Wednesday 28 October 2009

Kroten Wanderung

I don't know if any German speakers read this, but, in case they do, can I draw to your attention the following shortly to be published crime thriller:-

The reason I'm mentioning this is that Kroten Wanderung was written right here in Faja Grande. Indeed, Rainer did a bit of research for it from our computer (there being no Wi-Fi in FG). So if it becomes a best seller, we'll get one of these plaques on the front of our house saying "In this house ...". (When we used to live in Edinburgh, about three doors up the road was a plaque saying this was the house the Icelandic national anthem was written in - I'm not joking. So by that measure, if Kroten Wanderung sells more than about 10 copies, we're definitely in line for a plaque.)

Kroten Wanderung is German for "toad migration". Except kroten is also German slang for money so it becomes "money migration" = money moving around = corruption. It's an idiom which doesn't really work in English so before we get that plaque, we're going to have to think of a better name for the English translation (not planned at present).

Nice bloke, Rainer. Only German I've ever met with a viable sense of humour - very good gag about lifejackets on Filipino boats. When he's not writing crime novels, he's a travel writer. Last week he was in Curacao and as I write this he's in Zanzibar. Bastard.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Google Earth

It's not all planting orange trees and picking grapes out here, you know!

Time has to be found to Google Earth the nearest villages to Faja Grande in Europe (bar Madeira and the Canaries) and North America - a dirty job someone has to do considering FG flatters itself as the west-most village in Europe (if you don't count anywhere in Greenland or the French departements outre mer - Guadeloupe and Martinique - in the Caribbean).

Anyway, at No. 1, the nearest mainland settlement to here is a place called Peniche on the west coast of Portugal about 40 miles (65km) north of Lisbon. It's 1,160 miles (1,870km) from Flores.

At No. 2, only 40 miles further from here than Peniche in the other direction, is a village rejoicing under the name of Renews-Cappahayden in Newfoundland, Canada, 1,200 miles (1,930km) away. It reminds me a lot of Lochmaddy in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland:-

But Newfoundland is an island so, at No. 3, the nearest village on the continent of North America, 1,465 miles (2,360km) away, is St. Lewis (previously known as Fox Harbour) in Labrador, Canada and officially recognised as the eastmost permanent settlement in mainland America.

Nearest points in:-

* the British Isles - Skellig Michael, an island off the SW coast of Ireland - 1,310 miles (2,110km) - further away than Newfoundland.

* the UK - the Isles of Scilly off the west coast of Cornwall, England - 1,410 miles (2,270km) - closer than Labrador.

* Scotland - the Mull of Kintyre (as in Paul McCartney) - 1,600 miles (2,580km) - a stone's throw from Campbeltown.

You're mocking now but you'll thank me next time you're attempting to break a ballooning record and you look round and find Richard Branson slumped over the controls.

Tuesday 20 October 2009


What connects fictional troubled Mafia boss Tony Soprano with the island of Flores?

The answer is flowers - specifically seaside goldenrod (solidigo sempervirens). In the last scene of episode 6 of the second series, Tony is holding a bunch of flowers which includes seaside goldenrod.

Sorry for the poor quality of that picture but I don't know any cleverer way of doing it other than taking a photo of the TV. The seaside goldenrods are the small yellow ones - the uppermost in the bouquet above the yellow daisy and to the left of the upper red rose Tony's got his hooter in.

Known as cubres in Portuguese, seaside goldenrod is native to the Azores and is said to be the flower the abundance of which on Flores led early travellers here to christen the island "Flowers" - although how anyone knows that in the absence of a watercolour undeniably of a cubres in bloom endorsed in a late 15th century hand with "This is the plant the abundance of which led us to christen the island two day's sailing west of Faial Flores - (Signed) C. Columbus", I do not know.

Anyway, here's a clump of cubres at the carpark at the balneário (swimming area) in Fajã Grande this afternoon.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Cumbernauld Pie

You'd think that living on this verdant island in the middle of the ocean, we'd spend our time dining off the freshest of fish and vegetables but, au contraire, we prefer Cumbernauld Pie.

Back in the 70s, some marketing genius (probably employed by Marks & Sparks) invented the Cumberland Pie. An extension of the successful Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie franchise, it's basically mince and potatoes except you mash the potatoes and put them on top of the mince and serve it in a pie dish.

