FBT … Future Bullfighters of Terceira

Perhaps the best bullfight of the season…a field-based bullfight with younger children and smaller bulls

Brave lads tangle with younger bulls...getting ready for Future Bullfighters of Terceira
Brave lads tangle with younger bulls…getting ready for Future Bullfighters of Terceira

Of the dozens of street bullfights we’ve attended this summer season, none hold a candle to the one in the field behind my old house in Porto Martins. It was very young bulls (or maybe cows) and very young bullfighters (I wonder when girls/young ladies/women on the island will venture into the field?) but the average age was around 13-ish, I’m guessing.

Grass was wet, the animals and the people slipped, the umbrellas (used for egging on a bull) were severely battered, and more than one person ended up smacking into the bull, on the ground under the animal, and one of the handlers even had a horn rip his pants, much to the crowd’s delight.

If you’re not familiar, the horns of each bull are protected by screwing “caps” of brass onto the horns while they are still in their box. (I got to watch closely for once, and they actually used a pipe wrench to put it on and off) to protect the would-be matadors. Just as in the street bullfights, the animals are tethered to a long rope with six brave and true handlers helping guide the bull up and down the field, and they can attempt to restrain an “out of control” animal…but this rarely happens.

There are many traditions associated with these street bullfights, which brings entire communities together throughout the summer months. This field bullfight for younger people helps ensure that future generations will observe these same traditions. And it was exciting fun at the same time:)

Praia Festas…Let the Good Times Roll!

Float during Praia Fest Opening 2019
One of the majestic floats during Praia Festas 2019 Opening parade

This is the beginning night of Praia Festas, when thousands of Azoreans, European, American and Canadians converge in our happy little burg. Nightly parades, concerts, restaurants from all regions, large quantities of wine, gin, caipirinhas, and other adult beverages, and friends and family for one glorious week.

We started the evening with a Mexican dinner for neighbors. Our patio with a great view, flawless weather (slight breeze, sunlight, mid-80’s temperatures) and Sofia’s fantastic enchiladas, tacos, real American sour cream (thank you Nancy and Glenn), margaritas, Sangria, and fantastic tart (obrigada Lucia). Lots of food prep and cleaning (well, nothing’s perfect) and our fabulous neighbor Cristina’s help, everyone had a great time.

For me, after the margaritas ran dry, I resorted to my favorite Gin and Tonic with one GIANT ice cube which lasted all night (thank you Bill!).

Then we all went down to the festivals, crowds, parades, music, and floats. You can imagine, parking was a nightmare, but we had a great spot reserved for us (obrigado Jose Luis) and by the time we got home, we were dragging, happy, and slept well.

My darling wife wanted to come back to her home, have fun with her family, go swimming nearly every day and have coffee with her father, and enjoy the bullfights and festivals. She designed a house to facilitate large dinner gatherings, and have a magnificent view of the ocean and the town where she grew up. There have been many trials and tribulations (and more to come I’m sure) but last night, it all worked. Missing my girls, but still have a wonderful family night on the island. Muito Obrigada!!!

Gin and Tonic
Gin and Tonic with one GIANT ice cube!
Mexican Dinner
Mexican Dinner at Casa da Sonhos:)

The Sun Also Rises

Sunrise over Praia Da Vitoria
Seems like I see the sun set often here, we love the moon and the evening breeze, but usually I’m cloistered in my makeshift office on the computer when the sun comes up. Today I was making coffee and looked out the kitchen window…a really nice way to start the day:)

As a major portion of the United States battles record triple-digit heat, a slightly-warm day started with a pulse-stirring sunrise. So while I do miss the fast pace of life of the East Coast, there are some redeeming elements to life in the middle of the Atlantic.

We have had our share of excitement on Terceira this week. In the marina just below our house, authorities seized a sailboat (single mast, looks to be about 26-foot or so) and tore the boat apart to find nearly 500 kilos (a little more than one ton) of cocaine. The two sailors have been locked up. The boat has been impounded, and sources say the policia will soon burn the cocaine. None of this had any impact on the majority of the population; we sat on our beach catching some rays on the opposite side of the bay.

