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Azores Journal Entry Number 11by Inge Perreault  e-mail Inge at ladyauthor@sapo.pt

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 Azores-Journal 11

THERE IS A CHANGE IN THE AIR........................

The Cagarro birds have flown further south and left the islands. We miss their nightly chatter that sounds unlike anything we have ever heard before. As fall is progressing the days are still warm enough to hit the beach, dance in the waves or swim laps in a pool but the days are getting shorter. Temperatures are still rising to the high 70s or mid-80s on most days we experience cooler nights though evenings are still amazingly balmy
To our and everyone else's surprise this year the tourist season seems longer and local hotels are still fully booked. Our good friends at Quinta Altamira have never had a year as this with tourists from more countries that span the globe but hardly any Americans due to the lowly stand of the dollar versus the euro. Normally the season has slowed down and there was a little tiny lull but now European fall vacations for the kids are here and I met the most delightful Swiss couple with their children the other day.

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View towards Sete Cidades

We had our first visit by the cow-lawnmowers and loved it. The young heifers born last winter are beautiful and have become used to our presence. Just the other day I noticed my donkey friend back from the higher mountains and one thing that definitely announces the approach of "winter" can be observed in increased wave action.
While we have been riding the waves regularly during the long summer months, now it is sometimes downright scary and dangerous even for good swimmers and so we often just sit and watch what we know will be HUGE waves before too long. The air is clearer though there are more clouds, often white and puffy on our side of the island, dark and ominous looking over the mountains but the sun will be shining where we are.
In the evening sunsets are becoming ever more beautiful and my husband has been busy taking photos and getting them into his gallery that can be either via my website or www.pbase.com/Roland. There has been some rain during the nights, just enough to encourage the flowers to blossom ever more vigorously and today is THE first day since last early spring I can remember that it has been cloudy all day and a soft steady rain is falling.
The first crop of potatoes is planted and thriving - if it is a good season with three crops to be expected for sure. My German father would have been beside himself with glee had he known about this - no doubt in my mind he would have immigrated to the Acores after WWII since gardening was his passion.

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Watching the waves.

We keep finding new hidden treasures in the form of parks and miradouros (look-outs) on our discovery drives/hikes. The other day we found a park high up in the mountains where the forest was so dense with moss growing underneath and the wildness of it all, we swore it looked just like VT - even smelled like it. On our way down we passed through several micro-climates and found flowers in full bloom that no longer blossom at ocean level.
Anyhow, on that day we headed towards the huge waves we had seen during our drive in the distance crashing at the beaches of Ribeira Grande and Rabo de Peixe - they were awesome and I sat on a volcanic outcropping for a long time instead of at the beach where the mist was so dense that taking a photograph would have been impossible.

Azorean people continue to utterly amaze me. They are not very good at giving directions verbally but they will TAKE YOU where you want or need to go - "nao problemo" and are most happy to have been able to help. "Where is such and such in Nordeste?" Well, you will get a convoluted answer that leaves you with NO idea whatsoever which direction to take and looking sort of perplexed the person will tell you "just follow me, I'll take you there." The fact that it may take them quite a distance is of no importance or an inconvenience.......

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Larger waves and wind are returning.

They have the most precious possession; time.......... which in the "more civilized" mainland Europe or the United States is hard to come by in spite of all the modern gadgets at everybody's disposal. Talking about modern gadgets, we have held steadfast and do NOT own a telemoveis (cell-phone) which everyone else we see is carrying or talking on at all times. Being a contrarian is fun plus knowing the Azorean mentality, if we needed one we would be offered the use of one.
Another oddity is the fact that it seems somehow difficult for Azoreans to say "thank you" - for some reason unknown to me gifts are accepted gracefully but the expression of OBRIGADA is all too often missing.

 

