It has been often said that my archipelago is enchanted.
Rest assured, this is not a travel brochure, nor a devious plan to make you fall in love with my islands, nine of the many beauties of my home country, Portugal. This is a retelling of the life we have been having, since the dawn of times — a story of enchantment.
When you cast your mind upon your favourite childhood fairy tale stories: what pops up? High mountains, green pastures, happy people or low darkish foggy landscapes and hardened characters? Go on! Choose one. Wherever your imagination turns, I would wager, unbeknownst to you, that you are already setting your imaginary feet on the islands of my brave Azorean people.
We have outlived tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, land slides and hard rain. We also have had to live with the tough and rough damp hair made by close contact with the ocean. We have chased whales, bred cows, produced wine and tea and we have endured it all and we are still here.
For many years, due to political reasons, we were sort of kept from the world and our traditions and landscapes were for our eyes and enjoyment alone. However, the world evolved and so have we. (Some of us did, at least, but that is for another tale.)
For decades, we were just a destination for the homesick and the religious, those who had left us in search of a better life. Many accomplished so much shipping out on a tiny row boat, into our 10th island: the Americas. Many came back. The majority didn’t. For those of us who stayed, we were, for many generations to come, glad to be the “coming home islands”, the receivers of the life saving “barricas.” On my Island, S. Miguel, Sr. St. Cristo dos Milagres was the festivity that would bring our emigrants home, combining generations and stories into one long, sentimental and, sometimes, painful vacation weekend. During the celebrations, emigrants sought their entire life in our sale booths: clay figurines, men’s hats, little sugar candies shaped like chicken, cotton candy and lots and lots of lupin beans with our special pepper. Those were the days! For many decades, that experience was basically all that was known about us. Some outsiders even thought we lived in straw cabins and that we could, low tide permitting, walk towards the other islands or even to the mainland Portugal. We used to have a blast playing around with these “fictional facts.” (I won’t even start with our language, since that is for another tale. Trust me, my islands have limitless things for one to talk about.)
We have, as a people, nevertheless, evolved. But the basic feeling of belonging to foggy, isolated, majestical islands remains, regardless of how good our highspeed internet connection is, or how easy it is to travel abroad or even how quickly we might find that a foreign has just become our next door neighbour. These are all good things and those were all good things as well. Each time has had and still has its own value and we haven’t lost our basic values, yet.
The real reason we are enchanted is, undeniably, because our islands are made out of pure feeling. We care for our vibrant lagoons and lakes that live with an energy from deep down in the earth, a typical Azorean guttural energy. We care for our green mountains, up there, touching the sky and allowing us, lucky ones, to glide down or balloon up, as if we were the owners of the air itself. We care for our traditions, somehow kept secretly, so that we are sure to know just how fortunate we are, to have been born from this ground made of volcanic lava. We care for the next person, just as much we care for our own blood relatives.
You see, like any story from your favourite childhood book, we are enchanted because we walk these green fields, these landscapes, almost barefooted. We have been doing it, gracefully, for as long as we can reach back in time. We are a special kind of people because we come from a special kind of land. I’d say it completes a circle and it is such a full circle recognition that it is, therefore, a basic truth. Together, the islands and its people are (and have always been) an enchanted lot.
And now, perhaps, it’s time for this story to be yours.