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 Azores-Journal 09

Azores Journal  9
Summertime in the Azores.......

Summertime in the Azores and the living is easy, other than for the owners of hotels and the participants in parades for religious or secular FESTAS of which there are many. However, you can still count the “knapsacks,” plus find sparsely populated beaches unlike in other parts of Europe where you need binoculars to see the water, are squeezed beach-chair next to beach-chair and to top it off you have to pay for the privilege. Here all beaches are FREE, there are life-guards on duty, changing rooms, showers and spotlessly clean WCs. I am truly amazed at how little really does chance during “tourist season.” Yes, there are special food fairs, more religious festivals as well as secular festas to look forward to.

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Cats KNOW how to enjoy themselves and relax.

Azoreans know how to work hard but also how to have a good time. I do wonder where the cruise ships are in view of the large construction project at the new harbor in Ponta Delgada as I have not seen any in the past couple of months.
The temperatures are mostly in the low 80s or high 70s and we hardly have any rain. Most of the cows have been moved to higher pastures in the mountains and the ones left on the lower ones have to make due with hay. This is bizarre! While in other countries cows and horses feast in the summertime on fresh sweet grass and chomp dutifully on dry hay during the winter months, here it is exactly the opposite.
Tobacco is growing and right now being harvested as are grapes, bananas, tomatoes, string beans, water- melons, gourds, pumpkins, squash, carrots – you name it.

 

The locally grown sweet corn is good as long as you pick-out your ears carefully. The farmers' market in Ponta Delgada still offers a plethora of fresh veggies at bargain prices. (Don’t forget the delicious “malasadas” right out of the boiling oil!)
Frankly, we prefer off-season when it is greener (though most visitors comment on how green it is now but apparently they have never been here off-season) and the flowers are even more abundant then. Every month surprises us still with different ones. In spite of acute lack of rain there is still a palette of ever-changing color and taking a ride up to Lagoa do Fogo the other day from sunny Caloura I drove into dense fog, wind gusts and cooler temperatures that required me to put on a sweater, all this change within a drive of only 15 minutes.
The cows up there were munching on coarse mountain grass, wore bells now like the ones in the Alps do and the individual meadows were divided by the most glorious hedges of blue hydrangea in full bloom. It also looked at though the mountain heather was getting ready to blossom soon, a good reason to return soon.

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On a drive to Lagoa do Fogo

Nights are very pleasant in that there are no mosquitoes due to the Azorean day-time bats and a cover is needed to sleep, so there is definitely NO need for A/C. Truly good sleeping weather and we avoid the strong rays of the sun during the peak hours either by getting-up and taking-off in our bathing suits leaving for the beach by 9am or we wait until later in the day past 5pm for a couple of hours to enjoy the very clean ocean. I just advise to watch-out for “rogue waves” with a mighty undertow that can surprise you and give you a hefty scare.
Meanwhile I went on the long-awaited, often postponed whale watch that was GREAT. I decided on one of the smaller ones out of Vila Franca do Campo, basically alarge rubber raft staffed with the most adorable English-speaking young female naturalist from the Algarve
(degree in Marine Biology) and driven by a very congenial, likewise English-speaking “captain.”
We were a group of 12 loading the raft to capacity. There were French tourists, a great number of Swedes, some Germans and ME, again the lone US citizen, though I am becoming more Azorean by the day. We donned our swim-vests and rode out into the big blue yonder where after a relatively short while the raft was surrounded by bottle-nosed dolphins feeding and playing. Inez, the naturalist, asked who would like to swim with them and three female hands went up, mine amongst them of course. I am proud to say that I was the OLDEST participant on board.
In the distance not too far away we could see. We were instructed how to behave and what to look and listen for, floated quietly face down looking into thousands of feet of clean blue water and eves-dropped on the communication of the dolphins all around us. Bottle-nosed dolphins are the largest of their species and weigh up to 500 pounds. It was a magical experience to be swimming with totally wild but friendly creatures this far out and I felt no fear whatsoever. After frolicking for 20 minutes or so we were hauled back into the boat and headed out further to view the humpback and sperm whales as well as their babies.
A humpback whale can stay under water for one hour and forty-five minutes. They need this depth to find the places the giant octopus call home and constitutes their staple food source. The naturalist told us that there are actually no films or photographs of whales at that depth (1000 meters or more) and that the knowledge of what they eat is strictly derived from stranded whales when the content of their stomachs is examined.  the blows of the humpback and sperm whales with their babies, the largest toothed whales on earth who feed at great depth on giant octopus. We took our swim-vests off, put on goggles and one by one jumped into the VERY deep waters in a relatively calm ocean – swells of about 2 meters but way-out at sea they are easy to ride-out for any good swimmer

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500th Anniversary of Ribeira Grande

We were instructed how to behave and what to look and listen for, floated quietly face down looking into thousands of feet of clean blue water and eves-dropped on the communication of the dolphins all around us. Bottle-nosed dolphins are the largest of their species and weigh up to 500 pounds. It was a magical experience to be swimming with totally wild but friendly creatures this far out and I felt no fear whatsoever. After frolicking for 20 minutes or so we were hauled back into the boat and headed out further to view the humpback and sperm whales as well as their babies. A humpback whale can stay under water for one hour and forty-five minutes.