HOWEVER, don't be surprised if the next day you find freshly picked produce on your doorstep galore or some other treat, that's just their culture and we have gotten used to it.
What still delights us is the fact that a simple greeting of "Bom Dia" or "Boa Tarde" will generate the biggest smile you ever saw - from then on you are definitely known to people in the area and waved at in the friendliest fashion.
We had not been to the bank in a long time and the wonderfully helpful lady Dona Martha behind the counter who has some command of English actually left her seat (mind you customers were waiting in line all the way out the door patiently) to exclaim her delight, wondering where we had been hugging and kissing us the traditional Azorean way on both cheeks. Can you imagine that at an American Bank or a German Bank??????????????? You would get the generic “Welcome to
the Bank of America” or other……….with no sense of emotion attached.
Meanwhile I had my first Portuguese experience with my annual mammography and how different this is from the States is the understatement of the year. No, there are NO technicians conducting the procedure, a qualified specialized physician will call your name, (not a nurse or receptionist) examine you with the most modern Siemens equipment, excuse himself to read the x-ray, apologize profusely if he has to take another set and then ask you to please wait in another room. No "Johnnies" either - another cost-saving measure! They don't need to be purchased nor cleaned. A while later you will be called into the office of the head of the department (likewise highly specialized physician) who will take your history, ask you when you need the report and after all that you are presented with a long-stemmed rose of your choice of color offered to ALL women. Financially this costs you 83 euros, a large part of which you will get back at the office of Reimbursa. I was stunned plus at the Clinico do Bom Jesus, being a private hospital of the best reputation in the Acores, the staff in the office immediately recognized me when I went back to pick-up the results. In a further cost-saving measure I then took those to the gynaecologist whose receptionist at first had been very reluctant to speak English - so I switched to my slowly improving knowledge of Portuguese which from then on set the tone.
Now SHE (Dona Gina) only converses with me in English - it is the funniest thing. She told me when I dropped-off the results that "I was so nice" and that the Dr. would call me while I was answering in Portuguese, it all ended with the customary kiss on both cheeks - now can you imagine this in the US health-care system?????? I happen to know that some of the largest university hospitals outsource the reading of their mammographies to India, not here plus I and every other woman walked out with a rose. In addition mammographies are required from age 33 and not 40 (my daughter-in-law contracted breast cancer at age 33 and is lucky to be alive today). I was called promptly 3 days later and told that all is well and to call if I had any problems.

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Sete Cidades in all the glory nature has to offer.

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The cruise-ships are back from their Mediterranean routes stopping in Ponta Delgada and the town is busy as a bee-hive. You really do not feel like you are in the midst of the Atlantic at all. The high gasoline prices are no bother since the distances are just so much shorter. Knowing the shortcuts it now only takes us 15 minutes to Ponta Delgada - once a week is enough though because I really enjoy the country life, the small town, the friendly inhabitants and my animals. The patos (ducks) I am taking care of for our landlord are thriving, eating out of my hand now and calling for me whenever I leave the house or arrive back home. Can't sneak by them - their hearing is very acute and the female one reminds me so much of the duck that was my pet for 10 years in N.J., the one I wrote a story about in my book "Duck Soup - Vignettes of Country Life." She even nuzzles my hand if there is NO food to be had.
It was necessary for me to go into Ponta Delgada yesterday to discuss a community service I shall be providing at the Public Library and afterwards was witness to the "typical Azorean fender-bender." While in the States you run the risk of getting shot I just sat patiently in the car and watched the following: Two taxis had collided slightly, both drivers got out assessing the damage which was negligible and there was no yelling or screaming nor finger-pointing.............one was being almost jovial and both apologized for being careless, then they decided to go for a cerveja (beer). Meanwhile a traffic policeman was walking by, looked briefly in the direction and kept going. I thought it was a riot when they both got back into their respective taxis, waved at each other and drove off. Now what is more civilized conduct? Road rage or this?????????
Senora Melo - a very special day.......
October 5th began as most days here on the Azores and that is later than they used to. The reason for that statement is that we have been living here for about a year now and tend to stay up much later as the natives do, consequently sleep in much later. It is not unusual to "catch" an Azorean house-wife in her P.J.'s at noon..........
The sun was shining and I suggested to my husband “let’s go to Sete Cidades and take a hike around the lake.” He thought it a splendid idea, so we prepared a quick lunch and loaded the sandwiches, fruit and a bottle of water into the knapsack. He took his camera as usual, put it all into the car, and off we went.
The ride there is about 30 minutes but it is a world away from where we live in Caloura. The mountains are spectacular and the twin lakes, one blue and the other green are very special as seen from above. After getting to the town we parked the car and started our walk. Lagoa Verde, separated from Lagoa Azul by a bridge, had grown some green vegetation since our last visit but the summer does that. We walked past some young cows grazing and had a brief chat with them. They seemed to understand the words “bonita vaca” and looked right at us waiting for more accolades. After a few minutes we continued our walk until the path ended at one of the many picnic and barbeque areas which can be found all over this island. We ate our lunch on one of the old millstones which often are used as table tops and admired the scenery.

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Cows like me - the feeling is mutual.

Upon our return to town we decided to go into the town proper and walk around to see more of it. There is a beautiful church in the centre which is quite unlike the typical Azorean church architecture, so we walked up hoping the door might be unlocked and it was. The interior was nice, smaller than most of the churches we have visited and it did not have the overload of gold glitz one usually finds. After spending about 10 minutes looking at the statues we left and began our walk through the village. The houses are older than in some areas of the island but they were interesting and varied in color and design. Some were the original volcanic stones while others were plastered and painted. All had the original clay tile roofs which we love.

