I Am Not Sure We're in Kansas
Long before I learned of the exploits of Nancy's Portuguese ancestors, the Azores figured prominently in my imagination. In 1954 on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to the U.S. I landed in the Azores, terrified because the attendant had remarked that the island was so small, the landing strip had been built onto the the ocean. A composed seven-year old, I was nonetheless a bit rattled. All I saw of the island was a rainslicked runway before taking off for Westover, MA, coincidentally, Nancy's home state.
Several years later, at St. Gertrude's School, the Azores were solidly implanted in my imagination when Sister Raphaela had me, and I assume the rest of the class, memorize Joaquin Miller's poem on Columbus which begins "behind him lay the gray Azores." I felt after seeing the rainslicked Tarmac and memorizing the poem that the Azores were perpetually gloomy and rainy.
Miller was correct, the islands are often shrouded in mist and rain, but colors do emerge as well as riotous fora because of the mild mid-Atlantic weather.
The gates of the city of Ponta Delgado introduce the black and white motif which every church in the city and the islands replicate.
The sculpture is of the Portuguese poet Camoens. From Nancy I've also learned how to pronounce his name. Melville refers to Camoens several times and when I first mentioned him, she laughed at my pronunciation.
I will leave the obvious emphasis on churches and water pass without further comment.
Here Comes the Sun
Locals suggest that the only time on the islands for reliably sunny weather are July and August. When I commented on a bright sunny morning, the hotel clerk countered with a complaint about the cold. I let her know just what cold could be.
With sun and a brisk wind, Nancy and I headed to the northwest of Sao Miguel to visit Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) which despite it's name is not a metropolis, only a small village of a few hundred people. I wondered about the cognitive dissonance of waking up each day in the rather pleasant town but with the reminder of some sort of urban sprawl. The name for the town is obscure, but one story locates its origins in late medieval legends of enchanted islands off to the west promising an idyllic escape.
In this version during the Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsula, seven bishops gathered their flocks and set sail for those rumored islands. On landing (in this version, they do succeed), the bishops founded seven cities, complete with churches of course, and lived happily ever after. The problem is the complete lack of any archeological record. Not a problem since another legend, relying this time on reliable knowledge of the island's volcanic activity, speculates that a catastrophic eruption destroyed all the cities. Like Avalon, the seven cities have disappeared into myth.
What remains 20 miles north of Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores, is a spectacular caldera, about 10 miles in circumference, the remnant of an eruption many thousands of years ago. Long ago enough for the landscape to have turned lush and green. Sete Cidades is at the base of the caldera, along with two lakes. One lake has a blue hue, the other is greenish. The legend for this difference is more of a fairy tale, of a king with a beautiful green-eyed daughter, whom he kept locked away. There happened to be a blue-eyed peasant boy in the fields where the princess wandered; they met, fell in love, and went to the king. He forbade the union, as kings are wont to do, so the lovers fled to the hills, and their sorrowful tears, tinged with their eye colors, filled the two lakes.
So much for legend and fairy tale. The reality is that from sea level, the road to Sete Cidades is a long and winding one that zig zags across a lush landscape until it reaches the rim of the caldera where a broad bowl opens up. In spite of the vertiginous hillsides, the land is dotted sideways with farmland. The road drops quickly into the village at 10% grade of such abruptness that I wondered if I'd take up biking if I actually lived there. We were here 5 years ago on a foggy, rainy day, and from the overlook, we could not see into the depths of the crater; this time, we could.
Of course, the climb out is just as steep.
Volcanic After Effects
After leaving Sete Cidades, when the road crosses the western rim of the caldera, we were in sight of the ocean. Of course, on an island just 10 miles across, the ocean is ever present, but from 1000 feet up, we were staring due west, somewhere into the eastern U.S.
Mosteiros is a village at the base of the outer edge of the caldera, a steep drive from the main highway to the ocean's edge. The beaches here are rocky, black basalt, the remains of flowing lava. Certainly unsuitable for sunbathing, the uneven crumbly rock made a casual stroll rather awkward. The day was windy, blowing from the west, and stirring the waves with weather brought, no doubt from the recent storms on the east coast.
