July 10, 2014

Day 9: Capelinhos

Horta, where I am staying, is on the southeast corner of Faial — at about the 5 o'clock position. Today I went to Capelinhos on the west coast, almost half way around the island from here going clockwise. Capelinhos is a very intense, desolate landscape, especially in contrast to the rest of the island. A desert of brown volcanic ash and swirling clouds of wind-blown dust, the only thing that grows here is tamarask/salt cedar. On September 27, 1957, a new volcano began erupting underwater, just off the coast of this little fishing village and lighthouse station. By the time it went silent over a year later, the village had been destroyed and many people had left the island. The disaster prompted the US to re-open favored immigration status to Azoreans as an act of good will; between 1958 and 1965 about 12,000 people moved to the US, the last big wave of Azorean immigration to the US. With the added complexities of family reunification, this period extended for another couple of decades, during which over 175,000 people from throughout the archipelago — over 30% of the population — moved to the US. This had the double benefit of affording the emigrants a new life pursuing the American Dream™ while simultaneously easing the over-population issue here, making it easier for people who stayed to find work and land.

In the above photo you can see the original ground floor of the lighthouse building buried in volcanic ash, the tops of the windows and door just above ground level.  There is also a remarkable geological/vulcanism museum here, also partially buried, with just the skylight sticking up above the ground. Very interesting parabolic acoustics!

I climbed to the top of the lighthouse, where the sound of the wind was completely gorgeous. I had it to myself for about ten minutes and managed to make a recording that captured the sound pretty well, though not quite the multi-directionality of it, which was astonishing.

Meanwhile, down by the water, there's a very nice natural swimming pool. Yes I swam in it. Yes it was lovely.

Just above the pool there is an old boat house displaying one of the small shore whaling boats that were typically used. There was a very friendly guy working there and we had an interesting conversation about these boats. I was trying to imagine my trisavô Caetano going out in one of these things with six other guys to get a gigantic sperm whale. Seems completely insane to me. But I got a sense if it, running my hands over the much-used oars and other implements. The boats themselves are quite beautiful as sculptural objects, and in a way they mirror the skeleton of the whale — a long spine with ribs coming off of it, covered in a "skin" of cedar planks.

Got back to Horta for dinner at Casa — carrot/pumpkin soup, tuna sandwich, vinho verde. For dessert, I asked Antonio about the fig cake. He told me sorry, they were out. Then his mom Maria said, "Queres bolo do figo?" And she pulled out the last piece, which she had stashed under the counter, apparently having saved it for me. I swear I nearly cried. So sweet of her.

In the garden at Casa I met Vasco, who Angie had told me to call about getting a ride to Cedros for the Movie Night that I had been invited to, since I didn't want to ride the scooter on the winding road returning to Horta late at night. He's a very nice, interesting guy, works as a civil engineer. We picked up his delightful girlfriend Lidia and headed up to Cedros to Christine and Howard's place. This older British couple are apparently the major social hub on that part of the island, and there was a nice group of people there from all over the world. By the time we arrived most of them had heard about me and everyone was very friendly and made me feel quite welcome. Angie gave me a tour of the gardens, which are fantastic and seem to go on forever. Howard & Christine have quite charmingly and authentically converted their garage into a cinema, complete with surround sound, red curtain, small stage, lights, chairs, the whole thing. Very impressive! They even play a few ads and short features before the main film.

Tonight's film was This Must Be the Place, a quirky thing with Sean Penn as a retired Jewish-American rock star and ex-junkie (looking like Robert Smith of the Cure) living in Ireland who is completely traumatized for various reasons (yet occasionally lucid) and eventually heads off on a road trip in the American southwest to hunt down an aging Nazi war criminal, dragging his rolling suitcase behind him. Frances McDormand plays his wife, a perky blond American firefighter who loves him in spite of the fact that he is nearly comatose and regularly kicks his ass at handball in their empty swimming pool (the only time he moves at more than a snail's pace). Judd Hirsch plays a cranky professional Nazi-hunter, and Harry Dean Stanton is the guy who invented the rolling suitcase. Soundtrack written by David Byrne (who also appears as himself) and Will Oldham, performed by a bunch of bands who are probably known to people in their 20s but not to me. I am trying to imagine the pitch meeting for this plot. Wes Anderson does Wim Wenders? It sounds like a train wreck, and the trailer I had seen was not encouraging, but it was actually pretty good aside from the schmaltzy ending.

On the drive back to Horta I spoke to Vasco and Lidia more about my project, and they told me a lot about the old whaling culture and offered to hook me up with Rui, a scientist who specializes in whales and is one of the people that Márcia Dutra had referred me to but who hadn't yet responded to my emails. They invited me out to a dinner the next night and said they would also invite Rui so we could meet. This is how things seem to work in the islands — everyone knows everyone, and they are incredibly kind and generous and willing to introduce you to everyone else. "Just call this person, don't worry if you don't know them. I'll tell them to expect to hear from you. They will be able to help you." Lucky me!