Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Say Hello, You Say Goodbye

We have finally arrived at my last Terceira blog. I'm writing this back at the villa, enjoying my last days here but already wishing I could return to Portugal.


One evening we went to Tio Daniel's house for dinner.  Tio and Tia, their children and families, and Tia's sister and family were all there.  It took some present a while to figure out exactly how I fit into the puzzle that is our extended family, but we were all on the same page eventually.  I also challenged Tio to tell me the birth order and ages of all his siblings...now if only I could remember it!


Fortunately Marco and Liz speak English so they helped me translate whenever I got stuck.  Their sweet little son Adriano loves jello and wanted to eat only that, but when Marco tricked him into eating a bite of chocolate cake along with his jello, Adriano quickly updated his preferences.


All in all it was a lovely evening, eating delicious Portuguese food and getting to know the family. 


One day was unofficially dedicated to grandpa.  We walked the land around the house and grandma showed me the various plots that belonged to the family, all tended by him.  The photo below is of the "cova," or pit, where the family used to have its vineyards.  It was one of my mom and padrinho's favorite places to go when they were little.  I think it was here where the old photos of us at the vineyards (see here) were taken.  Unfortunately, when my grandfather died, grandma had to sell almost all of the land because it was too much for her to take care of on her own.



That day, we also stopped by the cemetery to visit my grandfather's grave.  It was so sweet to see how grandma comes and tends to it, bringing flowers and scrubbing the stone clean.  I went up to kiss his picture and we both started crying, grandma repeating over and over what a good man he was.  I just wish I remembered him.


In our down time, I spent a lot of time reading, and contrary to popular expectation, I never got too bored.  I started getting into grandma's Lisbon-based telenovela, which we watched every night during dinner.  I taught grandma how to make her favorite American jello as well as new ways to tie scarves, us all the while communicating in the words and phrases of pre-schoolers.  We had a great time!

Sometimes, when grandma needs help around the yard, her friend Senhor Jose' (almost everyone in Portugal is named Jose'.  Or Maria.) comes around to work.  Here they are in her back garden, along with Senhor Jose's grandson, mowing the lawn.


On my last day in Terceira, we got alcatra (of course it wasn't as good as grandma's) in Praia and later headed to Biscoitos to look at the water.  The ocean was agitated and the waves were bigger than grandma had ever seen them.  It was fun to watch, but we were lucky we didn't see any tourists get swept away, as they kept trying to get dangerously close for better photos.  It was a scene that instilled in us an even greater respect for the ocean's power.



Departure day was a melancholy event.  Grandma and I had developed such a rhythm and had enjoyed each other's company so much that it was hard for us to part.  I think she'll miss the company, and I of course will miss being around family!  The airport was a prolonged, almost torturous event, as my flight had been delayed five hours due to a strike.  We spent those hours chatting about the family and the summer until it was finally time for me to go through security.  So many tears!  

I'm incredibly glad I was able to make this trip.  It's the sort of experience that will mean more and more to me as the years pass, as I find myself able to imagine the setting to stories that are told to me, as I can recognize towns and words and events that my family refers to.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to go, and hope that next time (and soon!) I can bring more of the family over with me.

On the flight back to Rome, I was wedged in the middle seat between a young, all-American blonde girl and a well-traveled, Lisbon-based Italian man.  I couldn't help but take it as a metaphor for my life, always finding myself emotionally stuck in the middle between my home and family in America, and my Italian friends and European roots over here.  If only the two regions were as geographically close to each other as I was to my TAP Portugal seatmates.  While I will inevitably always long for the other wherever I find myself, the decision has been made.  I finish work at the villa in one week's time and after two more weeks of travel in southern Italy, I will be back in the states on June 25!  Prepare your stomachs.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Island Tour


One day, Grandma asked her friend Senhor Jose' to drive us all the way around the island in his taxi, showing us the most popular tourist highlights.  Throughout our eight-hour day, we pulled over at several panoramic lookout points, went to Monte Brazil in Angra, ate at a spectacular restaurant in São Sebastião, and went inside the volcano called Algar do Carvão.

 

The street signs around the island are often hilarious (but necessary).  In addition to this cow-crossing sign, I saw one that could only have been labeled, "Sweet, small, elderly widow with fashionable handbag helps even sweeter, smaller, and more elderly widow cross the street."



The majority of the island is covered with sprawling green agricultural plots, most of which are divided by short, man-made stone walls.  If this were California, all of that waterfront land would be built-up with million dollar estates, so it was refreshing to see it kept in its natural state.
 


Serreta was one of my favorite towns on the island.  It's surrounded by thick foliage and feels almost like a rainforest.  There's lots of places to picnic, and my mom and Tia told me that they used to go there once a year for the bullfight.


Since it was a Sunday and a feast day, we saw lots of processions and bands, and even a woman crossing the street clutching a bowl of sopas.



By noon we had made it to Angra, and addition to going to the panoramic memorial on top of the town, we went to Monte Brazil, which is the large peninsula mountain that you see in the background of the following photo.  The third photo is of Senhor Jose' and me atop Monte Brazil.




I don't think a more appropriate statue could have been put here in Angra!


Ready for lunch, we stopped in São Sebastião at a place called Os Moinhos, which mom had found recommended on the internet. 



