July 16, 2014

Day 15: Lajes das Flores

I didn’t bother having breakfast before leaving Santa Cruz. If my experience yesterday was any indication, there would be no point. I was just ready to leave. On to Lajes!

I had originally applied for an artist residency in a house here, but nothing came of it. Literally, there was simply no response. My check for the application fee was never cashed, my emails to them bounced, and their phone number seems to belong to someone else now. Although their web site is still up, they seem to have vanished. So I found this great place on airBnB and couldn’t be happier about it. And in typical Azores fashion (“It’s a small place”) it happens to be owned by the same cab driver who brought me from the airport into Santa Cruz. César Fonseca and his wife Cidalia have remodeled their attic space into a one-bedroom apartment with all mod cons: full kitchen, washing machine, comfortable bed, good wi-fi, and a view overlooking the town out to sea. They are incredibly kind and hospitable hosts, and both speak English quite well (they lived in Toronto many years ago). When I arrived, Cidalia was just finishing cleaning the place up and there was fresh bread, local cheese, peach nectar, and a liter bottle of water waiting for me. Home sweet home!

Lajes is a vast improvement over Santa Cruz. Located on the southeast coast of Flores, it’s a much smaller town, but much prettier, with a sweet little public park near the church and every house seems to have a vegetable garden (beans, squash, cukes, tomatoes, potatoes).

Santa Cruz has the airport, but Lajes is the main shipping port on the island. There is a good swimming beach down by the harbor, which was my first destination after a much-needed nap on the comfy couch in my new digs.

There is a fancy new museum that just opened this year and currently has a show of religious art and artifacts from around the island. (Everywhere I go they seem to be building new museums, in the midst of an ongoing financial crisis. How does this happen?) Cidalia works there and showed me around, and also helped me check out a genealogy book from their library on the families of Flores. No trace of our Caetano Freitas in there, and no Avelars at all. There is apparently a Volume II that they don’t have, which may or may not be out yet. A bit later Cidalia brought me a bowl of fresh lettuce, some tomatoes, and a cucumber from her neighbor’s garden. She was worried I might have trouble finding food here since I don’t eat red meat.

In fact, there is an excellent restaurant about a 15-minute walk from here called Casa do Rei, and they even have a vegetarian section on their menu. It’s run by a German family who do an interesting take on Azorean food with an emphasis on fresh and local, and they grow or raise much of what they serve. I’ve been craving a real salad for a while now and got a huge one with all kinds of homegrown veggies, a bowl of delicious mackerel soup, and a really interesting squid salad made with saltgrass (?). The items I saw being brought to the table next to me looked amazing as well.

After dinner I walked down to the harbor again. One of the sounds I’ve been wanting to record are the cagarros (Cory’s shearwater), a seabird about the size of a gull that makes an extraordinary sound. I first heard them on Pico in 2011. I was outside alone at night and it scared the crap out of me. I’ve heard a few isolated ones on this trip, but never close or consistent enough to record. They spend the day out in the ocean, and come to their nests on land at night. There is a place on Faial where you can supposedly walk right up to them, but it was far from Horta and I didn’t have a way to get there at night. The cliffs at the beach near the harbor here looked promising, and César assured me there would be plenty of cagarro action there after dark. I was not disappointed, and recorded for about a half-hour in a few different spots. Sometimes they flew just over my head, maybe five feet above me, their wings completely silent. I’m glad I was able to finally get a good recording, as I was starting to worry it might not happen.

Shortly after I arrived I got a phone call from a woman named Regina Meireles, a cousin of John Vasconçelos, one of the people on the Azores genealogy email list that I subscribe to. John lives in California and we've never met, but he introduced me to Regina via email. She thought my project sounds interesting and offered to meet up in the next few days. Her husband sings folk songs and fado and she said they would be happy to contribute in any way they can. So it feels like things are getting off to a good start here.