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 Azores-Journal 13 by Inge Perreault,  e-mail Inge at ladyauthor@sapo.pt

Well, we are here now since November 7th 2006 and I knew then we did the right thing. Life in the USA seems totally removed by now and my opinion of life in this part of the world has only been intensified. The promised changes in the States never took place, all the mail I am receiving from the States is negative and even though we no longer own a TV, we check the news on the Internet once in a while or watch a PBS program – I’d rather be here than there.
Actually, due to the economic global developments we decided to buy a wonderful Condominium with all windows overlooking the ocean, two terraces likewise overlooking the old roofs of Santa Cruz, Lagoa and the ocean beyond where I can watch dolphins and whales feed with the naked eye. Yes, Portugal as well has to tighten the belt and there is less tourism which really does not bother me although it will most likely hurt a lot of restaurants and hotels. Large cruise ships land in the new harbor of Ponta Delgada, folks walk around town a bit, might sip for hours on a cerveja or a glass of wine, don’t really purchase anything and return to the boat. They are mostly Scandinavian, I don’t think I have met an American in a very long time.
While some large building projects have been halted, it seems that over the past years the entire infrastructure of Sao Miguel has been renewed. Affordable housing has been constructed and many old homes have been renovated. Oh how folks I know would envy these roads, new bridges and beautiful promenades like the one along the ocean in Sao Roque with a separate bike-path where we take our refreshing walks by the ocean.
The beaches continue to be free, clean and provided with good life-guard service, the air is clean as is the water. The entire island of Sao Miguel has become less prone to litter in general, the removal of which provides jobs. Sometimes I just cannot believe how many “miradouros” (special points from which to view a beautiful scenery) or picnic areas with CLEAN WCs EVERYWHERE dot this hidden paradise. On any given weekend you see families in large numbers putting fish or ribs or chicken on the barbeques which are provided there. Armed with blankets, pillows and sometimes even small tents to take a nap in, a good time in a family surrounding including grandma or grandpa is enjoyed. Many have playgrounds for small children as well. In general this is a most child-friendly and family-centered culture I have ever encountered. And to top it off, the children are well behaved and discipline is not foreign to them! Here kids are still allowed to be kids, play with wooden tops, skip rope, play tag or hide and seek, climb trees and ride bikes without helmets. Each town or even the smallest lomba (hamlet) has a soccer field and on any given day, no matter what the weather, you will find boys and often girls playing soccer (futebol) which is the national obsession. You see siblings picking younger siblings up from elementary school or take them on an errand by the hand, fathers are doting on the little ones and everyone is crazy about bebes (babies).
I have yet to see a mother without a father present at the office of a pediatrician; the company they work for gives them time off for those important events and generally THEY carry the baby in their arms or push a pram. This is quite a difference from the morose fathers I used to observe in the States pushing the latest model pram reluctantly on a Sunday and who would rather have been home watching a football or baseball game on TV. This is creating a very close bond within families, children can be found late in restaurants eating their dinner without complaining but of course nothing is perfect. In general I would say that Azorean men are good fathers, brothers, uncles or cousins. It is not unusual to see a man deeply involved in a conversation about sports or politics while standing in front of a bar surrounded by friends while holding on to a baby-carriage.

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Very old church on the Island of Santa Maria

Meanwhile the students I had been teaching at a branch of the Public Library in Ponta Delgada have all left for Universities on the mainland´ though the Universidade dos Acores now has a good pre-med program as well as wonderful biology and business schools. A new project to create energy from the growth of algae is in the beginning stages and rather promising. My students, whose English proficiency has improved enormously, and I stay in touch via e-mail and get together during their vacations when they all come home. This Christmas season we had a get-together with them and their parents at our condo and a wonderful time was had by all. These are friendships that have formed which will not end with their studies at Universities, no, they are enduring ones. The love and respect is mutual, they tell me things or ask my advice sometimes before consulting their parents even though I could be their grandmother but I am just “Inge” and that is it. The bonds we
have formed will never be forgotten by either of us. All attend very good Universities in Lisboa or Evora and make me proud.
Unfortunately I have had to stop a lot of my activities at the local high-school in Atahalda due to my failing immune system. I am sad about that because the last time I went and had an English class they were very talkative and a lot of questions were being asked. Their English was really good, the discipline in the school is outstanding and I told one of my teacher friends that were she to implement this type of discipline in the United States she would already have been shot.