On returning to Ponta Delgodo, we came across some distinctly un-exotic local fauna. A donkey, tethered to a hill side, had a companion cat napping near by. I know that race track stables often use cats (and goats) to calm spirited thoroughbreds. This juxtaposition was either an agricultural plan or the beginning of a local version of the town musicians of Breman.
I'm using a digital camera and an iPhone. The digital images I can load onto an iPad immediately. The camera's photos, shared through iCloud, appear sometime later.
While updating all the images, I thought the iPhone photographs, taken at a different place with different light make clear the differing hues of the blue and green lakes at Set Cidades.
From the Editor:
About the blue and green lakes. I did the research and didn't find anything about tears. I seems to be due to the basic reflectivity of different colors in the medium of water, and then any suspended particles, and something about waves or vibrations, but then I quit reading.
Regarding the Seven Cities story, I felt the need to do some fact checking:
It turns out that the mythical seven bishops were, of course, not seven bishops but rather, seven DWARFS, as is common in sectarian bachelor groups. Seven bishops would NEVER last out even a short ocean crossing all in the same boat, or even in the same fleet.
Dwarfs, on the other hand, pretty much HAD to endure crossing in the same boat, because it took that many to crew a man-scale ship, which they needed because they were bringing seven full sized virgins for each dwarf .... and they were full-bodied virgins, such as the dwarfs preferred ... one of the quirks, not necessarily common to all dwarfs, but which caused the expulsion of these particular dwarfs from Portugal.
Even dwarves can become irritable when confined in close quarters. When they got to the Azores, nerves were frayed; the on-board social contract was abandoned and dwarfs scattered around the Caldron you visited, each homesteading with his virgins, though not so far from one another that one virgin could not run over to borrow a cup of coffee from another and so on, which was something insisted upon by the virgins ..... the virgins, who eventually rebelled completely, killing all the dwarfs or driving them into obscurity; we don't know because, as you report, there was an eruption that hid the evidence. So we don't know what happened to the virgins, but they must have eventually lost their virginity ... if there are still people there. On the other hand, not only do I not see any trees in these pictures, I see no virgins, or any other people, although there is that picture Nancy Facebooked, of her with her cousin. But I presume she is not a resident, or Nancy would not have been surprised to encounter her there. So there is some spooky Syncho action there.
As for the mythic eruption, clearly there was one, but it is going to be hard to convince me that the block of "Basalt" I see in this picture, is anything but a manufactured object (does that look to you like anything that was ever liquid?) no doubt cut and brought there by the Irish giants when they briefly occupied the island and attempted to build a Bridge to Somewhere, as they called it, positing a new world they would, sadly, never see, as they abandoned the project not long after beginning it, because bringing in just that one massive block was such a pain in the ass.
Please continue to keep your eye out for suspicious coincidences which, by some stretch of the language, might be played up as "Synchronicity".
The donkey cat coincidence, is clearly not JUST a coincidence .... although the photos do not show the cat and the donkey together .... I will just trust that they were because I trust you. But I think that to call it an instance of agricultural planning by humans, is carrying a bit to far. As it would be to call it a clear instance of missegination.
And even if you provide a picture of the cat mounting the donkey, it would seem obvious that the cat was up there for the better view, like the crows one sees sitting on cows sometimes, doesn't one?
I would call it Symbiosis, or maybe synchophancy, both of which sound a bit like Synchronicity.
Just let me know if I am missing any thing.
So, by my unscientific study of the habits of the local donkeys, I can say with some certainty that they shun the company of other donkeys. Beyond that, they seem indifferent to the company they keep.
Editor to Joe:
If you could manage to snap a pic of a Donkey milking a cow, then we would have something worthy of world wide sharing.
I am going back to your photos of the two lakes, to see if I can tell the color difference ... which was not vividly obvious to me at first look. After that, there is always Photoshop adjustments, like the kind people use to make Turkeys look like Peacocks, with neon sky behind.
Taking the Waters
Unlike Ric, I was not deceived when I was told I could come to Furnas for the waters. There is no apparent gambling at the elegant Hotel Terra Nostra, but it offers a botanical garden and a mineral hot spring.