 

As with most Azorean villages there are cafes and small markets for the basics. While we were walking along we would look towards a cafe and see some people sitting inside looking at us as we passed. We would look at them and smile, say "boa tarde" which means good afternoon, they would break out into a smile from ear to ear and return the greeting. This also applied to other townspeople just walking along the sidewalk as we passed them. A simple greeting opens their hearts to you.

While walking down a street we looked to our right and at the end of a driveway beside a house a farmer was sitting working on corn husks. We continued to walk and my spouse mentioned that scene would have made a great shot. "So why not take it?" Being the type of person he is, he didn’t feel comfortable doing so but then with a lot of encouragement figured - what the heck.

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Church in the center of the actual town of Sete Cidades.

He walked back to the end of the driveway and looked towards the man who in turn looked up at him and pointed to his professional camera asking if it would be ok to take a picture. He nodded his approval while he continued tying the corn together at the ends with reed (no string or wire - no waste) and didn’t really look up until we spoke.

Since my command of the language is much greater than that of my husband, I asked him what he was doing. Although we have seen corn tied in this manner and hung up in the shape of a tepee to dry, we had not actually seen the process being performed. During the conversation we asked what he was going to use the corn for. Well there are multiple purposes. here nothing goes to waste. Some for "sopa" (soup) some for "farina" (flour) and that the husks were to be used either for silage or for something we didn’t quite understand. After a few moments of blank looks on our faces he got up, took us into the ground level room of the house and showed us tubs of corn husks sitting on the floor as well as flatter pieces which were piled on a table.
In the back corner of the room was a small table and on it several corn husk dolls. As I myself had made many in the past, we were quite interested in taking a closer look. He was trying very hard to tell us something about them when asked if he did the work.

 

.A few moments later an older woman, probably in her mid-seventies, appeared and said that she was the one who fashioned the dolls. I asked if they were for sale and she said "yes." There was one that was detailed unlike any I had previously seen and I offered to buy it at the agreed price of 10 euros. Meantime, we had meandered out of the room back out to the area where the Azorean farmer was working. A young man, probably 17 or 18 years old, came over from the house next door, spoke to the older man, then left and returned to where he had come from. A few minutes later he was back with three bottles of beer and put them in front of the farmer who opened up the bottles and the young man offered each of us a bottle. Not being drinkers at this point of our lives we refused as carefully as we could in order not to offend and said that we were on medication that prohibited drinking beverages containing alcohol. They understood and so the bottles were taken back. We were overwhelmed by their generosity and truly hoped that our refusal would not be taken as an insult.

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Farmer bundles corn for drying.

The older lady who was standing besides us while the offer was made spoke some English and so she clarified the issue hopefully to their satisfaction.
As it turned out, the lady had lived in the United States for 27 years and had 11 children who are still in the States. She and her husband had returned to the Azores to retire to a quiet and stress-free life. When I asked where she had lived in the States she mentioned the town of Stoughton which is about 15 miles from where my husband was raised. We couldn’t believe it!
She was so sweet and after we told her we really wanted to purchase the corn husk doll there was a little turmoil what with the young man going into the room where the dolls were and then coming out and running to the house next door.

 

He returned and went back into the room with the older lady following him. We didn’t know what was up but we waited outside patiently while watching the farmer continue tying up the corn.
The commotion and running around was to get a pencil. Unknown to us at the time, the lady was decorating a paper envelope for us to put the corn husk doll in with real dried flowers which had just been attached to the front and she wrote Sete Cidades on the upper left corner while on the lower right she wrote Sao Miguel, Acores. We were overwhelmed. I gave her a Portuguese kiss on both cheeks as did my husband and we beamed at her kindness. When I handed her two 5 euro bills she looked to the man working with the corn and asked him something I didn’t understand. She seemed worried about the price and wanted only 8 euros now looking for change which nobody seemed to have. I told her no, that we thought 10 euros was a good price and that change wasn’t necessary. After more hugs all around we walked down the driveway towards the street with smiles on our faces and happy hearts. What a wonderful experience. Bless these people.

We were continuing our walk through the rest of town, when all of a sudden my husband almost fell over something he had not seen. A little boy of about 3 years ran from behind a parked car in front of him, they collided and he almost lost his balance. With his camera hanging over his shoulder during the contact it swung out hitting the little boy in the head. He went to the wall of a house and leaned against it holding his head. There were three or four women, one of whom was the mother of the little boy looking and laughing at our obvious concern. I was rubbing his head, my husband his back. He then walked the few steps to his mother who picked him up and held him. We still rubbed his back and told the women as best we could how sorry we were for the accident. They were still smiling and not concerned about it at all. The boy did not cry, the women just didn’t think it a big deal. NO, there was no talk of calling a lawyer!!! We said our good-bys to them and continued our walk. After another 20 minutes or so we went back towards the car to head home. What a wonderful day!

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