 

THAT is why I teach HERE was her answer. By the way this particular school has been declared a Model School and was picked by Microsoft to receive free new computers in addition to the ones it already had. Also it is the cleanest school on this island, something to be truly proud of.
The flowers keep blossoming in great profusion and life’s rhythm has changed little, if at all. Some things have not been to our liking such as clear-cutting the top of Lagoa do Fogo and now in the area of Furnas and Sete Cidades, I have complained to the Government and the Department of Forestry receiving very prompt answers and while they may not be what I deem right, after all I am a guest here. The Government honored my husband and myself last Christmas by asking for permission to use my words and his photography for their 2010 official flash-card for Christmas (see website) and we gladly gave them permission – a gift to the Azorean people. It went to all Government offices, Consulados, Embassies and business contacts. We were very happy to have been able to contribute to a Feliz Natal in this fashion.
There is no stress, “amanha” which can mean today, tomorrow or up to 3 weeks (or whenever they think about it) would surely drive some folks crazy but if it is something of vital importance, it is done IMMEDIATELY if not sooner. We have just settled into the rhythm of island living, nao problemo! TIME is the most precious item we have in our lives and living the day fully is taken very literally here. The fishermen keep going out diligently in their small boats, I can likewise watch them from all of our windows as they are pulling in the nets and many a youngster or older man will be sitting down by the ocean on the rocks with the traditional long bamboo fishing poles catching supper for the family. Sometimes I watch the fish swimming and riding the waves from the Promenade of Sao Roque and they are really large with great strength swimming right into the oncoming waves and riding them.
The last couple of years we have seen fewer tourists due to the adverse global economic conditions. They mostly have been from Germany, Scandinavia and Canada as well as some Portuguese from the mainland. The British as well as the American tourists have been conspicuously absent but as everyone knows, it is virtually impossible to keep Germans from traveling the globe as they are most inclined to succumb to “Wanderlust” and adventure. Likewise it has to be considered that Germany is right now the engine that drives the EU.

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Statue of Columbus in front of the church where he worshipped upon his return discovering the West Indies.

Unfortunately, in spite of the very high gasoline prices, SUV’s and pick-up trucks have become a more common sight than horse-drawn wagons or farmers on horseback with milk-cans, but give me a friendly farmer any time instead of the BMW or Mercedes driving member of the upper class who always seem to be in a hurry, leaving me to wonder why they are going at speeds that are amazing in a country that ranks number one in casualties from automobile accidents. Everything else follows the “amanha” way of life, so why not the driving????? It is a shame that in this aspect regarding farmers and construction workers they are hardly ever looked at or their existence acknowledged by most tourists since they miss out on a most charming experience of the native Azorean – surely their loss. All it takes is a greeting or a thumb’s up……….
One of my personal greatest problems has been to speak Portuguese to everyone because they will invariably answer in English. I have learned to speak Portuguese quite well and can hold my own in a conversation but I need to speak more and often I ask myself if it is written on my forehead that I am not a native. Apparently this is so; I cannot deny my German roots even now that my hair is no longer blond but white.
We had to partake of the Portuguese health-care system on various occasions over the past couple of years and my husband spent 4 days in the large hospital in Ponta Delgada where they found he had a stomach ulcer. The hospital is huge and the care is excellent, the staff most helpful and the nurses there within moments. The physicians are most conscientious to get to the bottom of a problem and leaving the hospital after 4 days and a great multitude of tests having to pay nothing would be every American’s dream for sure.