Many years ago on a trip through Wyoming, Nancy and I stopped at a hot spring in, of all places, Thermopolis. On a hot early June day, we lounged in the hot flowing waters. Those, however, were made of different minerals since they splashed clearly over a series of ledges into the pools. Some time later, in Saratoga we visited the Spa, an old hotel which provided us with a bathing room: an old porcelain tub which was filled with sulphureous, smelling water. The water at Furnus is murkier, but it is supposed to have healing properties. The main mineral is iron; the water flow clear from the spouts, but in the pool it becomes a tannish brown, from the oxidation of the iron I suppose.
Furnas is built above some roiling geothermal activity, connected, I suspect, to the same geologic rumblings that produced the Sete Cidadas crater. The Furnas caldera is, however, smaller and shallower because it is much younger. And being much younger, it is still developing. In fact, this area is the most dangerous place to live in the Azores because of the possibility of an eruption at some time in the future.
The waters for this pool emerge at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The depth is about 5 feet, so one can shamble through the waters with one's head above, and all else warmed by the spring water. The walk back is a bit bracing. The hotel supplies bright white robes for the walk to the pool and they instantly turn orangish when touched with the water.
12 miles north of Furnus is the Atlantic coast where the weather was a bit tumultuous. Along the way, a bit of color
From your editor:
Now you are getting deep into the subject matter. Magic water.
You have me thinking now that maybe the Oswegatchie River is red, not so much from tannin as from the iron oxide in the rock ....of which there is a lot up there. I do know that the tannin in the Oswegatchie water also gives it the capacity to form some bubbles as big as my head, and my hat size is seven and seven eighths. Are you getting any really big bubbles slashing around where you are?
Whatever is in there, unless it is caustic or septic, you should be feeling around thirty percent better from the healing waters; that being the natural level of the placebo effect. Well worth the stained robes and skin.
There are so many minerals in the water from our well here, mostly calcium of course, that it stains the bathroom ceramics and builds up on the pasta pot. I suppose our mineral water could be monetized somehow, but I definitely don't want people stopping by here to bathe.
I wonder when the Azores popped up. I suppose that if there were another eruption or upthrust now, it would be the other islands and coasts that would get the tsusami, and you might be best off right where you are, just as long as you stay away from hot lava ... but are not people there a little nervous about the possibilities.
They seem to be more excited in the New Yorker than out in Portland and Washington, about the imminent techtonic event set to displace a lot of land and people out there. My son Tarka is right there in Washington State teaching geology too. He would probably ride his mt. bike to the developing crack and look in.
But stay safe. I suppose you didn't even BRING your bike.
Furnas is, as I mentioned, atop an active geothermal system; it's undergone two eruptions since its founding in the 15th century, the second was in 1640. Having visited Yellowstone Park, I've watched geysers geysing and hot pools bubbling. Such activity suggests that sometime something will happen and when it happens, it would be best not to be around. Still geothermal activityy makes for an attractive site for visiting, so perhaps our next trip should be too Iceland.
One visits Old Faithful on a holiday. The Furnasians live right next to cracks in the earth from which steam arises and hot water bubbles. And "right next to" means the cracks appear at the end of a street, on the edge of town, in an area lined with shops, and homes, an actual neighborhood where people, I assume, simply coexist with the only real nuisance of this activity, a slightly sulphureous odor that drifts several streets away. The "caldeiras" can be smelled before they are seen.
Across this section of Sao Miguel are several other caldeiras. Furnas has a second site 2 miles outside the village along the shores of a volcanic crater lake. Here the Azoreans have made a virtue of necessity. The area has many active puddles, bubbling gently, along with a few pits bubbling furiously and spewing very hot mud. In this space, the Azoreans have dug pits, now lined with concrete, which they use for cooking. Nancy assures me that in the old days, each family in town had its own pit, and every morning, industrious homemakers would make their ways to the caldeiras with the makings of an evening meal snugly packed into a clay pot. The pot was lowered into a pit, covered over with dirt, and left to simmer. At the end of the day, the meal was collected and taken home for friends and family. I'm not ready for such hands off cooking.
Several restaurants in Furnas feature a version of this cookery, serving what they call a traditional meal of several meats and vegetables. The meats are several: many forms of beef and pork and blood sausage. We haven't sampled that exact dish but have been in restaurants in which the meal was served. The aroma from the pots was rather pungent, to my senses not appetizing. But then perhaps I am being too ethnocentric. More realistically, the restaurants idea of a single serving of such a meal might serve a family of 4 with leftovers.