 

They need this depth to find the places the giant octopus call home and constitutes their staple food source. The naturalist told us that there are actually no films or photographs of whales at that depth (1000 meters or more) and that the knowledge of what they eat is strictly derived from stranded whales when the content of their stomachs is examined.
Meanwhile the waves were getting a bit larger and two members (both young Swedes) got seasick and vomited over the side. I was glad to be out of the water at this point. We headed back still accompanied by dolphins performing for us jumping clear out of the ocean into great heights with twists and twirls, in unison of two or three like in a Marine Park. Approaching the harbor the captain took a spin around Ilheu, the little islet great for bathing which is left from the giant earthquake that took most of Vila Franca do Campo into the ocean in 1522.
Now, during the middle of August, climate change is making itself felt. We hear from the natives that it never got this hot (the mid 80s) in the past but the world is changing and compared to the US this is still within our comfort zone plus the nights remain cool and crisp.

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Festa - Ribeira Grande celebrates 500 years of existence.

It seems there is no end to holidays and FESTAS. Even the secular ones like the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Ribeira Grande was mostly centered around church activities. The customary flower paths were worked on diligently, bands from all over the island convened and played marches with gusto. Dignitaries stood in front of the church that was entirely decorated with lights; speeches were held endlessly and eventually the large statue of Jesus was carried by, adorned by masses of flowers and preceded by the most adorable little girls dressed-up like angles, wings and all.
Last Sunday Agua de Pau, of which Caloura is a part and which was founded as early as 1505, on one day had a festa and procession dedicated to the old ways of the Azorean life. Rarely have I seen people have so much fun and behave so well (no drunken brawls, no fist-fights, stabbings or shootings) but lots of laughter and joking exchanged by the occupants of the floats and the spectators. There were old-fashioned kitchens set-up, the washer-women hung men’s long-johns on a line flapping in the breeze, beautiful oxen were drawing the old traditional wicker hay-wagons, a shoe-maker was pounding away at his craft and there were wagons loaded with squash and pumpkins, chickens, piglets and even a turkey. Donkeys loaded with big sacks of whatever ridden by children and lots of folks on foot in colorful costumes carrying baskets while bantering with the onlookers.

 

Believe it or not, there was even an outhouse being pulled by a wagon that was occupied by a brave young man, pants at his feet……..:)
What a great time everyone had while remembering how simple life used to be in the Azores even when times were hard. Composed of a great many different European nationalities originally when settled, they all learned tolerance early and especially how to have fun in simple ways.

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Then on August 15th Agua de Pau had the largest religious celebration and feast of the year attracting visitors from all over Sao Miguel as well as abroad. This is the day that the patron Saint, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is honored in a great religious procession that takes weeks of preparation. Along with all the other statues in the old church, the one of St. Mary is carried by men who are not allowed to put down the very heavy statue even once during the 3 hour long procession. It is a very special honor to be one of the bearers I am told.
All streets were blocked off (thankfully we live within walking distance) and once the event was underway the sidewalks, parks and along the entire route people were standing shoulder to shoulder.

 

Visitors came from the United States and Canada where many Azoreans emigrated, to witness this most important feast day that again centers on family festivities.
We were most impressed by the lack of any disorderly conduct but quite amazed at the great variety in dress I am sure the present very conservative Pope would not approve of, nor of the English sayings on some of the T-shirts I saw. Whoever is in the T-shirt design business, Europe is your market for crazy English sayings, words (risqu?) and those that quite frequently make no sense at all. But at least they are English being considered “cool” and are in GREAT demand.

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Summer Festa in Agua de Pau surprised us with decorated wagons of all kinds. Wash flapping in the wind, fine bulls with old cane or horse wagons singing and joy showing a way of life in the past.