In all honesty, a major drug bust does not crush our idea of an island paradise. Traffic jams still consist of four or five cars and tracks and tractors waiting while a herd of cows goes down the street. We still have to wait a minute of two for a parking spot downtown. There are still long lines at the gas station…sometime three cars waiting at once.

So, with my apologies to Ernest Hemmingway, Errol Flynn, and Tyrone Power, I repeat my discovery for today…the Sun Also Rises…on another magnificent day in Terceira!

Opposite the sunrise, we had a rainbow over the Serra da Cume past our back yard.
Opposite the sunrise, we had a rainbow over the Serra da Cume past our back yard. Honestly I don’t remember ever seeing a rainbow with a sunrise before, but it was beautiful!

Gone….but never forgotten

The USCGC Eagle sails out of Praia da Vitoria, still flying the beautiful flag.
The USCGC Eagle sails out of Praia da Vitoria, still flying the beautiful U.S. flag. We spent many hours with the crew and cadets, including eating, drinking, hiking, touring, and standing in the rain. Seeing the flag makes us feel great about my past defending the U.S.A. and talking with the cadets makes me feel better about the future of the U.S.A.

With mixed emotions we bid farewell to the USCGC Eagle after participation in the Praia da Vitoria celebration of the U.S. 4th of July celebration. Apparently much of it was organized by the US Embassy Lisbon. I spent a great deal of time with the cadets (drinking in rain-soaked bars and hiking down island trails) and also talking with embassy, Camara da Praia, and base officials.

I expect that to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S State Department, this was mostly a training opportunity for the cadets and a Show of the Flag operation. To many of us living on this remote island in the Atlantic, this was a tremendous reminder of the country we love. Many hundreds of us visit our homeland occasionally, talk to loved ones there often, and watch day-old newscasts about what’s happening at home. We talk often (with some adult beverages involved) about the good, the bad, the great memories, the pain and the joy of our lives in America. Behind each face in each discussion are memories, some good, some painful, but each amplifying diverse emotions. This diversity is bound together by one thing which was on display for a few days in the harbor…our love of a great nation!

Thank you to every American tax payer that footed the bill for this visit. Lest we ever complain about how your tax dollar is used (of course, I never have:) ) we thank you for the pittance spent on this USCGC Eagle visit. I, for one, truly appreciate this reminder. And thanks again to Lee Greenwood for a tag line….

From the room with the view….the kitchen table:) Welcome U.S. Coast Guard!!!

USCG Cutter Eagle pulls into Praia da Vitoria for July Fourth Festivities
Today started as usual, sitting at breakfast she says “Looks what’s pulling into Port,” which I hear often, (we have truly one of the best views on Terceira of the Port). So I calmly train the telescope and a HUGE American Flag flutters into view. The three-masted, 295-foot USCG Cutter USCGC Eagle, a tall ship used to train Coast Guard Academy cadets, has joined tomorrow’s festivities!

Throughout the years as an Air Force enlisted, officer, government civil servant, and several other roles not mentionable, there have been a few defining imprints on my memory.

  1. Basic training and ROTC graduation ceremonies where friends and family came to see me take my oaths. Grandma Crall drove from Michigan to Texas to see me march and graduate at Lackland AFB. Major Don Bogue drove from Alabama to Wichita overnight to give me my commission oath.
  2. A C-130 finally (did I emphasize finally!) arrive in the uncharted parts of Honduras to lift my team out of a dirt runway where we’d spent hours wishing for Godfather’s Pizza from San Antonio, and got it…with ice cold cokes!
  3. Directing an F-15 Flyby of the Luxembourg American Cemetery for memorial Day observances and the guys from Bitburg AB executed THE PERFECT Missing Man formation.
  4. Retiring to our small island and then seeing the Stars and Stripes sail into harbor below our humble home the day before our troubled nation’s 2019 July 4th observance.