Besides volcanic activity, Furnas has a lush fertile climate. The garden outside the hotel is a riot of palms, ferns, bamboo. And color.
From your editor: 2/21
O.K. so it isn't hellish, at the Gates of Hell, but actually lush and temperate. I understand that jungle soils are generally thin, because in a tropical climate, most of the carbon stays in the many levels of living stuff, but then, despite the palms, I don't guess you are in a tropical climate, and I know that basaltic soil is especially fertile, and what you show here is paradisical. Except for the ominous, seething bumps.
Also, from what you show and tell and I also learn by following you on Wikipedia, the Azores are an upthrust product, rather than the tip of a sunken continent, so I guess you can call off the search for Atlantis ... except there are reports that a sunken Pyramid has been discovered fairly recently in Azorian waters, accessible only to scuba divers. Upthrust or not, Pyramids are very heavy, and that sucker would sink for sure, so you should probably investigate. I truly read about it on the internet. Do you have scuba training? The Metaphysical Times would pay you extra for that, if we ever paid anybody. Or you could not do it, and say you did, in great detail. You know the trick.
Evening in Furnas: When the gray clears,
the light shines through.
Like you I have wondered if the town name and its connection to the inner fires of the earth has any connection to furnace. No one can tell me. I have learned that furnace comes from a Greek word, "fornax," but I've found no evidence of Greek colonizers.
About the light: as the poet once said "I've seen my light come shining from the west unto the east," though I believe I was facing east.
I apologize in advance for sending more crater pictures.
The last time we traveled to Furnas, we drove up just for a day and the day was gray, foggy, and drizzly. Under such conditions, the visit to the steamy Caldeiras absorbed most of our attention; the surrounding hills made little impression.
Today, when we left on a bright sunny day we finally got to see the entire Furnas landscape; the climb out of the caldera was spectacular. At the top we headed north to the coast, pulling off at an overlook that provided us with not just a last view but a panoramic one, laying out both the village and Furnas Lake, the site of the cooking caldeiras.
We planned a route that took us along the north coast for a few miles and then turned due south to cross the spine of the island. Since the road climbed from sea level to 3000 feet, the drive was nerve-wracking because of the hairpin turns that zigzagged up the side of the hills. Have I mentioned that the roads are extremely narrow without shoulders?
Near the top, we found another caldera, this one featuring Logoa do Fogo, Lake of Fire. It seems that one can't spit on this island without hitting a volcanic crater. Unlike Furnas, this caldera has been declared off limits to any development, so there is no cute village at the center.
At one point, while overlooking the lake, I caught a bit of the south Atlantic coast between the hills. I turned and had a view of the northern Atlantic coast. As we descended from the rim of the caldera, the road took wide sweeping curves that shifted our vision from north coast to south coast, emphasizing how small the island really is. Some one we met over dinner a few night ago suggested one can drive across the island in 20 minutes.
I passed a few bikers on the way to Lagoa do Fogo but biking
isn't very popular around here. From the crest of the crater, the road starts of fat a 10% grade. After 5 miles of that either one's breaks would be worn to nubs or one's forearms and biceps turned to jelly.
On our last full day, I watched a cruise ship glide into the harbor. Checking its registry, I learned that the ship had left Southhampton, England, at the end of Jan., sailed for the British Virgin Islands, and was now heading back to England, docking at the end of the month. Later in the day, the streets of downtown Ponta Delgada were a bit more crowded than they had been, with clusters of elderly British wandering from shop to shop. And now that I've written that, I wonder how many Azoreans commented on Nancy and me as elderly Americans.
The pier was lined with tour buses and vans as some of the boat people opted for island excursions. They couldn't have seen much, however, since the ship glided out of the harbor about 10:00 that night.
We spent our last day on a more spiritual quest. All of Nancy's grandparents were born in the Azores, so she has been determined to visit each of the churches in which they would have been baptized. On a previous visit, she managed to enter two of them, in Ribierina and Sao Roque, and this visit, she completed her pilgrimage at the churches in Arrifes and Rosario Logoa. (Only one photo included since the two churches were identical. In fact this seems to be the pattern for many churches. Chapels are smaller version, with just one entrance.)
