The Azores islands lie here where the tectonic plates of the three major continents of Europe, Africa and America grind, push and shove. Here earth’s entrails spew out molten rock and built a submarine wall that is actually the longest submerged mountain range in the world, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This submarine mountain range extends from Greenland, passes through Iceland, flows between America and Europe, Africa and South America, then, moves down to the very tip of Africa, where it, next, turns East at the Cape of Good Hope and stretches onward to the Indian Ocean.
After five to six hours of flight from Boston, of spying below and endless blue mass of the Atlantic, approaching the islands, we think we are reaching a gigantic roadwork in the middle of the Ocean. Here the vast surface of the Atlantic opens up into gigantic mounds that pile up as if dug out by giant ocean gophers. Then, as our plane descends, the islands take on the semblance of an oversize Monument to Earth, a natural Stonehenge that rises from the bottom of the ocean and has us spell bound until we land.
These islands lie smack on the Mid Atlantic Ridge and are in the crossroads (the cross seas), of the New and Old World. It is here where north meets south and east meets west, and vice-versa. A person could say, they are a compass rose in Celtic knot, where they are in the southern part of north and the northern part of south; in the eastern part of west and western part of east of the Atlantic Ocean. A king Arthur’s reality, time warped in the middle of nowhere, this magic lava rubble of emerald meadows and mountain ridges, marks the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, give it an arcane, magic quality. These are the Azores the place where flat Earth became the globe.
On this outpost of the Portuguese sea crusade is where I live, and where I was born. Surrounded by the blue desert of the Atlantic, each island is a luxuriant emerald gem, a green refuge in the middle of the blue indigo vastness. There is here a bond of the people with this vast body of water we call our home. This archipelago once known as the Islands of Mist, the Flemish Isles or the Isles of Prince Henry, the Navigator, are an Avalon reality that is a two hour flight away from Lisbon and five and a half from New York, about one third of the way to America. Removed from any known continent, to the Azorean people, each of the archipelago’s nine islands is a virtual mainland. The rugged and often mountainous landscape gives us the impression of living not on landlocked islands, but on vicarious continents to the power of nine, a green wonderland.
These islands are so green that even tourists who have visited Ireland admit that, definitely, the Azores are greener than Ireland year long. Like Ireland, Scotland and Galiza, north of Portugal, the landscape has something Celtic. Celtic are the Atlantic wind swept rich green meadows, the rolling pastures, the hills and mountains, the lichen covered stone walls, and windy roads. This is the North Atlantic’s very Secret World, a green and blue, non-tropical paradise
South of this island, on the Island of Sao Miguel, called the emerald isle, is exactly where I was born. That is this was the island thought to be on the very brim of the flat world back in time. It was a violent world of sudden volcanoes and earthquakes, of boiling fumaroles and hot springs, of sulphur pits and rising and submerging earth, combined with the Mid Atlantic extreme humidity and gale force storm winds every day in the winter time. For that reason the settlers gave it the name of Saint Michael, the island that would have as a protector the angel that fights hell itself. The people of this island were also fittingly nicknamed the “coriscos,” or daredevils, for being tough, short-tempered people who in their love of life dared the very harsh elements that surrounded them and managed to make a living on this brim of hell world itself.
Being a “Corisco,” from my earlier living on that island, I remember my home which faced the Atlantic Ocean. I remember the weak sallow sun winters when dolphins paraded in front of our line of view, frolicked their way through the surface of the ocean in amusing marine acrobatics, elegant somersaulting and pirouetting. Ones with them, watching their fun made us want to take off, leave our island oasis and follow them freely through the open waters of the Atlantic.
From our upstairs windows we also saw ships come and ships go. Prisoners of this blue enclosure of the Atlantic, we were the Atlantic’s as the Atlantic was ours, and even though we wanted out of here, when we moved, we moved over to lands close to the Atlantic Ocean; lands, altogether, never too far from a combination of the watery element and green pastures nearby, be it in Bristol, Tiverton, Providence, Newport, Cape Cod, Hyannis or other seaside towns and villages of the New England states.