Maybe “Defining imprints” should be redefined as “things-you-never-thought-could-make-you-feel-better-and-then-you-learn-you-were-wrong.”

I’ve known some great “Coasties” in my time, top among them might be Admiral Salerno, Admiral Watson, Nick Pardi and Captain Fish, but to a guy sitting at breakfast on a small island in the Atlantic away from family and remembering many Independence Days in the far corners of the world, no one looked better today than those cadets bringing in the USCGC Eagle. None of them will ever know what I felt; and God willing, none of them will ever know where and how I’ve felt on many July Fourths, but they are absolutely the top of the United States military today. Some will be great leaders, some will lose interest, some will and leave their uniforms behind, but today, they are my greatest American Heroes.

Thank you, U.S. Coast Guard. And as Lee Greenwood sang to us in a hangar in Korea at the end a week-long combat exercise…”God Bless The U.S.A.”

When you take time to see the world, Terceira has some fantastic examples of the old and the new side by side

photo of Pico Alto Terceira geothermal plant next to antique farmer's barn on hiking trail.
Hours into a hiking trail, we crossed through fields of cows (some not too happy to see us) and then discovered this aging barn…next to the island’s 2017 four-megawatt geothermal plant harnessing subterranean renewable energy; to be the second largest binary geothermal plant in the world.

I love the juxtaposition of Terceira, I always have. From antiquated (maybe I should say more restrictive) dating protocols to donkey carts with milk cans in a parking meter zone, the old and the new live side by side and strongly influence each other.

I’m truly amazed when I visit Padre Candido’s grave in the Praia cemetery (Padre Candido performed every ceremony for my wife’s generation in the main church — baptisms, communions, confirmations, and funerals) where many visitors still are shrouded completely in black to visit their loved one’s graves. This year, across the street from the cemetery, is our newest restaurant, a Burger King with signs in English and the tallest, most non-traditional sign towering above the antique cemetery.

Recently we’re trudging through yet another cow pasture as part of another marked hiking trail. We head down a dirt trail and pass one of the hundreds of hand-built, stone barns which have served families and their cows for centuries. Behind one I hear and then see a geothermal electric generation facility – the second largest in the world when it opened in 2017. This system (trying to paraphrase some really tough words) harnesses the steam and pressures in the volcanic island to generate about 10% of the island’s electricity. And 50 feet away, farmers repair rock walls and old wooden gates to keep milk cows in their pasture.

Sometimes I wonder how the generations and technological advances exist. One anthropological measure of a culture explores how change and tradition interact. From my limited understanding of these wonderful people in this European environment, I have to admire how they go to church on Sundays and Holy days, and then drive both donkey carts and GPS-guided tractors to their fields to raise sustenance for their families.

It’s not always a perfect balance, and it’s not always peace and harmony. But it is working, and I’m having a magnificent time exploring and learning about how they maintain traditions and also capitalize on new technology. I’m learning more about my neighbors, my in-laws, and I’m even learning more about myself and America.

So when I get impatient and frustrated with stores are closed for lunch, or when the cows are blocking the road while I’m in a hurry, I force myself to remember that this island is not “backwards,” they are more advanced than I was when living in DC. They have evolved into a more balanced way of coping with life!

Meeting the nicest people is the strangest places

The view from Terceira's Pico Matius Simao
The view from Terceira’s Pico Matius Simao

After a wonderful (and very windy) family picnic yesterday, several of us decided to “walk off the calories” climbing to the top of nearby Pico Matius Simao, a tall rocky outcrop near Altares, towering above farmlands, villages, and the on the very edge of the Atlantic ocean. Up there we met a very friendly farmer who helped us identify distant sights, gave us directions to another great trail to hike, and described some of the recent storm damage which washed away streets in nearby villages. Never got his name, just a very friendly guy showing some Canadian friends around his island.

