Inge Perreault.eu

By Inge Perreault  e-mail Inge at ladyauthor@sapo.pt

12/27/2006

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 Azores-Journal 01

NO CHRISTMAS FRENZY IN THE AZORES!

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We fell in love with the house with the blue shutters on our first visit. It became our first domicile on Sao Miguel in Caloura as luck would have it.

By the time we left the States to begin our new life in the Azores, Sao Miguel to be exact,
Christmas shopping frenzy was already well underway in the US since it was November 6th, just past Halloween and before Thanksgiving. The Christmas decorations were already on display. Maybe in the future they will be left year-round to encourage and lengthen the shopping season indefinitely.What had attracted us to spend whatever years we have left to live abroad on Sao Miguel, part of the Azores, a volcanic archipelago consisting of 9 islands? Perhaps in collaboration with my husband’s photography of the breathtaking beauty I may write a book about life in the Azores today? The need for a quiet and tranquil
in a pleasant sub-tropical climate without the stresses of life in the United States?
All this and more struck me again the minute the SATA Airbus touched down in the capitol of Ponta Delgada on the morning of November 7, 2006. The temperatures are no colder than 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter or warmer than 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, no need for air-conditioning or heat. Hibiscus and a multitude of flowers the names of which I have not been able to discover, greeted us in their bounty. The crystal clear air of the steep mountains and the vast Atlantic we were now in the middle of were as spectacular as we had remembered them on our visit in April when the decision was made to move.

I must mention that although the Azores are part of Portugal, they have an independent Government and are a territory much like Puerto Rico. Being part of the EU, the islands have attracted a variety of Europeans and Germans in particular are well represented and liked. They either retire here or move here to work, have an excellent reputation for their work ethic and prefer quality of life to unbridled consumerism and a 24/7-type of existence. As a matter of fact, the German couple we had stayed with at Quinta Altamira in the spring for our 35th wedding anniversary helped us with the process of obtaining permanent residence status.

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On Sao Miguel Santa does not come through the chimney...............he climbs up the balconies.

We settled into our rented 200 plus year-old Portuguese farm-house surrounded by rubber trees, lined by a hedge of pink Hibiscus in full bloom and other flowers I was not familiar with, later finding out they were Birds of Paradise. We decided to take off the first few months entirely to de-stress and observe how other cultures deal with the infamous consumer-oriented pre-Christmas frenzy, the season which seems to have become a major part of the national pastime – SHOPPING! The United states, which once was known for producing valuable goods, then changed to a service economy, and ultimately to a consumer society of compulsive shoppers buying goods made in foreign lands.

Having removed the TV from the furnished house and delegated it to the attic we began to learn Portuguese first by interacting with the native inhabitants in the area but were mostly steered to converse in English with them. (I guess our Portuguese pronunciation leaves something to be desired) but we were diligent and it must be said that Portuguese is the seventh most difficult language in the world. Plus accents vary so greatly from one town or village to the next, it sure is not an easy task.

The Azorean people are by nature very friendly and extremely helpful. They will go out of their way to steer you in the right directions, so the bureaucratic process went very smoothly. We got the distinct impression that they perceive us to be a desirable addition to apparently the last place on earth where a German/American is still welcomed with open arms. Incidentally, political correctness is ABSENT since these are shores where many a sailor stayed and a rather liberal attitude prevails when it comes to religion. Nobody carries their belief on their sleeve. While there

are fabulous Baroque-style churches in every village no matter how small, attendance has greatly fallen off in recent years.

In the 21st century this small archipelago of beautiful islands with topography much like Hawaii only closer – (a four hour and ten minute flight from Boston) is a dichotomy. That is what makes it so very special. While the old architecture is being preserved and mostly restored if salvageable, there is a contrast that seems most incongruous and astounding.

Towards the end of November, and no, they do NOT celebrate Thanksgiving here, the colored lights strung across the ancient streets of Ponta Delgada, only 20 minutes by car from our new home, also began to show subdued holiday decorations for Christmas in the Stores. A friend of mine from the US Consulate proudly showed us the “NEW” part of town which encompasses two large and extremely modern malls, but everything we noticed was well, sort of low-key.