Central Atlantic Islanders, we had this intrinsic urge or bond with the world out there. Like the Inuit of Alaska, who called themselves, “Inuit,” meaning the “People,” when around them there was hardly anyone but bears, seals and whales, we, too in our Mid-Atlantic isolation, felt a strong bond to the world. We knew no one else but ourselves and, of course, the many ships that docked on some of our ports. Our concept of Portugal, actually, was our very island. We were Portugal, and we were Europe, even though, the majority of us had never been either to Portugal or anywhere in the old continent. In fact, there was a law that prohibited the free movement of people’s in Portugal, so that any of us would rarely travel or resettle on another island. That contributed to micro-cultures within the archipelago of the Azores, or a nine-folded reality of the Azores, each island claiming to be the Azores in its own way. That is the reality even today, when being on another island, is like being on a totally different world, a different Azores altogether.
What we, really, were not, and we were well aware, was America, and America was a greater magic than the Azores themselves. America was the magic California, New York, the lands of snow and ice, all in one, a land with a powerful allure. It was associated with money, cars, Hollywood movies, plenty of everything under the sun, food, lots of food, wealth, lots of wealth. Through the photos people sent back to the islands, America spelled progress, comfort, freedom, and glamor. It was a place of bicycles, toys galore, refrigerators, plush cars, warm homes with comfy sofas and arm chairs, TV’s, good tasting candy and sweet smelling gum, comfortable clothes, women who wore heavy lipstick; a place where one would be protein enriched plump (fat being something desirable in those days). It was a land of wooden houses, of piles of snow, of wooded surroundings everywhere, of “Cheese!” smiles and more smiles, a happy, wealthy, self-assured realm. Who, therefore, in the Azores did not dream of moving to America in those days? Isolated and neglected by Portugal, America was like a natural extension of these islands. It attracted us like a magnet. Fall River, New Bedford, Providence, Boston, Newport, Bristol, Tiverton, Taunton, Lowell, Pawtucket, California became household names here. The impact of America on these islands was such, that there is not one Azorean here on the island today that does not have a relative or an acquaintance living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, that is the reality. America became, indeed, part of the Azores 1960’s and 1970’s warp and woof.
Then, one day in 1968, it was our turn. We moved on to Fall River, Massachusetts and the world would never again be the same.
Leaving the Mid-Atlantic Ridge reality, it was like arriving at a new flat land world, an expanse that took the place of the deep wide ocean and offered us an Ocean of possibilities. Immigrants, then we quickly learned what America was really all about; being new there, we, surely, did not take It for granted. We let go of our roots, we started speaking and thinking American. We were grafted to America, America was us.
Funny is that we soon perceived that America was made of islands too. There we were the “Portuguee,” the French Cannocks, from Canada, the Polacks, the “Italiano” and the Irish. For one, we started paying attention to K’s, Y’s and W’s, letters that did not exist in our alphabet. Going for a ride, felt like being one of those dolphins out there when we were back in the Azores, diligently trying to figure out the world of Americans through the billboards and signs we read. Coming from a wet world, America was a dry expanse, a world tangent to ours, a New England woodland green ocean, removed from us by centuries of progress and dry land imbued with the spirit of Indians and glaciers of yore.
America was, thus, as we understood it, put together of many ethnic groups or pockets of people who like Lego pieces came together under one America for all. There were the different neighborhoods, and ethnic events that proved that America was a mosaic of cultures, really, with a very strong, sometimes over bloated patriotic strand that kept us all together.
Like a Christmas spruce with a central shaft secured to a tree support, with branches covered with tinsel and bright lights of all colors that was America. The base, was, of course, America’s history of the War of Independence and the gargantuan efforts to break away from an old time system as that of oppressive kings and repressive England. It was Americas’s brand new history of independence and democracy.
The Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas time were three of its most significant highlights and the belief in its own greatness was something that made It tick, made us want to tick to. America was a young maverick of a country, and to have grown up in America was great! At the same time, we kept a penchant for the islands and people, the land from where we had come. How could we not?
Today, after having lived in Massachusetts and for about two decades in Central Europe, in the Netherlands and Germany, I returned full circle to these islands. Here, I realize that I am not from here any longer; that I do not fit here. The world culture caught up with the Azores, for sure, and the Azores are no longer what they used to be. These are not the islanders we once were. This is more like a shallow continental, obsessive compulsive consumer society which has been spoiled by the recent rapid affluence brought about by the adherence of Portugal to the European Union.