Decolletages were running the gamut almost unable to contain the content as well as ample posteriors squeezed into the tightest tube dresses or jeans I have ever seen in my life. No, the Pope would surely have frowned but to the Azorean mentality that comes totally natural. If you got it – flaunt it!
As I have said before, this is a very strange form of being Roman Catholic, one that in Northern Europe would certainly be frowned upon and entrance to a church would be denied. I remember visiting the Uffizi in Florence and was not allowed in the Church behind the statue of David since my dress was sleeveless. Who knows? Maybe things in Italy have changed as well and the Pope will have his work cutout for him……………or lose a lot of young followers
.

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Remember this was THE most important religious feast day in town but nobody cared and there is something to be said for that as well. People don’t give a darn, everyone is happy, congenial, friendly and just having a plain good old time; even the fellows hanging out at the various bars in town (from morning till night) were well-behaved and had an extra glass of cerveja to celebrate.
By the way, the statue of St. Maria has money attached to it provided by fervent believers and during the procession there are rings of flowers strung across the narrow streets to which long ribbons of Dollars or Euros are attached. Since the Virgin Mary statue’s right arm is stretched out it must be lined-up carefully (no easy feat for the carriers) to accept the offering. I assume that by the end of the procession quite a large amount of money must have been collected.
The festivities went on way into the night with fireworks that shook the house, people ate and drank into the wee hours but nobody got out of hand. Comparing this to the Azorean festivals I witnessed in New Bedford, Fall River and the South Coast in general there is quite a noticeable difference in public behavior, most likely due to the American influence and unfortunately the drug-culture that plagues the area.
Well, I was going to wait with this entry until after Dia do Mar (day to honor the ocean) and the Dias dos Pescadores (days to honor the fishermen). These are events at the harbor in Caloura and it is a good thing I did.These islands are truly in a transitional phase spanning the centuries with new and “cool” winning out over old and quaint. The balance is tilting fast but I hope not entirely before our time is up. It is quite an interesting experience to stand at the crossroads of old and new, especially in a country that is straddling the “fence.”

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Neither festival had much to do with fish or fishermen as far as I could see, other than the fact that a few grills were used to prepare grilled sardines (with eyes) for free – aside from that it was more of an American rock or rap-event than anything else. I was amazed at the amount of people attracted, tents erected on empty lots for those who were going to stay the entire night and roads (ours) being blocked-off, traffic detours etc. The noise was deafening and the event was mostly attended not by tourists but by local youngsters wanting to be cool and American. There was NOTHING, NADA Azorean about these festivals because what a fashion show could possibly have to do with a celebration of the fishing industry boggles my mind. The scantily dressed girls certainly were not modeling the latest outerwear for fishermen……………..
Yet again, something was different from similar events in the USA or other places in that people were actually behaved well in spite of HEAVY alcohol consumption and the air was thick with tobacco smoke (local tobacco is being harvested and will be shown in the next entry). The participants were courteous, civil towards one another and having a wonderful time. When we left at 10pm the fashion show was in full swing but the music so loud, it was giving us a headache and to our amazement young families with babies and toddlers in strollers were just arriving at this hour.

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Of course even THEN some people traveled in style.

While I am trying to describe life in the Azores TODAY as accurately as possible I likewise try to be nonjudgmental and just report what I observe because after all, this is a different culture and as the saying goes, “many ways lead to Rome.” This is the Azorean way to enter the modern world and though the charm of some of the events is being lost, who am I to say their approach is strange????????
Coming to the end of this particular entry of the monthly journal, there is one more phenomenon that has taken hold of these islands worth mentioning – “cellularphonitis!” (the obsessive use of cellular phones which has taken on pandemic proportions) The ever-present “handy,” as it is called in German, the telemoveis (mobile phone in Portuguese) seem permanently attached to either hands or ears of every Azorean at this time. When considering the oppression under Salazar until 1976, modern appliances such as radio, TV, phones etc. came late to the Azores and so it is probably not amazing how pervasive their use is today. With youngsters it is definitely a status symbol and I wonder just how often calls which are expensive really take place. As soon as you walk or drive by a youngster the phone will be brought up to the ear……….showing one is “with it.” Much the same as when entering the house of an Azorean family the TV is put ON instead of being shut-off, any new technology is being embraced enthusiastically. But telemoveis are definitely THE latest and most desirable possession (we don’t have one and will not get one either, much as we have gotten rid of our TV). If we need one, the next person will surely have one and be only too happy to offer it for a call refusing to accept money as though they were being insulted.

Just the Azorean way and part of the charm that seems innate, as does the characteristic to lend a helping hand to one another when the need arises. Hopefully that will NOT fall by the wayside in their rush to join the modern world – it would be a great pity if it did and progress, while beneficial in some aspects, certainly has its dark sides……….

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09/18/2009 06:12:50 -0700