Azoreans don’t push and shove. They patiently stand in line and wait their turn. We noticed parents with well-behaved children trying to figure-out if the pink or the green tricycle might be preferable, only to return later and purchase the item. Special Christmas Candies from other European countries, especially Germany were on display but what was missing totally was the feeling that while one had 11 presents so far for Joao, Laura had only 8 from her list. Something that needed to be rectified or else…….. The entire mood reminded me of my own childhood in Germany in the fifties when it was my greatest joy to find one or two mostly handmade presents under the tree and cherished them.. Children in the States could open their own toy store at age four, but that is a story for another time.


With a keen eye we kept wondering when the rush to buy would start but it never did, towns were tastefully decorated with lights, here and there a few lights adorned lovely homes or a Santa was hanging to a balcony or window ledge which I had never seen. In Ponta Delgada the customary type of pine growing on Sao Miguel which is quite different from American or other European Christmas Trees were offered as well as some artificial ones in stores.

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The Church in Agua de Pau where we attended our first Christmas Mass.

The women were busy cleaning (Azorean women clean with a vengeance) and the general ecologically consciousness of the islanders using everything was still evident in the reed-brooms.

We had decided not to exchange any presents at all and instead to give and surprise a needy family with food items and non-perishables, to attend mass on Christmas Eve and spend a quiet day. All the churches in the Azores date back to the Baroque-era and the local one was magnificently decked out the way we had never seen before. I did not know bean-sprouts could look like gossamer surrounding the altar and Créche. Here Christmas is strictly a family holiday and, much like in Germany, presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve.

Though mass was at 10pm (children’s mass) the church was packed to the brim and yet again, we noticed extremely well behaved children. Some folks in native costumes participated in a procession down the center isle and the first song we heard was Silent Night (in Portuguese of course) but I sang it in German and nobody took notice. From my understanding of the language by now, the words from the pulpit were words of love, peace, compromise and being kind to our fellow man, truly one of the best services I ever attended.

Afterwards we walked home, had a glass of Port and went to bed while the natives celebrated all through the night with feasting on local traditional dishes and sharing precious memories.

We slept-in on Christmas Day. Since the Azores are 4 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time our sons would not be calling until late afternoon and we woke up to balmy temperatures in the low 70’s to head for a long walk at one of the black and totally empty beaches to watch the waves crashing while collecting some sea-glass. Puffy white clouds moved across a peaceful sky and I had suppressed the urge to use the Internet since I really did not want to know how many people died in Iraq, which mall-shooting had taken place or any other bad news whatsoever. I wanted to detach from the rest of the world and give only thought to peace and serenity.

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Walk to the beach of Caloura the afternoon of our first Christmas on Sao Miguel just minutes from our domicile.

Shortly after 3pm we started heading home so as not to miss our sons calls and I noticed that I actually had been amiss in not applying a sunscreen because my face showed signs of slight sunburn. The local Azoreans were carrying on their daily lives as always, after all there are two cows for every person on this island and they still needed milking. Fishermen still hung out in the center of town socializing while I am sure the women were busy preparing more food. At this point I should add that our kindly landlord keeps a special case of freshly-dug potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and other goodies in the garage for us free of change and constantly admonishes me that I do not pick enough tangerines, lemons, flowers or herbs that grow in profusion. So this was a typical Christmas in the Azores.
Nobody got shot, we did not hear or observed any unruly behavior and there was a general mood of happiness and congeniality towards one another, difficult to find these days in most places.

Going shopping yesterday NO gifts were being returned! When I could not find the vinegar a nice young lady guided me to the proper place through the huge supermarket without grumbling and the young man at the check-out counter was thrilled to practice his English while I was trying my best to practice my Portuguese. I imagine that New Years Celebrations will be equally low-key. While reading briefly on the Internet about the miserable state of the world out there, I am happy to have escaped the FRENZY that has overtaken so much of the world at a time when quiet reflection and good-will towards mankind ought to reign, rather than a consumption-obsessed population that stresses people out, not only financially driving them further into debt but also emotionally exhausting.

Tumbleweed Journal – Copyright 2006 Inge Perreault

The Tumbleweed Journals reflect the views, opinions and experiences of the author.

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