The music, customs and habits are those of any city in mid America, London or Paris, the prices on anything, as well. That is, the global culture has turned the islanders into consumers of anything and everything. Here too is the realm of cell phones, Ipods, Facebook, the social nets, and whatever is out there in the deep wide world. They crave for the latest, the best quality, the most expensive many another ultra-technological gadget, toy or piece of equipment. Low in self esteem, they have a inferiority complex, that makes them want to vie with the more affluent and powerful Northern part of Europe minus the discipline, hard work and moderation. The taste, therefore, here, as anywhere else in the big capitals of the world, is for anything extravagant, excessive, wasteful and pretentious. Having been for many decades the poorest country of Europe, it now exhibits a progress that defies some of their other realities, so that, for example, they are forcing everyone to use the online services for government purposes, when a good portion of the people are not ready for it yet. It is a technological age bureaucracy that borders on technological Fascism of some sort. Much is done through vanity, to prove their prominence and self-importance.
Unfortunately, what the Spaniards weren’t able to do century after century, in only about three decades, Brussels did. As a result of this new culture there is the drug and break-ins scene, a world of corruption and cultural excesses of a society receiving subsidies for everything they need and beyond. The looseness and the indulgence of the inner city infected the minds and customs of the people here and the simple, hardworking and unassuming Azorean atmosphere is gone.
The truth is, today’s islanders do not wish to leave the Azores any more. The They say their America is here, that they have no need or desire for America, that America is not what it is cracked to be — they surely have turned their backs on America, but they are doing the same to their age old values and Beliefs. While they definitely became more affluent and updated with the rest of Europe, they lost on humility, on honesty, on integrity. Proud global age people, they are an inside out society; one subservient to global trends and global mores; servants, if not slaves to their own self-indulgence, vanity and hedonism. Spoiled by subsidies and government hand-outs they make up a “Schau und Glanz” society, one led by greed, arrogance and an exaggerated sense of self importance.
Yet, what fascinates me more on living back here in the Azores is the History of the Age of Discovery, our history ‘s rich past.
Here born, although the sea is what shapes our character, we also have a great attachment to the land, for after all, in a time of famine as was the time of the Hundred Years and the Iberian Wars in Europe, everyone who moved here was looking for a peaceful place, a place away from constant armed conflicts, simply, a patch of land to farm and feed their family. We, Azoreans were, therefore, a product of an agrarian society, one attached to the fields, devoted to self sufficient farming and cows, lots of cows; while dreaming to one day better our lot somehow in the city or by moving somewhere else whenever possible.
People who lost touch with the old continent, many of the names around here are the only residual evidence of our origins. De Melo, my name, probably comes from somewhere close to where the caravelles sailed out, from the city of Lisbon or its surroundings. It also points to a place near the highest point of Portugal, called the village of Melo in the very center of Portugal. Some other names were translated into Portuguese from Flemish and French like the van Hagen into Silveiras, van Huerte into Horta, van Brugge to de Bruge, Breton to Bretao, Franc into Franco, Bernard into Bernardo, Ormond into Ormonde, Brun to Brum, and so on. Others have remained the same, like the Bettencourt, Fischer, Wallenstein, Weber, Schneider, etc. The Spanish invasion here for sixty years from 1582 to 1640 left names like Toledo, Borba and Avila. This was indeed, a first de facto European melting -pot, the place where people came together from different places in Portugal and Europe and from here spread the world over, especially to lands of Brazil Hawaii, Bermuda and North America.
Then, just like the seas around us, the more remote the island, the rougher, the less fluent the language is. Sao Miguel, the island where I came from, for example, has a very strong French accent, which points to the influence of people from Bretagne. One of the towns is even named Bretanha after Brittany, Bretagne in France. On another island, the island of Faial, more affected by the ingression of the people of Flanders, there is a town called the Village of the Flemish, or the Flamengos for the same reason.
A world detached from ours, although we felt we were Portugal and Europe, we were a people turned to the West. Portugal and Europe were not the direction of our ambitions. West, to the New World, was indeed the only direction we knew for centuries. Two hundred and sixty years ago it was to the southern part of Brazil, especially to the State of Santa Catarina that our people moved to. The king of Portugal himself, promoted this mass resettlement at that time to make sure that through an intensive settlement of the southern part of Brazil, the Spaniards would not encroach or take over that region. My own Great-Grandparents settled in Brazil and lived there many years before they returned to the islands. For a long time, Brazil was the Hy Brasile of Celtic lore. It was our destiny as we were Brazil’s.
