Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Where am I now? In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, on the island of Flores, the westernmost island in the Azores. The sun comes from one direction, the clouds come from the other, and they fight it out all day long. Because it's so remote, the people are dependent on their gardens and their livestock and on whatever food gets shipped over from Portugal. The day after we arrived--I am sharing a house with a poet now based in Kentucky~~we went grocery shopping and were a little alarmed at the slim pickings. I bought milk in a box with a long shelf life, white wine, a pear, peanuts, and cinnamon cookies. My housemate bought the last extant head of lettuce, as far as we could see. It turned out that the ship from Portugal came in the next day, and then there were tomatoes and broccoli and grapes and strawberries and yogurt. Whew! For a while, I felt like one of those animals, a bear, say, that spends all of its time simply trying to get enough to eat.

Flores is famous for cows and hydrangeas. The cows are everywhere, and they are all different kinds: Holsteins, Jerseys, Charlerois, Brown Swiss. Oddly, I haven´t seen any barns, but maybe it´s because nothing here looks like what I expect it to look like. Restaurants look like people´s houses, and grocery stores are all but invisible. The gas station is recognizable. I rented a car from the caretaker of the house I´m staying in, and so far I have driven the eastern length of the island, from Lajes to Ponta Delgada, and gone inland to see these high lakes surrounded by sphagnum moss. The hills are very green and sectioned off into irregular plots with stone walls. It all falls down to the ocean, which keeps surprising me. It seems so high.

In Lajes there is a black sand beach, which I stuck my feet in the other day. There is a lighthouse here, and flower gardens. Sunday was the Feast of Santo Spirito, also known as Pentecost, and we had found out that after Mass on Sunday that the church feeds everyone in the parish hall. There was a procession of little girls in their Communion dresses carrying big crowns on pillows. The church is Our Lady of the Rosary, and I think the girls were supposed to be like beads on the rosary. They were led by men in red tunics beating drums and cymbals and singing. The church is both pleasingly plain, with a wooden ceiling and clear glass windows and black-and-white prints illustrating the stations of the cross, and ornate, with three gilt and blue shrines full of statues of saints and the Virgin. I stood at the back and listened intently, but caught only three words of Portuguese: segundo São Jõao (according to John).

It would have been unbecoming for two big foreign girls to be first in line for lunch, so we hung back, watching the kids in their fancy clothes tumbling around on the lawn, until a nice man who looked like a hippie came over. I thought he was asking if we had a cigarette, and I said we didn´t smoke. But he was asking if we wanted to eat, and he herded us over to the door of the parish hall, where we could see two long tables where people were sitting, being served sopa e carne: big tureens of bread soup garnished with mint, and platters of beef and pork. There were bottles of wine and water and orange-passion-fruit soda on the tables, and rice pudding for dessert. They served half the crowd, and when they had finished they set the tables again and fed the rest of us.

We watched an old man start up a tractor and pull out of the parking lot with his ancient wife, seated in a wagon attached to the tractor. Our sponsor had a motorcycle with a cart attached to haul his wife and little girl up the hill. It's very hilly here, and daunting at first, until you find your way around, and then every day you go farther up another hill and see the pastures falling to the ocean. It's also very windy.

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