The Azores: Part I

I am bad at coming up with titles now, I guess. Whatever, I’m hungry.  I suppose we can say I’ve offically started traveling, as I am now homeless. About a week ago I left my apartment and shoved my things in a friends’ place and made my way to Portugal. I’m gone now until mid-late August so please be forgiving of typos for the next few weeks. I’m typing up these entries on an iPad Mini which is no easy feat for a klutzer such as myself.

Now I’m sitting in a common room in a hostel in Lisbon waiting to be checked in. And it is FULL OF BOYS. Cute ones. One is playing guitar.

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Current mood

I would like to apologize to my six followers (especially you, random person from Brazil who looks at this site EVERY DAY) for the lack of updates this last week. It hasn’t been for lack of material, but rather lack of alone time. No, not like that. Trust me, I wouldn’t wait until 165 words into this post to tell you that my dry spell had been broken.

I’ve been with my family. For seven days. In a row. Do I have your pity?

I’m slightly kidding. I had an incredible time on this vacation and my family is amazing and I loved being with them. But at the same time I am very grateful to be in Lisbon by myself surrounded people my own age.

Aaaand I just realized I didn’t tell you where I went. If you’re smart, you probably deduced it from the title. But, you read this blog, so you probably aren’t.

I was in the Azores. Here’s a map in case you’ve never heard of it:

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My father was born there, on the island of Santa Maria and lived there until he was seven. At the time Angola was fighting for its independence against Portugal and my uncle was close to turning sixteen and being  sent over to fight. So they left.

My dad hadn’t been back since he left. Forty-five years ago.

A lot happened during this week so I’m going to break it up by island. But generally I will say that everything I had there was the best meal I had and pretty much everywhere you turn looks like a postcard and you should go there.

Let’s start with Terceira. Let me back up. I don’t know if I explained that my family flew over from Boston and I met them there. This included my father, stepmom, and baby brother and sister (Nine and eleven, respectively), and my favorite aunt. For a  week or so leading up to this trip I was mildly depressed about leaving Madrid and the impending move and looming goodbyes. Once I got to the airport and passed security I was able to relax and get excited about finally seeing the Azores. It was a massive checkmark missing on my bucket list and I was especially looking forward to it for my dad, who had never seen any islands other than his own.

I landed in Terceira on Sunday. It  was strange. I grew up surrounded by aerial images of the Azores. My grandparents and aunts and uncles all have at least one picture like this in their homes:

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I think you can see why I wanted to visit.

So landing felt a bit like jumping into one of those pictures. Arriving felt strangely familiar. When I got off the plane they herded us into a shuttle. I want to interrupt our regular programming to talk about how getting shuttled to and from airplanes is the worst thing in the entire world. WHY CAN’T THEY JUST PARK AT THE AIRPORT? Whenever I get off a plane I always have to pee. After spending hours in the sky the last thing I want to do is get on another form of transportation with a full bladder. Now back to our normal show…

Hearing Portuguese always gives me twinges of nostalgia. As I was on that shuttle ready to piss myself, I was taken back to my grandparents’ summer house on the Cape. To the perpetual smell of olive oil and the clocks made of frying pans. To the doilies and roosters.

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I started thinking about how my grandmother and aunts and uncles remember the Azores as how they were when they left. In many ways, I think that’s the Portugal I inherited. That’s the one I feel when I hear anyone speak it. Even after living in Lisbon for a month. But I didn’t expect the islands to be as I imagined them. The most surprising thing, however, was that they were exactly what I expected. I was prepared to be disappointed and I wasn’t.

My father and his cousin picked me up from the airport in Terceira. I hadn’t met her before, but we are friends on Facebook. Because family. She took us across the island through green fields full of cows and the thickest fog I’d ever seen.

“All last week the weather was beautiful,” she said, almost apologizing. “And now it’s like this.”

“Sorry!” my dad and I said.

She brought us to my great aunt M  and uncle L’s (henceforth known as Titia M and Titio L) house. This was waiting for us:

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And this:

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And THIS:

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The last one is called Alcatra. It’s a traditional beef stew specifically from that island. With meat that literally melts in your mouth. They also gave us cavaca, which is a lobster-like creature. It’s easily twice the size of a Maine lobster. It is not, however, twice as delicious. (Sorry, heritage, it just ain’t.)

Before we started, Titia M told me she had called my grandmother and asked what I like. So she made an entire batch of soup so she could give me a cup of it. Someone made a lasagne for my brother and sister as a more “American” option. Auntie M sat next to me at dinner and didn’t let my wine run out the entire night.

This isn’t just my family. The Azoreans are the most accommodating, hospitable, down-to-earth people I have ever met. This certainly isn’t true of the mainland. I’ll probably talk about that more in the coming days. Islands are different.

I put forth my best effort to speak Portuguese. I am supremely rusty. I can understand about 90% of what is said to me, but speaking is another story. I can think in Portuguese perfectly. But when it comes out it is NOT the same as it was in my head. This might sound unlikely. Surely if I can think in another language, I can speak it. Well, I can also do several pull-ups in my brain. If I tried to do it in real life the result would not be as favorable.

And that 90% understanding rate comes in handy. I’m great at eavesdropping.  The 10% usually happens when I’m spoken to directly. A lot of times I be like:

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After dinner we went to the hotel and I died. The end.

So, it turns out there will be more than three posts. This might have to be a day-by-day kind of deal. Come back tomorrow for at least day 2 of Terceira!

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