The seafood there was incredible, and I finally got to try Lapas, which are similar to oysters.  They were served grilled with butter and garlic, and if I had to tell you what they tasted like, the best thing I could say would be "the sea".  I felt like I opened my mouth and took a bite right out of the sea.  When you put the shell in your mouth you can taste and feel the seaweed and the spongy, fuzzy surface, and once you slurp up the meat, you realize it still tastes of natural salt water.


I ordered the tile-cooked shellfish, and what I got blew me away.  It was basically a roof tile, filled with deliciously rich, buttery jumbo shrimp, prawns, clams, oysters, and more.  There was nothing else in there but fish fish fish, making it even at first glance the most generous seafood helping I'd ever received.  But wait, there's more.  As I was digging deep down to serve up the concoction, my spoon hit a large lump of something.  I dug it out only to find it was an entire, shelled lobster tail.  Upon further investigation, I discovered another one.  My lunch buddies didn't seem phased, but I was completely awed by the indulgent helping of seafood, a portion that would cost A FORTUNE in America if you could even find a restaurant with such a thing on the menu, which you couldn't, since restauranteurs know no one would ever order it on account of its costing A FORTUNE. 


We waddled our way back to the car, and after driving through several more beautiful harbor towns, we ended up in Praia, which we got to see from a couple different surrounding hilltops.


From this spot, one could see a huge valley of farm land, surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the other.


Finally, we made it to the volcano.  It is the only volcano in the world in which one can actually go inside, and 100 meters down at that.  The former spout of the volcano illuminated the cave with natural light, and even though it was sunny outside, it rained continually in the cave.  I went down the precarious, wet stairs and into the lush cavern, which was filled with tropical foliage and stalactites, and even a lake at the bottom.  If you can, imagine the climax scene of Harry Potter VI, when Harry and Dumbledore are in the cave with the lake and the island and all those creepy zombie ghosts are trying to get them.  That's exactly how it was down there, and it was awesome.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flashback


My mom has been taking a run down memory lane the last couple months, ever since I decided to make this trip.  She's been digging through old photos and reliving happy memories, taking every opportunity on the phone to tell me as much as she can about her homeland.  She and my dad have undertaken this great project to scan and send me lots of old photos, both from her childhood and from my two infantile trips to the Azores (at 6 and 21 months, I believe).  I wanted to share some of them with you.  Above is the lovely wedding photo of my mom's mother and father, and below, her father looking like quite the strapping young lad.



When I was really tiny, Avo would feed me, but once I got bigger I took it upon myself to feed him.


Below is baby Kelly, my mom, and my great-grandmother.  As mom said, three generations with one missing.


Below is the youngest picture I've seen of my mom.  At this point she's such a mom, it's really impossible to imagine her as a baby!


Here's her and her brother, (my padrinho) Carlos Albert, looking extremely well-behaved!  


When I was born, my parents and grandparents bought me a calf.  Just imagine, at one point in my life, I had my own cow. 


The island is full of farm animals, and as my grandfather had many, I got to do something most people only dream of doing: ride a six-legged horse.



On my second trip to the Azores, my godfather and his family, including my baby cousin Ashley, joined us.  There's lots of happy memories, photos and home videos of this trip.  We had lots of fun (I am told), riding on precarious carts and picking grapes for the harvest.





It's easy to understand why the following photo is one of my all-time family favorites.  I present to you, Padrinho in his purple shorts:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tourada a Corda


Well, I finally made it to my first bullfight (although it's not really a fight, but more of a taunting), which took place on a quiet residential street in Biscoitos, practically in people's front yards.  We went onto someone's property and they let us up on their scaffolding to sit on a tall stone wall overlooking the bulls' release point.


The event was late in the evening and the weather was chilly, but there was a good amount of people present to tease the bull.  Right behind me, in those four brown boxes, are the bulls just itching to get out.  I'd heard lots of stories of my uncles and my dad at these things and it was really exciting to see one for myself.


These are the pastores, who are in charge of the rope and the wrangling in of the bull.  You can tell they have a lot of fun doing this important job.


The first two bulls weren't terribly good (meaning they weren't ferocious killing machines) but each one got progressively more entertaining.


The best part of the Tourada a Corda, in my opinion, was watching the men.  The bull would be released into the deserted street and after a few moments of confusion, would charge down the street and out of our view.  At this point, all the men would jump down from their safe spots and saunter after the bull as if this was a display of courage, walking towards a bull who is running away in the opposite direction.  I couldn't keep myself from laughing.  Others were quite brave (stupid) and played with the bull:

video

The guy below was simply my favorite.  He was dressed his best, in perfectly ironed khakis and a collared shirt, with Ray-Bans perched on his perfectly gelled head and boat shoes gracing his quick feet.  Someone's trying to get the ladies' attention: only a real man can escape a bull and look good doing it.




Everyone goes to these things both hoping and dreading that the bull will get someone. What follows is probably the closest we got.  There was a group of ladies safely sitting on this wall (or so they thought) taunting the bull, when the bull decided he had enough and jumped up onto the wall, prodding at the ladies.  One lady scrambled backwards into the bushes, and it was as if they swallowed her as she tried to escape the bulls' unforgiving horns. 


The crowd was yelping nervously for a few seconds, until the bull got distracted and the lady sheepishly looked out from the bushes to check if the coast was clear.  Oh, it was so funny.