The Azores - A World to Live In

Trip Start Jun 01, 2008
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Case de Inge e Roland Perreault

Flag of Portugal  , Azores,
Saturday, August 18, 2012

The smell of earth and farming was the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane in Ponta Delgada. Then I noticed the breeze washing in from the ocean. And then I noticed my hosts, Inge and Roland Perreault, waving to me at the arrival gate. As we drove from the airport to their home, my eyes absorbed the rich greens of the hills, deep blues of the sea and sky, and thick black of the newly-paved highway. 

Artists Inge and Roland Perreault have retired to São Miguel, the largest island in an Atlantic archipelago belonging, autonomously, to Portugal. Inge, a writer, and Roland, a photographer, have settled in the Azores for the stunning views, serenity, and distance from the conflicts and struggles of mainland life. Lucky for us, they decided to share a glimpse of their refuge with me.

Life on the Azores isn't problem-free for Inge and Roland. Their health is deteriorating, but they are able to manage better on the Azores than in America. Fresh air and food, a temperate local culture, and an excellent healthcare system give them a quality of life they've never had before. This begged the question: What's so special about the Azores and why hadn't I heard of them before?

The answers lie in two lists: what the Azores have and what they don't have. First, what the Azores have: old cobblestones, new highways, European architecture, an ingrained appreciation of art, an ingrained appreciation of nature, more than 400 species of birds, the ocean, whales, dolphins, surfing, snorkeling, deep-sea diving, volcanic peaks, hot springs, freshwater lakes, pine forests, hiking, more cows than people, and a reserved local population.

Next, what the Azores don't have: winter, mosquitoes, a booming economy.

The overall effect for me of my week in the Azores was a mindset of calm wonder. As we all know, Portugal has been hard-hit by the economic crisis and challenges of the Eurozone. Many shops in Ponta Delgada were closed or going-out-of business. The word for sale, 'Saldo!,' was plastered on storefronts. For-sale signs saying, 'Vende!,' hung on houses. Hundred-year-old buildings sat abandoned or in disrepair next to upkept neighbors. Men loitered for hours in cafes and bars ... but there was a noticeable lack of moping. Every town seemed to be preparing for, or cleaning up from, a 'festa.' I saw people spackling cracks in old walls and coating them over with brightly-colored pastels bought from 'tinta' stores on many corners. Rather than despairing, the Azoreans seemed to be taking it all in stride. I couldn't help but feel that São Miguel would be a great place to invest.

Another word about Azorean men ... not one of them catcalled to me as I went about my days. Nobody approached me as I wandered the streets of Ponta Delgada, hit on me as I sat alone by the sea, or commented on me in passing. On one occasion, Inge said to me after a young man had passed, "Did you see him check you out?" "No!" I said, and promptly turned around to check him out. He looked away. It was all very subtle.

Subtle is a good word to describe how the Azorean people came across. With their bronze skin tone and dark hair and eyes, they looked to me like Sicilians. Sicilians on tranquilizers. The locals I observed communicated in mellow Portuguese with still hands. They were all very 'calma.'

The one local that gave me undesired attention was an unleashed pit bull. His owner, a quiet teenager in a bright blue t-shirt, was letting the dog run in the square in front of the church in Lagoa where I went to watch the sunset. When I approached, the dog ran towards me. Having a slight fear of pit bulls, I froze as the dog jumped up on me and took hold of my skirt in his teeth. Unfortunately, I was wearing a very comfortable flowy skirt, held up by a loose elastic, which the dog took down to my knees. There I stood, in the public square in the new pair of underwear I had bought in town with no intention of showing to anyone. Without scolding or making any kind of scene, the young man hurried over, took his dog by the scruff, and said to me, "I'm sorry." The few lookers-on didn't react. Dog gone, I pulled up my skirt and continued over to the ledge where I sat and enjoyed the sunset over the ocean.

Unfortunately, one big damper on my week was Hurricane Gordon. Like the understated Azoreans, Gordon hit the island at 6am on Tuesday without much of a scene. In fact, when I woke up at 10am, he was already gone. But the damage to my vacation lay in Gordon's aftermath. He churned up the sea and wet the skies for the next three days so that the whale watch trip and snorkeling excursions I had scheduled for later in the week were cancelled and the ocean swimming areas were closed to bathers. Having spent the sunny half of the week in the mountains, I was only able to dive into the ocean once. This was so frustrating to me, half water rat, but I made the best of it by spending the time relaxing with various beverages in my hand and lounging around in the company of Inge and Roland, talking about writing, relationships, and the oddities of life.
 
Inge and Roland bent over backwards throughout the week to make me happy and comfortable. They offered me the guestroom in their condo. Roland made coffee for the three of us every morning. They chauffeured me to sites around the island for six days. Over unrushed meals at their favorite restaurants and their own dining room table, Inge and Roland shared stories from their lives, especially of living in Manhattan in the 1960s, where they met and fell in love. Roland showed me vintage photographs from Central Park and Inge shared excerpts from her book-in-progress, 'Prose and Snippets,' and her scrapbook of published articles. They provided me with endless encouragement for my own writing, requesting a private performance of "We the Washingtonians," (Roland had his guitar restrung just for the occasion) and referring to me frequently as "Kat" (they loved 'Earth to Kat Vespucci' so much they wanted to conjure her up). 

One thing that struck me about Inge and Roland was the humor with which they approached difficulty. A typical exchange between them went like this ... 
Inge: (struggling with swollen legs in the morning) Roland, in a few years I'll need you to dress me. 
Roland: Well, I undressed you for all those years, so why not the reverse?

Another ...
Roland: (getting details of a story mixed up)
Inge: It wasn't like that. You're losing it.
Roland: What are you talking about, Mary?
Inge: Wait, who are you again?

I'm still chuckling over their banter.
  
Another great thing about Inge and Roland is the company they keep. One of our most enjoyable evenings was spent at the Villa Pavillon, the studio of artist Yves Decoster and his partner and chef, (also) Roland. Surrounded by Yves' artwork on the walls, we were served a wonderful Belgian meal, crafted by Roland. Afterwards, we lounged in the sitting room exchanging stories of eccentric people we had known, especially those that had come through the "restaurant." To some degree, I felt I already knew Yves, because I had been seeing his work painted on walls throughout the island. Whenever you turned a corner in São Miguel, it seemed, you caught a glimpse of a blossoming heart-flower by Yves. "Grow love!" the paintings said to me. And if there was a message radiating from Inge and Roland, it was, "Sow hospitality." 

Love. Hospitality. Earth. Ocean. Azores. Now that's a world I could live in! (Never mind the terminal preposition.)
   
For more from Inge and Roland, visit Inge's website and "Azores Journal," http://ingeperreault.eu, and Roland's photography site, http://www.pbase.com/roland

For more on me, visit www.ingridanders.com.
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Comments

Jean Olszak on

Incredible pictures and incredible travel blog. Really enjoyed this, Ingrid. What a beautiful place. I will forward to my friend, whose deceased husband was from the Azores.

Roland Perreault on

Outstanding description of this island and your photography is fantastic!
Thanks for doing such a beautiful job for Sao Miguel

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