 

Here nobody goes bankrupt due to the misfortune of being ill, nobody has ever lost their home because of getting ill and Americans just do NOT understand how a one-payer socialist health-care system works. YES, you DO have your choice of physician and no, you don’t have to wait in the ER for hours, nor do you
have to wait for eons to be operated on. If there is something that cannot be treated locally, you are flown to Lisboa for treatment and last year in the indoor swimming pool in Rosario I met a lady who had a lung removed due to cancer in Lisboa. After that and a recuperative period prior to her having chemo-therapy she had been prescribed by her physicians swimming to strengthen her lung capacity which was paid for. There is an in-home Alzheimer service, there are health complexes called Saudes in every town where a person can receive medical care as well as medication free of charge for minor illnesses like a cold or a sprain etc. Likewise there are free programs for disabled youngsters who receive therapy in the swimming pool administered with great care and love. In addition, I have yet to see an older person without a relative to assist in the great maze of the hospital. There are smaller hospitals in Povoacao and Nordeste, so if a person breaks a bone or has a disease like pneumonia that needs treatment they can be helped right there.

I required an operation last summer and went to the private Clinico do Bom Jesus because I don’t want to be a burden to the health-care system.
The surgery was done by MY gynecologist, I was seen every day by both, my surgeon and the anesthesiologist (wearing jeans and his stethoscope over a frayed T-shirt but the “God in WHITE COAT” attitude is absent yet the professional attitude and caring very obvious. The nurses were absolutely wonderful and kind, my meds were on time so I experienced no pain and all was well. The cost for the entire procedure was less than 3,000 Euros and it was a complicated surgery. This price included the pre-op testing as well as the post-op visits, the surgeon was actually embarrassed to present me with the bill of 800 Euros and told me I did not have to pay then, whenever………..what a difference. By the same token I was recently visiting a specialist for a new European CPAP machine (given out free by the government and maintained free should anything require service every 6 months) whose daughter on a visit to New York City last year had to have her appendix removed and he was charged $60,000 – dumb-struck he compared the US health-care system with an ATM machine and assembly-line medicine.
Now since the taxes for health-care and education are not raised by exorbitant property taxes (if you purchase a home or a condo your first 8 years are entirely tax-free) but come from the VAT and the employment taxes, the cost for higher education does not force students to take out huge loans nor parents to mortgage themselves to the hilt. The fee for University attendance amounts to about 2,500 Euros per year plus books and a modest fee for lodging. The level of knowledge that is being demanded in the schools and Universities concerning world history, geography, ethics, philosophy and languages is amazing. The last two years of high-school here as well as most European countries are equal to the first two years of college in the United States.Women are excelling and making great strides in a basically male culture. There are many female physicians and engineers. Actually, this year the female attendants for pre-med at the local University exceeds that of males.

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Scenic photos of the island of Santa Maria

There are at least as many female physicians and scientists attending Universities and rising to the very top of academia. Another trend amongst these professional young women is that they choose not to get married. In this male-dominated culture they relish living on their own terms, travel widely and do just as they wish. Half of Azorean women are stuck in the old culture while the other half has jumped way ahead of their sisters and become very independent.
We have not returned to the mainland but did visit Santa Maria last June for my birthday. We enjoyed it even though the weather was not all that pleasant. Santa Maria, the only non-volcanic and most southerly island of the Azores is charming; everybody seems to know everyone else and a friendlier people we have never met. The receptionist at the hotel we stayed at had her birthday on the same day as I did and she knocked at our door to deliver part of HER birthday cake to me.
The famous white-sand beach had not returned yet, as the waves carry it away every winter but return it for the summer, too bad we missed it. The architecture is different since the island was settled by people from the Algarve and it is the first stop Columbus made on his way back after discovering the West Indies .Actually we visited the church where he worshipped upon his return before sailing on to the mainland of Portugal taking on fresh provisions of water and food on Santa Maria.
Everything we need or wish for is within easy reach right here on Sao Miguel. We can watch the latest movies in English at the multiplex at the Parque Atlantico in Ponta Delgada with Portuguese subtitles. A TV is not being missed and there is an excellent bookseller in town selling books in a great variety of languages at bargain prices.

Since moving here time has gone faster than ever before in our lives, one day blending into the next seamlessly and the peace, serenity and quiet, the beauty of nature and the kindness of the Azorean people render our retirement years most pleasant. Hopefully there will be many
more………. There definitely is something to be said for the crossing of old and new customs and culture.

 

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