The next time I saw him he was desperately grasping a cement power pole on the main street while an angry bull tried to vent it’s hostilities on the guy hanging above the bull. Perhaps an explanation is in order?

After the man’s group left the Pico (in a classic VW Beetle – I’d say circa 1968 to 1970 or so) they were off to nearby Quatro Ribeiro to watch one of the islands 5 street bullfights for yesterday’s Portuguese holiday. It was a small crowd (about 1,000 or so), winds had died down somewhat, and four bulls. The first bull was easily tired out, the second charged toward a crowd behind a cement wall and broke a tip off a horn, and the third bull had energy and charged toward the same crowd, egged on by several skilful folks teasing with umbrellas and red cloth. The gentleman in question was leaning on a power pole in a yard about 1 meter above street level, protected by the cement wall, when the bull decided he’d had enough. Mr. Bull jumped over the wall, chased some of the folks around a nice family’s front yard, and then spied our farmer friend by the power pole. Bull charged, and our new friend clambered up the pole, where he hung on for about 3 minutes before the bull was pulled back into the street.

You’d have to understand the Terceira fascination with street bullfights (Search YouTube for Terceira Bullfights, there are many there!). Bullfights are an island tradition dating back to the middle 1400’s; they provide sport for the people, do not harm the bulls, a great social environment, a boost for local economies, a great chance for young guys (and some not so young) to show off for girls, young ladies and wives, spend a few hours and have days worth of conversation.

If someone had told me 25 years ago that I’d be sitting on a wall around a church built in 1451 watching a friendly farmer get “treed” by an angry bull for holiday fun, I would have been EXTREMELY skeptical. Yet here I am, loving it, sometimes having so much fun getting to know people, history and culture, and yes, drinking a bier or two with friends and family.

Makes me wonder who I’ll meet next, or where:)

Top of the Volcano…long way up and down:)

view from the top. Roche do Chambre
Seen this volcano crater from the nearby road many times…we decided to try the Trail Roche do Chambre (rated ‘medium”) and spent four hours celebrating nature’s beauty on the island. (There may have been a bit of cursing nature a few times!)

If you leave at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, you might miss the crowds. Family invited us along to enjoy another “medium” trail to the top of the volcano crater which takes up a large part of volcanic Ilha Terceira (the last eruption in this crater was in 1761). It is truly beautiful, truly inspiring, truly more than a “3-hour tour'” and truly more difficult than “medium” as tourists are told. But it was wonderful.

Loose rocks, disgruntled cows, high winds at the summit, ropes to help with the climb, looking straight down more than 700 meters, and puzzling over why there are a few trees much taller and straighter than the rest of the trees in the crater. One young lady only fell a few times, once into a deep crevasse, but nothing serious (brave, tough, and beautiful, that’s how these island woman are!). We saw dozens of different types of trees, soils, rocks, flowers, birds… all things which probably fascinated Darwin when he went to the crater September20, 1836. Beautiful. But then again, he was a lot younger than I.

We braved wind and sun, made it up and down, and pretty much arrived home exhausted. But what a fabulous trip with loved ones all loving nature! Can’t wait to do it again.

photo op with a unique tree along the trail...one of many!
Photo op on a unique tree along the trail.

Darwin was right…

He visited Terceira on the Beagle on 16 September 1836 and liked Terceira

When I announced I was retiring to this island, many many many (enough get the idea?) friends and family inquired regarding my sanity…seems no one thought I could just “retire,” as apparently some perceive it against my nature of staying busy. So I added that I would find something to occupy my mind … something besides gin and beaches.

My dear friend and colleague Vince provided me with a unique opportunity when he was researching where I would retire; Vince discovered a book by Patrick Armstrong from the University of Western Australia’s Department of Geology entitled Charles Darwin’s Last Island: Terceira, Azores, 1836. Vince also helped me get in touch with Professor Armstrong, who applauded my plan and sent me one of his last autographed copies of the 64-page book. Armstrong has written extensively on the voyages of the HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin.