At another time in the past, waves of Azoreans moved on to Hawaii and Bermuda, while others boarded the whaling ships that came by here from the New England states, and doing so, started a flow of people to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the three most sought after destinations in New England for the Azoreans. With the Gold Rush, we, then, moved on to California and in the early twentieth century, to Montreal, Ontario, Toronto, Quebec, Vancouver, B.C. and other cities in Canada.
To Brazil we brought our language and our customs, our Carneval, our religiosity, our Holy Spirit Cult, you name it. To Hawaii we took a musical instrument which was the forerunner of the ukulele. We also brought sweet bread and pineapple there. To America we brought our labor and our spirit of endeavour and adventure. From the Far East, we brought the hydrangea, camellias, North folk Island pine trees, tea plantations, orange trees, Japanese rose bushes and a ginger like lily plant that covers the hills here in September. From America, we brought news of our realization outside these islands, of a brand new country which made individual progress possible; gave everyone an opportunity to a better standard of living, the confidence of being financially independent and holding a sense of accomplishment impossible on the islands.
Portuguese outposts, these islands, are the islands of Prince Henry, the Navigator, the man, the prince, the leader of the Order of Christ in Portugal, the former Order of the Templars in disguise. On these remote islands, removed from every continent, south of the sinking of the Titanic, and north from the Sargasso seas, we, here, are linked to a time in history when the world unfolded and we sailed the seven seas. They are the islands of the Finisterre, a Finis Mare, an end of the world and sea reality, islands of fire and brimstone, a place where the secrets of the Atlantic Ocean were first unlocked and where flat world turned into the globe as we know it today.
After the immediate settlement of the islands, when cattle, pigs and goats were brought in and allowed to open up the land for humans, families from different regions of Portugal and Europe wandered in. This was followed by an era of wheat and woad, when the Azores became the granary of the Age of Discovery and woad, a plant used as dye, was exported to Flanders. Then came the Age of the Orange groves, when the English came and oranges were sent from here to England galore. Portugal, in fact, became the first western country that brought oranges from the Far East, namely China and the first to use of oranges to fight scurvy on their world voyages. As a result, Portugal was quickly associated with oranges to a point that many Arabic countries, countries where the Portuguese stopped on their voyages to and from India, started naming their oranges for the very name of Portugal, portugalo, an orange.
Now, during this Age of Discovery, one of the methods used by Prince Henry’s school was the methodical recording of information. That is, thanks to this School of Navigation Europe wide, captain logs and minute to minute reporting were for the first time introduced and became the standard operation procedure with the navies of all countries from then on up to the present. Each island was, by the decree of the Prince, governed like an actual ship, by a “Captain Donatory” in charge of a Captaincy that saw to it that the island each one was in charge of, was rightfully being settled and explored. Ironically, however, the secret gimmicks plots and intrigue played by the Templars marked the Age of Discovery as well. That is, while all efforts were made to scientifically, methodically keep track of all that was done and said, when all the information was recorded and shared as no other time before that era, it was also a time when much information was deliberately withheld or deceptively maneuvered to misguide and mislead if not everyone else, Spain for sure. That was an Age of deceptive hide-and-go-seek strategies, for which the Portuguese, under the order of Christ, (the Templars in disguise) became the best of players. It was a Tom and Jerry reality, where little Portugal, Jerry, had to take care of itself the best way it could, through trickery and artful, even devious scheming; through the withholding and altering information for some ulterior end, unknown today.
Columbus, himself, comes across as a wily character, one who was completely at home in Portugal, spoke the language, married into a noble family and was never thought of as a foreigner here in Portugal. When he moved to Spain, he was referred to as the Portuguese. No one ever called him the Man form Genoa, as it was customary to nickname foreigners those days, like El Greco. He is even suspected to have been of Jewish-Portuguese ancestry from a Portuguese-Jewish community in the region Genoa or Livorno, just to the South of Genoa, in Italy. Some even say that he is not even that, but that he was a noble from the region of Alentejo, from the town of Cuba in Southern Portugal and that was actually the reason for his naming one of the islands he discovered by that very name. He wrote Portuguese and Spanish with a Portuguese flair. He never used Italian to express himself, nor did he show any attachment to Genoa whatsoever.