We saw other "pilgrims" on our journey through the countryside. During Lent, groups of men and boys (Romeiros) from each parish will embark on a week-long walk around the island, stopping at churches enroute for devotional prayers. At the last church of a day's walk, parishioners will provide lodging. Besides walking en masse, they mark themselves by wearing capes and scarves. In the Rosario church, we heard singing outside and discovered a band of the Romeiros about to enter. They settled in pews and began chanting a litany. Several leaders spoke what were, I expect, devotional comments, they sang a hymn, and then marched out for the next church.
While most of the members were older men, the groups included several young boys who seemed less devout and were, perhaps, simply more interested in the experience of wandering about and not going to school. Having been, many years ago, a respectful and faithful alter boy involved in church activities, I suspect my parents would have encouraged me to join such an organization, and I would have eagerly taken the chance to get away for home for a few days.
Later today, we depart for Boston, returning, I gather, to some sort of winter. I include a last view of the gray Azores.
From your Editor:
There are people around here with Furnas as a family name ... Furnasians, no doubt.
What light is it that comes shining from the West to the East, rather than from the East to the West? No natural light. Looks to me like a hard rain is going to fall. Or eruptions occur. Take care of yourself and our assets.
I have to go now and read your next email report, after I deal with an urgent request to verify my bank account information so that I can take a huge money transfer from a new business partner in Kenya, who happens to be a princess from Uganda, whose father was assasinated, but she managed to get escape to Kenya by way of Narobi. A fascinating story and very fortunate, in a literal sort of way, for you and us. Because this is going to mean that the Metaphysical Times will be ... at least in theory ... able to pay you for your investigations.
Congratulations whatever happens, and of course the Metaphysical Times is not responsible for what happens; we just try to be a good influence, a rational actor, and a Physical Presence: with an Avatar in the Azores.
Like all of Nancy's ancestors, we ended up in New Bedford. In the 19th century, the Azores were not yet a tourist destination. Remote, barely self-sufficient, dependent on Portugal, it was an agricultural country that like Ireland underwent a number of crop failures that left the people impoverished and at time starving.
Early New England whalers (really, whalers from NB, Martha's VIneyard, and Nantucket) stopped at the Azores for fresh water and victuals and often to replace crewmen who may not have shown up when the ships put out to sea. No doubt, as the ships' crews rounded up water, perhaps salt cod, they passed on extravagant stories of life in the cobble-stone streets of New Bedford. So when the Azorean first wave of immigrants came to the U.S., they gravitated to New Bedford, as well as Providence, RI. A generation later, some immigrants bypassed New England altogether and took ships that rounded the Cape of Storms, heading toward California, and for some, on to Hawaii.
The Azoreans in New Bedford quickly filled out the fleet of fishing boats that sailed to Georges' Bank. As whaling declined, fishing for cod, haddock and other species took over the industry. The men who lacked sea legs, as well as the women, also found work in the early textile mills, block long, three story brick buildings that still mark the city's architecture. Long before textiles moved off shore to Asia, the New England businesses fled to the South, and the economic collapse of New Bedford began.
Fishing remained robust, however, into the 20th century, with a large fleet that put out to sea for weeks, hauling in net after net of the what seemed an inexhaustible supply of fish stock. All that collapsed by the 1960s by which time the local fishing fleet as well as European and Asian factory ships had effectively depleted the fishing areas Ultimately, the U.S. closed or restricted most of those areas, and especially Georges' Bank.
The fleet remains docked at the New Bedford pier. In the past 15 or 20 years, whenever we've been here, the fleet has been in harbor. I've never seen a ship sail out or into port, and I learned from a local resident last year that the fleet is effectively limited to about 20 days of fishing per year. The ships remain docked; there's always activity, engines burbling in the water, chains clanking, and at night, the ships are all lit up, clearly ready for the next opportunity to head out to sea. But what remains are many deteriorating, rusting ships.
OK, here end my travel reflections.
A Final Note from your Editor:
As foretold, the Azores did not turn out to be Atlantis, having come up from the Ocean, rather than having gone under .... and, as a matter of fact, there is a suggestion that when Atlantis went under, the people came TO the Azores. You can read about it in the Metaphysical Times.
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