My project to stay busy is to examine various accounts of the stop at Terceira (after five years at sea) before Darwin finally returned to England. My plan is to develop a presentation for tourists of Darwin’s stops around the island, his comments and impressions, and offer a better understanding of his work at Terceira. It seems Darwin liked the island, the geology, the flora and fauna, the people and culture. So do I. So to learn more about my adopted home, I will retrace his impressions. (To do the project justice, I must also learn more about some of Darwin’s observations in geology, botany, natural history, evolution, and socioeconomic cultures).

As a side note, Author Patrick Armstrong visited Terceira for his book in May of 1992, unbeknownst to me. At that time I was stationed at Lajes AB with the American Air Force and was busy planning my wedding to the most beautiful girl on the island in just a few months. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the professor and I dined at the same places and visited the same landmarks simultaneously and didn’t know it.

So if you’re used to being active, using both brain and technology to make some contribution to our civilization (no matter how small), and retiring, I suggest you look at your skills, find a project which keeps them sharp, and set a leisurely course for a project to give you something to think about … and if it helps you learn more about your new environment, so much the better.

When in Rome…

Bull in streets watching wife and neighbor.
Bull! Our first bullfight of the season, in our village of Porto Martins…the wife and neighbor sat atop a wall and watched as four bulls came out, one at a time, not to hurt anyone but to dodge brave spectators. Friends, neighbors, strangers, many folks came out, shared sentiments and cervasas, and enjoyed a peaceful two hours together. None of the bulls are harmed in any way, and always are tethered by rope to six guys.

I’ve never been a huge fan of one of the island’s main entertainments; nearly every village hosts several street bullfights each year. According to my friend from Taxi Amigo Hildeberto, they’ve been hosting street bullfights on Terceira since 1622. That’s nearly 500 years of tradition, so who am I to not embrace a time-honored tradition? As usual, we had a wonderful time, there is some suspense and action, punctuated by some lulls to grab a beer and bifanas, catch up on neighborhood or international politics, and enjoy the scenery. This bullfight is along the street bordering the ocean, outside the community center and a grand old church.

Street “bullfights” are kind of a misnomer, the bulls are not “fought” but rather taunted by brave souls who demonstrate their agility by running and jumping out of the bull’s way. Spectators line the streets and are kept safe by sitting on high walls or behind them. Each bull, before it is let out of the wooden crate they are delivered in, has a rope placed around it’s neck and six guys hang on to the rope to keep the bull in check and to “guide” him along so everyone along the street gets to see the show. Then the bulls are led back into their crates, the bulls return to their mountain home to graze and do what bulls do, while everyone walks home and discusses which bulls had more temper, which person did the best job of evading upset bulls (or didn’t, but usually no ambulances are called) and what everyone was wearing, how fast the kids are growing, and the latest futebol scores.

I try to embrace everything when I move around. I volksmarched in Germany, sat around the fire and ate almonds in Tunisa, sunned on beaches in Spain, danced in “A”-town” outside Kunsan, and made booze runs to “wet” counties to stock party barges in Arkansas. Some things are naturally enjoyable, some things are an acquired taste, some things are just necessary to make the warden happy. I may never “sign up” for something, but I always find some friends, some comfort, and some new joys when I try to broaden my horizons. Variety is the spice of life:)

Volksmarching island style…without the medallions

Three sisters on the San Sebastao trail posing at the Fort for the Little Fishermen
Hiking trails dot the island, and longer summer days are a fantastic chance for families and friends to get together, laugh hysterically, and get some exercise. Fair warning…hiking up some of these hills take a lot of energy:)

Living many years in Germany, I have Volksmarched in hundreds of villages, always enjoying the company, the camaraderie, wine, bier and soup. I still have many medallions by which to remember these walks. (Try explaining to the wife why we need to keep these memories and move them around the world for decades while they stay in a box in the garage!) Terceira boasts many magnificent marked walking trails, so we forego the medallions and take long leisurely (mostly) walks with friends, family, and folks we’ll get to know better.