So, the history of our islands, subject to this dynamics of deception and intrigue, points to an Age when not everything was revealed: it was a world where the powerful through Machiavellian stratagems ruled and the people had no choice, no voice, and no right to the knowledge of the games that were being played on them. After all, this was also the age, when spies, all foreigners, walked the plank or were sent to the pyre by the Inquisitors; the people were a rabble with no inborn direction and the court and the Church alone determined everyone’s destiny.
Europe, being in those days a theatre of war and of constant turmoil, of knightly forays and religious fever, of total waywardness best described by H.J. von Grimmelhausen’s The Adventurous Simplicissumus, was a de facto nightmarish scenario of many a battle and skirmish, a land of scoundrels, villains, cutthroats, of shrewd Jews- made new Christians, noble scoundrels, and simpleminded rogues everywhere. This was a time of religious zeal and roguish attitudes. Deep inside humanity wanted out and away from it all. Here, these islands in the middle of the Atlantic were the very first hope of escape from the quagmire of the times, and our people were for the most part that submissive rabble majority, interspersed with many a rapacious ruffian, cutthroat or thug, over zealous sailors or sea knights, greedy lords, petty nobles and shrewd foreigners who dared to break away from it all, and so we remain and are, even today.
This was Europe’s very own “Gold Rush.” It was the Rush of the European Spirit, tired from war, hungry for change, craving for the lands of dreams, of gold and spices, the Far East and India, the unknown frontiers of Prince Henry’s new world. One of the activities of the Flemish when they arrived here, was exactly to look for diamonds and gold which they thought were abundant in the Azores.
Through here, the Portuguese were able to mount its wide world empire, the first where the sun never set. It was the Portuguese to really first reach the Far East, lands of China and Japan, the first Europeans to settle on lands like Timor and Macao, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was through the Portuguese Jesuit influence, that Vietnam, for example, picked up on a phonetic alphabet and the Chinese set their days of the week numerically starting with day of the Lord, Sunday and then Second, Third, Fourth and so on Days, Portugal being the only European country that does that. It is thanks to the influence of both the Portuguese Jews and the Jesuits that Portuguese is today, after English and Spanish, the third most spoken European Language of wide world span.
Having in Spain its arch enemy, Portugal’s alliance with England, the oldest and longer European Alliance since 1373, was a reality even older than Port wine. Prince Henry, himself, was the son of the House of Lancaster and the king of the House of Avis. In England the Portuguese found their staunch partners and protectors. At the Treaty of Windsor, both countries renewed the age old treaty and promised an eternal partnership. It was thanks to that treaty that the Americans through the bequest of England was allowed to open a Base here on the island of Terceira back in the 1941’s. The Portuguese government being a Fascist government during World War Two, did not align with the American presence here, but the Treaty was explicit, and the Fascist government bonded to England for protection of Portugal’s own worldwide empire, had no choice but to bow to England, when England made a special request that the Americans come in. So the Base was established and is still here, and here is where I work.
No Man is a continent; we are all islands, realities that rise from the bottom of a common watery body that binds us all into one sole reality that is the reality of our planet. Islands, what is happening to us here on these islands is, in fact, happening to the whole world as well.
Thus, global trends, the gimmicks of the stock markets and the banks, the cooperative world, play the same way the order of Christ did at the Age of Discovery. They are the new Order of the Templars in disguise. We live a time of non-submissive, self satisfied, smug masses who entertain themselves on new technologies as on toys, have lost the ability to build grand dreams, follow more than lead, live on a new kind of folly, one based on the excesses of information that comes form the outside and not from the inside of themselves. We have lost our inner virtuousness and are not authentically ourselves any longer, but subject to global trends, global schemes, slaves to what others think and do.
Azoreans, from the Azores, we can make out the outline of those new islands in the horizon, as we can tell reality in our world of mists and eternal shifting, rise and sinking of lava in these our sweet Islands of Mist. From here we can tell that the whole world is now a new Azores reality, where no man definitely is a continent. In the middle of this new Ocean, we realize we have reached our very West, and the far East is on; that there are games being played on us, the estranged, the detached masses. Are we opened-eyed enough to pick on the games being played this time, or will we all play being part of the lost continent of Atlantis, or is it the sinking of the Titanic?
The world is changing. The question that remains is, “Is this change into the globe as we built it here long ago, or is into a flatland on the brim of a fire and brimstone world, all over again?
It will be interesting to follow what follows next.