Cumberland is a very picturesque district of north west England (it's where the Lake District is), replete with shepherds and, indeed, cottages so, all in all, it was the logical next step in pie branding.

Which is why in King-Duncan iconography, the Cumberland Pie is always referred to as the Cumbernauld Pie. Cumbernauld is a 60s "New Town" in Scotland, built full of hope for a new generation but which quickly degenerated into one of the most blighted places on the face of this planet. Carol worked there as a lawyer in the 90s when she defended people against sex crimes too unwholesome to mention and represented divorcing couples in which the upbringing of the children was a secondary consideration to custody of the Elvis Mirror (you think I'm joking?)

Anyway, how did I get on to this? Oh yes, pies. Carol was telling me that the secret of a good Cumbernauld Pie topping was to "fold some cheese in to the potato". Which I have to say set my teeth on edge in rather the same way as when sperm donation is mentioned at the dinner table.

"Folding in" is not unakin to "grilling off" - it's like the bit in Blackadder when he says "Don't say "tush", Percy - it's only a short step from "tush" to "hey nonny-nonny" and then I shall have to call the police."

To my mind "grilling off" is a short step from saying "through Friday" when the speaker means until Friday. That ghastly Americanism which implies passing through Friday to Saturday (or even Sunday or Monday for aught anyone knows) has even begun to appear on the BBC, the organisation which until quite recently was still holding the line on "disinterested".

I seem to have just inadvertently covered "Things that make me cross" #2 through #4 ...

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Election Result

The orange t-shirt lot - the Partido Social Democrata (PSD) - won both the Câmara Municipal of Lajes das Flores and the Junta da Freguesia (parish council) of Fajã Grande, the elections to both having been held simultaneously on Sunday.

The PSD are Portugal's centre right party, the equivalent of Britain's Conservative ("Tory") party. I find it hard to understand the relevance of national party politics in constituencies as tiny as the concelho of Lajes das Flores (1,500 souls) or the freguesia of Fajã Grande (pop. 225): in Britain, such small and remote units would be contested by independents (i.e. unaffiliated to any political party) but the PSD's win represents victories for the incumbents as presidente of the Câmara (João Lourenço, the owner of a builder's merchants) and the Junta (José Teodósio Fragueiro, a taxi driver).

It was about 55% of the vote in favour of the PSD as against 45% to the other lot but the truly extraordinary statistic of the election in Lajes to my mind was the turnout - 81%. You'd be lucky to get a 40-50% turnout at a local election in Britain.

As for the other lot, the Partido Socialista (the centre left party of Portugal equivalent to Britain's Labour Party), they can console themselves with the fact that they retained the Câmara of Santa Cruz das Flores and are also the party of government of the Azores and Portugal as a whole (although in a general election a few weeks ago they lost their overall majority and are now a minority government). Back to ministering to the cows for Luis the veterinário (pictured above) for now, though. Not to mentioning giving our cats their booster jabs next week - "auld claes an' parritch" as we Scots say.

I leave you with a picture of José Teodósio (in the middle, blue jeans and striped shirt - a nice man) with his PSD equipa as pictured in an election leaflet. Now I don't understand the Portuguese electoral system but you're looking at getting on for 10% of the entire adult population of FG here - are we voting for all of them? Seems to me like an awful lot of chiefs for such a small wigwam.

Monday 12 October 2009

Obrasprazotory Update

I'm conscious I've been neglecting updating you on the various obrasprazotories going on around the island. You'll recall that obrasprazotory is a word I made up from the Portuguese words obras - "works" - and prazo - "period of time" - to signify an ongoing job which it's fun to inspect periodically to see how it's getting on.