Birds, cows, bulls, scenic shorelines, waves, distant sailboats, and historic buildings are commonplace. Seems like every turn on the trail brings us to an old barn, fort, and farmers caring for their herds. Ancient stone “line shacks” built generations ago for people and equipment to brave high winds and rain while tending herds of milking cows, horses and donkeys. Historic forts along the coast bear witness to the defense of islands centuries ago, and shrines, memorials, and crosses bear witness to generations of hard-working people and their struggles, sacrifices and triumphs. Walking these trails also gives a retiree time to think about our lives; for example, I record most of my struggles, sacrifices and triumphs on digital media…so generations from now, will my grandchildren (sem dica filhas, não apressando ninguém) miss the sun, fresh winds, and exercise of these walks)? Will they miss climbing those damn high hills?

Speculation is academic, I learned many years ago to live in the moment. I’ll forego the medallions, forego the bier, brötchen and wurst (sadly), and strike out on a new trail to make new memories. Evening hikes on Terceira with family and friends make new memories and I recommend them highly. They make wonderful moments, enjoyable blog content (I hope), exciting digital photos, and that’s important to me right now!

View of Porto Martins from the top of the trail near Tres Marias, Terceira, Azores, Portugal.
View of Porto Martins from the top of the trail near Tres Marias, Terceira, Azores, Portugal.

First guests at Casa da Sonhos

First US visitors spent a week seeing the sites
Visiting from the states for their first overseas travel, our dear friends spent a week touring our island and got home safe and sound with many many many photos. What a joy and great memories!

Like nearly everything, retiring overseas has it’s pros and cons. Visiting family and friends often means living out of a suitcase, this time for a month. We visited several old towns, family, friends, neighbors, loved ones acquaintances, and business associates. Some of the “pros” included watching a daughter graduate and meeting her friends, spending some quality time with another daughter, and getting to try several exciting new rental cars. Some of the “cons” include never enough time with everyone, never enough time to add another name to the list of visits, bad Internet connections, spending too much money, and sleeping on several different floors, beds, couches, and air mattresses.

But this trip also brought home with us a couple of friends who we’ve travelled with, ridden motorcycles with, camped with, drunk with, and worried with. Though they never had travelled outside the North American continent, they had pledged to come see our retired life on the island, and they did! We had a wonderful time showing them around, they tried new foods, made new friends, and made us very very happy. They braved days of air travel, TSA lines (Boston…arghhh) and they rode in boats, trains, and numerous cars and trucks. We laughed, cried, and can’t wait to see them again.

We’ve decided that travel back home is great, memories are great, Kodak moments are great…but the best thing by far is realizing how many friends and family are supporting you, even with an ocean or two between you and them! The only thanks they want is for us to be happy and that’s pretty invaluable!

“Visiting” homes…you can’t step in the same river twice, but seeing friends and family is great…so is coming home!

Living overseas offers a unique opportunity to return to where friends and family live, catch up on the good and bad news of everyone’s live, share news of the new life you have, and then COME HOME:) Even with mostly rain in the U.S., we made new friends, saw our daughters grow and excel, hug and kissed dozens of great folks, and then survive several flights, airports, and we’re home, enjoying a great view, a visit from some great friends, and the joys of unpacking.

Coming home always gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I succeeded in pushing myself, affecting lives (hopefully positive) and returning to a refreshed outlook on life.

Travelling is great fun; coming home is greater:)

Visiting the states

Traveling in Michigan…the Air Zoo with friends is the perfect way to spend a rainy day.

Kalamazoo Michigan Air Zoo…a great part of living overseas is coming back to friends and family occasionally. During days of pouring spring rains (and snow!) visiting the Zoo’s magnificent aircraft and history museum with Dan has been one highlights…great memories past and present!

