May 11, 2015

California Trip

I haven't posted on this blog since I came home from the Azores, but I have definitely been working on the project. At this point I have about twenty-five minutes done. The piece is now out in the middle of the ocean in search of whales. I soon realized that it can't end there. It needs to land somewhere! So I decided to make a recording trip to Avila Beach, where my great-greats Caetano and Maria Isabel lived and where my grandfather and his father were born, and to Sausalito for their annual Holy Ghost festa.

I drove from Santa Rosa to San Luis Obispo on Thursday, arriving in time for the great farmers market that happens downtown in the evening. Woke up early the next morning and headed out to Avila Beach before the wind came up. My goal was to get to Whaler's Island, which is now part of a larger breakwater that protects the Port of San Luis.

The easiest way to get there is to rent a kayak; since it was 6 AM that was not really an option. It would take a few hours to get there hopping across the lava rocks, and the changing tides would make getting back that way a dicey proposition. The only other way to get to the island on foot is to pay to take a guided hike through the property of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, also not an option so early on a weekday. But I very much wanted to record there, as there was once a shore whaling station on the island where I suspect Caetano may have worked. So I scrambled across the rocks a fair distance and got as close as seemed reasonable given my uncertainty about the status of the tides. Made some nice recordings of water gurgling through the lava rocks, much as I did in the Azores.

Then I went to another beach nearby called Pirate's Cove, which is a famous clothing-optional beach. As it was still quite early I had it all to myself for a couple of hours. It's a very cozy beach protected from the wind, and I waded into the ocean for some good recordings of the shorebreak, a very different kind of wave sound.

Hiking back from the beach, I took the trail to the left and ended up at a cave high up on the bluff, where I hung a mic off the ledge and recorded the larger waves crashing into the cliffs, along with some birds that were nesting there. A very productive morning of recording!

In the afternoon I met with my third cousin Denise Martins-Goodwin, who lives nearby in Santa Maria. We've collaborated on genealogy info for a few years now, so it was great to finally meet her. We had lunch and she shared tons of family lore and local history with me. Then she took me to the Old Mission Cemetery where the great-greats are buried. We couldn't find their exact graves as they are unmarked, but we did find the grave of one of their granddaughters, Mary Frances Martines, who died as a child of nine when her dress caught on fire while burning garbage.

Later that afternoon I stopped by the County Clerk's office and got copies of the death certificates for both Caetano and Maria Isabel. The one for Caetano is especially interesting as it confirms he came from the island of Flores. My grandfather always said they came from Pico, but we suspect he was making that up, or guessing based on knowing other local people named Freitas who had come from Pico.

The next morning I again woke up very early and returned to the cemetery to record the dawn chorus, which consisted mainly of one very busy mockingbird and a bunch of traffic (major road nearby). It wasn't open yet, so I had to sneak in. About fifteen minutes later a security truck showed up, an hour and a half before the cemetery officially opens. By that time I had followed the mockingbird into the property next door, where there was no fence. I'm pretty sure the guard saw me standing there but he never came after me. He drove to the entrance and stayed there, waiting for me to come out, which I didn't. Eventually he gave up and left. I went and got some breakfast, then drove back up the coast.

The following day was Mothers Day, and I had made a plan to go with my mother and my aunt to the annual Holy Ghost festa sponsored by the IDESST Portuguese Hall in Sausalito. Neither of them had ever been to one of these functions, and they know almost nothing about Azorean culture, let alone the whole Espirito Santo thing. For me it was very interesting to compare it to the festas I'd seen in the Azores; the basic form was similar, although there were some differences in the details. There was a solemn procession from the hall to the church up on the hill, accompanied by a marching band, which I recorded. Holy Ghost societies and festa queens from nearby towns were represented. I was surprised there were no Azorean flags. It was pretty much what I expected, and people seemed to be having a good time, although apparently attendance was low this year, possibly due to it being held on Mothers Day. I was a little surprised to see one woman show up wearing a capote, the traditional cape and cowl worn in the islands in the nineteenth century. The free meal of sopas was very good, done by chef Manuel Azevedo of LaSalette, the fabulous Portuguese restaurant in Sonoma that we often visit.

Now I have a few more hours of recordings to go through and edit, which will keep me busy for a while. But it feels like it was really important to get this new material, and I think now I have a much clearer idea of where the piece is going.