The Azores - A World to Live In
Trip Start Jun 01, 2008
13Trip End Ongoing
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.