Working at the Kalamazoo Gazette, we watched the Kalamazoo Air Zoo grow and become even more interesting, professional, and fascinating. Years in the USAF, the growing list of static display aircraft and well-prepared professional exhibits are both reminiscent and inspiring.

The only thing I can think of that tops it is a cold brew with old motorcycling buddies (and perfect hosts) and visiting colleagues, family, church, and sharing their triumphs, disappointments, joys and sadness. Bragging about retired life in the Azores is just a part of the excitement:)

Special thanks to everyone who has helped us on this journey, past, present, and future.

You’re always welcome to visit…but better call first:)

Neighbor’s alarm system!

We love it when folks come over to visit…nearly every day now. We’re the last house on the left…and to get to us, you have to go past our buddy (I haven’t had the guts to pet him yet, but he does seem to not get SO upset when we come to visit).
Like most folks here, we have an alarm system, we have some cameras, we have some locks, and we have some other protective measures. Not really needed here, we always feel very safe and secure. We have walls around each house, but they’re more for neighbors to lean on and talk (vis a vis Tim Allen’s show “Tool Time”) than for security. (Generations of tradition were when courting, a guy could come lean on the wall and talk to a girl, but there better ALWAYS be a wall between you! In my youth here, I learned that hard way…there is always a watchful maternal eye on you while you’re leaning on the wall). In my day I have lived inside compounds with concertina, barbed wire, glass shards, electric fences, and armed guards. Never, ever, have I felt more secure than I do with my buddy barking when anyone moves on our street.
So always feel welcome, but as you drive down the road listening to the many barking dogs, remember we have our canine companion keeping an eye out for us. Call first…just to be on the safe side:)

Immersion…understanding the past wherever I am seems to help me adjust

Sometimes your parents were right…mom and dad always told me to “play to your strengths.” One of mine is history, so whenever I travel, I try to learn more about what happened in the past to better understand people and culture. It’s proven helpful in my past and led to some small triumphs in business, government, and romantic situations in Europe, the orient, Africa, central America, and especially in my new, retired residence in Terceira.

A group of “American” and “Azorean” friends spent a day in the city of Angra do Heroismo at the museum, which I hadn’t visited for about 20 years. We wandered through professionally-styled exhibits about the past 600 years on our island; I learned new things and many of the folks who’ve lived here their whole lives learned some new things as well. After a great lunch at Chico’s (yes, we did get to know the local cuisine and help the wine economy as well) the warden and I had dinner with friends from the states who’ve retired here, as well as a wonderful Portuguese couple (he’s an artist and historian) who know a lot of the island history as well. We talked well into the night, learning more about each other, the language (I’m slower than most) the culture, our personal histories, our likes and dislikes. We made plans to spend more time together and to visit some sites near our new home which may have evidence of residents here well before what has been recorded.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed in a new place, or even underwhemled, play to your strengths. Be brave enough to go to a sports field, automotive collection, even the local taxi stand where the drivers just talk while queued up, and offer to buy a cup of coffee. For many of them, it’s a distraction; for you, it might be following age-old advice from your parents…which I never did when I was a kid:)

the choir loft of the church, now the Museu do Angra do Heroismo
The “gang” taking a quick rest touring the Museu do Angra do Heroismo, an old church and convent on the Placa Velho (old main square). A wonderful day of history and new friends.

More high winds…it’s beautiful!

Moon over Praia Bay Lighthouse -After a hard day of mowing the grass, battling with computers, washing the dishes...this is better than "Miller Time"
After a hard day of mowing the grass, battling with computers, washing the dishes…this is better than “Miller Time”

Sometimes I have to stop and think…or go walking along the boardwalk with my lady in the moonlight.

When anyone asked me about retirement before I came over here, I’d tell them “Not less problems, just different problems.” I was right. But since I’m a “glass is half empty” kind of guy, I never mentioned “but the rewards are better.”

Different problems. Health insurance isn’t what we thought. More bureaucracy than we ever dreamed possible. Never enough money. Different cultural expectations…traditionally you say to everyone who walks into a shop while you’re in there or they think I’m a stuck up American, little things like that.

