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Luz" (Beach of the Church of Our Lady of Light) which was a mouthful for even the Portuguese and eventually shortened to Praia da Luz. Located west of Lagos, the nearest big city, it is a "copy" of a traditional Portuguese village and here and there - between all the modern white townhouses and apartments overlooking the bay between what is known as the "Black Rock" and some lower cliffs on the opposite end - one can spot an original house. There is also a set of Roman (perhaps even earlier Carthaginian) baths. In the 1980s, the Portuguese government had the opportunity to buy this historical site but declined. Fortunately, before the owners and builders could destroy everything, local archaeologists managed to convince the developers to save what they hadn’t yet destroyed completely and the remaining ruins, surrounded by double-story town houses, can be viewed from ten am to five pm every day.
Our apartment was in the next building to where Madeline McCann was staying with her parents. We were on the top floor overlooking the club where the McCanns and their friends had dinner in the evening. Here there is both a large pool and a smaller one as well as an attractive play school behind the restaurant and bar where Madeline and her siblings played under the supervision of young attendants, who even in late September were still employed. It is at least a ten minute walk down narrow winding streets surrounded by the high walls of apartments before you reach the beach. The McCanns, in a lower level apartment, could not have seen the beach or bay as those of us in the higher rise apartments could. And walking there, especially during the warm day, would not be something a parent with two year old twins and a three year old would want to do easily.
My first thought standing on the balcony the day we arrived was, how perfect a place to vacation for young families and their children. I am not going to go into whether the McCanns should have left three young children alone that evening, or even if I would have done the same when my children were of similar age. Prai Da Luz is a holiday spot for young British and Irish middle class families and the local grocery store a further block down the street from where they stayed is filled with mainly British products and can be compared to Tesco or Sainsbury’s smaller stores in Clapham or Chelsea. There is a gentle peacefulness about Prai Da Luz that might lull any parent into believing their children would be safe in their apartment for a few hours while they enjoyed the evening out with friends. Walking out their gate, now padlocked against intrusion, it was only several yards to where they were dining and checking periodically on the children would have taken less than five minutes.
The first question that came to my mind was...where would they have hidden the body? Years ago, I entered a house where a decomposed body had been found three weeks before and the scent of that death still remained even though the room the man was found in had been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. All around Prai Da Luz there are small towns and villages and one would have had to know the area extremely well to hide the body in any of the open areas. As for dropping her body in the sea, it would have meant hiring a boat which would have taken time and knowledge of the sea as I know from spending years of sailing with my husband. Furthermore, the suggestion that the McCann’s hid the body in the refrigerator for three weeks is so ridiculous I hate even mentioning it. The flats have maid service every day and it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous to believe that none of them would have looked into it while cleaning the apartment. Furthermore, what about the paparazzi who followed the McCanns’ every move? Even months later, a French journalist suddenly popped out of the bushes surrounding our flat to question us about her disappearance. One only has to watch recent television and know how impossible it would have been for them to go anywhere without being observed.
When my husband died after five years of illness, a friend remarked how calm and removed I was from his death. My reaction puzzled her, as she told several other friends. At a dinner party several months later, one of them subtly suggested I was, perhaps, relieved to be free of caring for him which was why I showed little emotion. She showed me far less sympathy than she did another friend who created a soap opera scene at her husband’s funeral. I’m not saying that friend’s loss was any less than mine, but that each of us react differently in time of stress.
What happened that night we may never know. And unless the evidence is stronger than I’ve read so far, or the McCann’s confess to harming their child, I refuse to believe from what I observed in Portugal they had anything to do with their daughter’s disappearance. English and American laws stress we are innocent until we are proven guilty. It is not our duty to prove to the state or police we’re innocent, it is their duty to prove we are guilty. I wish people would remember that.