The reason for the silence is that the various obrasprazotories I'd previously covered all tended to have an early surge of activity and then plateau a bit. Anyway, even if the graph has gone a bit flat, that's not to say there hasn't been progress so here goes:-

1. The shop/bar in Fajã Grande

With this one, I hadn't realised when it began that the job involved re-doing the interior of upstairs over the shop as well as the exterior of the whole building. Anyway, outside is about 90% complete with the remaining 10% awaiting completion of inside which is still ongoing. And now as I type this, I realise I don't have a recent picture of progress outside because I've been conscious I've been waiting for it to be finished before photographing it again. Anyway, I took this one this afternoon. It looks a bit dull but observe that it would have been very simple for Joe and Linda to have ordered up replacement UPVC windows but instead they've opted to have the wooden ones refurbished - the mouldings on the lower, unglazed panel are new in today (and, of course, haven't been painted yet). Inside the window, the lintel of the embrasure (the Portuguese have a nice easy word for "lintels of the embrasure" which is vãos) has been renewed and a couple of weeks ago you were looking at bare laths here:-

2. The church in Santa Cruz

Again, after something of a plateau phase, this is now coming on in leaps and bounds with scaffolding up on the facade and Soo-Lucino's boys painting away for all they're worth. These are the same boys who were painting at our house when S-L was doing our palheiro two years ago so I got a cheery wave as I took this picture:-

In a subsequent post(s) (as this one is at risk of getting over long), I'll bring you up to speed on the house down the road (the addition today of smart new stainless steel banisters to the new external staircase outside of which reminded me to review the obrasprazotory list), the Câmara Municipal and the GNR building in Santa Cruz (these two also being Soo-Lucino jobs so the colcha em lã - whatever it was - obviously cut the mustard) and the harbour works at Lajes. And the new museum in Fajã Grande.


Has anyone noticed the uncanny resemblance between France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and The Sopranos' Christopher Moltisanti played by Michael Imperioli? I wonder if by any chance they're related.

                     Chris                                             Sarko

(I think I prefer Chris' chick to the fat bloke speaking to the President.)

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Flatulent Voter

I'm not so sure I'm going to vote for the orange t-shirt lot after all.

This is due to their campaign tune driving me to distraction. I know I said I preferred it marginally to the other lot's but having heard the orange t-shirt tune about 223 times today as their campaign vehicle drove endlessly up and down the street past the house, I've changed my mind.

Don't take my word for it, though - judge for yourself. The orange t-shirt tune goes "Nah, nah, nooh, nooh, nah, (etc.)" whereas the other lot's goes "Diddle-dum, diddle-dee, diddle-dum, diddle-dee (etc.)". What do you think?

Another factor to weighed in the balance is that the other lot dropped a rather splendid ball point pen into the letter box this afternoon.

So, on balance, I think I'm back to being a flatulent voter - that's a private joke around the fact that the Portuguese for "floating" is flutuante.

Sunday 4 October 2009

All the presidente's men

In turns out there are two parties contesting the forthcoming elections for presidente of the conselho of Lajes das Flores and junta da freguesia (parish council) of Fajã Grande - the orange t-shirt lot and the other lot.

The other lot are Luis the veterinario's lot referred to previously but the orange t-shirt lot's tardiness in getting going (their posters only started going up last week whereas the other lot's have been up for ages now) is made up for by the verve of their campaign.

The orange t-shirt lot also have a campaign tune which grates marginally less on the ears as it's blasted from loudspeakers mounted on pick-up trucks trundling up and down the road. In fact one lot - a completely different lot (I think) - has hi-jacked the theme tune from the West Wing. Another lot has the Russian national anthem, bizarrely enough. But I don't think it's either of our lots (orange t-shirt or other). I digress.

Anyway, the other lot have responded with a new set of campaign posters showing Luis the veterinario in a sober dark suit. I thought I had a picture of this but I don't and it's too dark now to go out and take one but, anyway, this was as nought compared with the orange t-shirt lot's electoral trump card - bribing the voters.

In the course of a particularly exuberant parade up the village street this afternoon, marching to the tune of fife and drum, they were handing out goodie bags containing the treasures pictured below:-

Now, I'm a sucker for a goodie bag and this was a quality one: not only was the bag itself functional and reusable but it contained a t-shirt (white, mysteriously), a cigarette lighter, two inflatable - er - biffing things (the kids in the parade - for it was very much a family affair - were enthusiastically biffing each other over the head with them) and - best of all - three pencils with rubbers on the end (my existing ones have worn so far down that they've begun to scratch the paper when you try and rub something out).

So that's my vote well and truly sold to the orange t-shirt lot. Unless and until the other lot hand in a goodie bag containing (at the least) a pad of small Post-It notes (the small 3 x 2cm ones, mark you, not the big ones), a magnifying glass the dimensions of a credit card and a tube of tomato purée. In that case all bets would be off.