But the rewards. Besides gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, winds whipping your wheelbarrow across the back yard (yes, darling, I’ll go move it back after I finish this post!), and the invigorating howl of winds, you get fresh fish for lunch, watch the donkeys on the mountaintop graze, go shopping with your neighbor, and a fresh ham and cheese sandwich and shot of coffee for breakfast.

So I admonish anyone thinking about retiring, moving your family, traveling to a new place…keep things in perspective but be realistic…not no problems, just different problems…and better rewards!

Fresh — the food, the weather, the air…just about everything:)

Lunch - Chuscharro, red and white wine, fresh bread, fabulous company and a great view.
Lunch – Chuscharro, red and white wine, fresh bread, fabulous company and a great view…it’s worth all of the adjustments!
Organic soup fixins .. organic goes without saying. Carrots and broccoli picked about 15 minutes ago up the road in Fonte Bastardo.
Organic soup fixins .. organic goes without saying. Carrots and broccoli picked about 15 minutes ago up the road in Fonte Bastardo.

So sometimes people ask if we miss the fast food in the states. I say “not too much.” The other day the warden leaves me to work on the computer, takes off to get some fresh food for lunch (braving high winds and horizontal rain) and comes home with the lunch above. Everything cost about 10 euros ($12) and was good for about three great meals, my favorite soup (sopa da ceunora – carrot soup). Leisurely lunch, sun comes out, watch last night’s NBC Evening News, and then take a quick walk (before the rain comes back!). Not sure it gets much better than this!!!

Happy Carnival; Mardi Gras;

No matter what it’s called, enjoy with friends and family!

Not sure of the story, or the Freguesia they’re from, or even what some of the jokes or songs were about, but the audience enjoyed their work and enjoyed it together!

Many people ask what do you do for fun on the island. During the first week of March, on Terceira we do the same thing most Christian cultures do…we gather with friends & family and enjoy Carnival … as only the Azores can!

Preparing for Ash Wednesday and Lent, much of the Christian world has parades, dances, (some drinking) and especially laughter, merriment, and a joy and respect for life. On Terceira, I have enjoyed parades through main streets, poetry, concerts, comedies, and each Freguesia (village) around the island hosts many “Dança”

We get together with friends and travel the few kilometers to each Freguesia’s “Casa do Povo” (House of the People — or Community Center) where volunteer community groups from all over the island perform. (Last night in Juncal we watched about 60 Americans from Cambridge, MA, with roots on the island return to perform). It’s amazing; powerful, fun, and inspiring. For a few hours, many (not all) put up their cell phones, sit with grandparents, little children, teens, young parents — all to sit tightly packed in folding chairs and watch performances.

I sat through many (some funny, some musical, some ‘less than appealing to me’ ) and tried to find a way to describe them, both literally and figuratively.

Figuratively, I find them inspiring. Positive. Empowering. Old people, youngsters, lawyers, farmers, school teachers, bartenders…everyone is sitting there laugh, humming, swaying, dancing, and enjoying.

Literally, I had more challenge to describe it. Late last night (very very late) I hit on it…it’s vaudeville! I wasn’t sure, so I checked with my buddy Julian: Wikipedia says: vaudeville is a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation. It was originally a kind of dramatic composition or light poetry, usually a comedy, interspersed with songs or ballets.

On Terceira, each 45-minute performance is a volunteer group, often from the same village, who sing, dance, make their costumes (very elaborate and refined) and ignore stage fright aside to harmonize, recite, dance, tell jokes, and often memorize 45 minutes of dialog, to the enjoyment of friends and strangers.

These folks have fun, work hard, learn and pass on skills, thoughts, humor, love, and community. Personally, I’m not sure what the ancients had in mind for Carnival, but in my teeny weeny mind, this is a major part of it. And it’s a part of a different culture that I’m really enjoying!