Friday, 22 March 2013


Some people think it's climate change but anywhere in the North Atlantic - I remember this from the west coast of Scotland before global warming had even been invented - you get equinoctal gales: particularly strong winds in autumn and spring at the equinoxes, when the days are as long as the nights half way between mid-winter and mid-summer.

The 2012 autumn equinoctal gales left our vine frame thing (there's another example of where there's probably a neat Portuguese word with no equivalent in English) at an odd angle. That's subsequently been renovated thanks to João. It also blew a few cumes (roof ridge tiles) away and these were replaced thanks to Vitor. I'll just add my thanks again to João and Vitor - thanks guys.

The 2013 spring equinoctal gales have just finished. The thing about the wind this time was it came from the east which means that, instead of roaring steadily off the sea, it comes down off the mountains in vicious gusts. It's silence punctuated unpredictable short blasts which make you think "I wonder what that one destroyed". Fortunately for us, it was only the disclocation of a few more cumes (since replaced by Vitor again) and a tree (more of a "big bush" said in a Rowan Atkinson tone of voice) in the garden being blown down. But, of course, the plane couldn't land for several days in a row and also the ship couldn't call at Lajes as witness below - note all the cack blown out of the sea on to the hard:-

I should explain that the vessel in that pic is not the ship which brings our supplies and couldn't berth. It's the vessel that takes supplies out to our satellite island of Corvo. It remains moored in the harbour at Lajes and I can tell you from analogous nautical cove experiences in a past life that, if I had an insurable interest in that boat, watching its moorings straining in the breeze, my punders would need to have been put through the "heavy soil" cycle of the washing machine (with extra rinse).
But the really remarkable thing about this spring's equinox was the torrential rain. It didn't stop (not a break between showers) for about five days. On this peaky island, the danger that brings is not floods (because the water drains away quickly) but landslides. At particular risk here is a stretch of the road from Faja Grande out to the rest of the island which passes up the side of a steep hill.  Below is what I'm talking about from 3D Google Earth:-

Not sure how expressive that is but below is when we were stopped in the car at the bottom of the hill at about point X for 20 minutes or so while the road gang cleared away trees and rocks which had fallen ahead with a combination of JCBs and chain saws:-

Of course, the photo never does the experience credit but the rain was just frighteningly torrential. I give all credit to the road gang for their speed of response. The fact is Flores is geared up to respond quickly to the consequences of heavy rain in a way that Britain is not equipped to respond to half an inch of snow.

But much as they respond quickly and we've never been delayed longer than 10-20 minutes or so, I've seen myself turn back in really wet weather rather than risk being cut off from home by what is the only road to Faja Grande being closed by a really bad landslide which it would take more than a few hours to clear. But until today, I'd always assumed the risk would be a pile of cack falling on the road from above. Not the road itself sliding off down the hill:-

That's at about point Z on the GE image this afternoon after the rain had stopped. It goes without saying that I shouted to Carol to get out of the car to come and join me in jumping up and down to see if we could get it to shake underneath us. But she spoils all my fun ("Get back in the car NOW and drive hard up on the right hand side!")

I'm glad I'm a lawyer and not a road engineer! How on earth do you repair that? Will take a bit more than a bit of Polyfilla, I think. I'm going to be watching and learning, though, and will keep you posted.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


On the way back up from getting the bread at Joe & Linda's recently, I was hailed by José Augusto, the vice-president of the junta de freguesia (parish council) of Faja Grande. He hoped that the works to the chafariz were not causing us any problems.

JA's enquiry was in Portuguese (not unreasonably) and I felt quite chuffed with myself that I managed to get the "I hope that the works to" and the "are not causing any problems" bits. But the key word which linked these two concepts - chafariz - eluded me totally. I was left looking at JA blankly thinking "It's nice of you to ask but I haven't a fucking clue what you're talking about, mate ..."

JA for his part was far too polite to express his utter contempt for this Gringo fuckwit who has lived in his village for the thick end of seven years and STILL doesn't know what a chafariz is. For a few ghastly moments I thought he might have been contemplating the indignity of being reduced to doing some sort of charade to demonstrate what a chafariz is. But he wisely refrained and instead the conversation just rather embarrassingly petered out and we went our respective ways with a safe and mutually comprehensible comment about the weather (Ta Bom Tempo!) instead ...

Next day, I asked Linda at the shop (born in California, ergo native English speaker) what a chafariz is. "Oh" she said "it's one of these things! You know! In the street. You know - with the water and all ...!"

The fact is there just isn't an English word for chafariz. As seen in the photos above, it's a public tap, well, fountain - all of these things. Here's the Portuguese Wikipedia entry. It the thing where people went to get water before it was piped into everyone's houses. On Flores, that was much later (1970s (?)) than anywhere in Britain. There are chafarizes on Flores with dates on them in the 1950s (don't have a picture but note to self to make a point of taking one). I can't think of a single chafariz in any town or village that I've seen anywhere in Britain.

I suppose in flat territory (like the Mississippi basin), the equivalent of a chafariz is the village pump - where the water is beneath you and has to be pumped to the surface. Flores, being a hilly kind of a place, though, means the water is generally above you and so flows down to a tap - fawcett as our American cousins would have it. Though, while we're on the subject, the Portuguese word for a tap is torneira - literally, a "turning thing". How apt.

Anyway, this is all a massive digression from highlighting (the Portuguese verb destacar comes to mind - meaning to emphasise, showcase; em destaque means the headlines or top story) the good work being done by the junta de freguesia restoring all the chafarizes around Faja Grande. Everyone's got water piped into their houses now but it's remarkable how often you see the chafarizes still being used by workmen cleaning their tools or just farmers cleaning cow shit off their boots.

The work has been done by a nice young bloke called (better not mention his name) who is a real craftsman. He's made the little - here's another example of where I'm not sure if there's an English word but in Portuguese, I think, it's placas - the bass relief decorations - by himself - i.e. he didn't buy them out of the Portuguese equivalent of Homebase. Nice one.

I think this is money better spent than on museums and sports facilities. Although I may be guilty of sentimentality. Discuss.

But more seriously, I couldn't help wondering how you would do a charade for a chafariz (note the relative paucity of English words just there) if ever called upon: don't scoff - two people in this village have come perilously close in recent weeks. I found myself involuntarily doing a sort of extending my nose out and downwards movement with my left hand and a twirling motion above my head with my right. And with both hands, pulling the bottom of my T-shirt out in a sort of basin/sink forming gesture. This could all get misinterpreted, though. Best confined to the privacy of one's own home and certainly not to be attempted anywhere near the gates of your local primary school. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Of museums and sports facilities

Browsing back through the Forum Ilha das Flores, there's news of a new centro cultural - to be branded Museu - being built in Santa Cruz at a cost of €1.78m:-

Reason it caught my eye was it looks remarkably similar to the museu being built in Lajes at a cost of something not unadjacent:-

Is it just me or does that look like a Thunderbirds set?

That apart, you're probably wondering why an island of 4,000 people needs not one but TWO museus (centros culturais - whatever).

After all, it's not as if the island is not already entirely un-endowed with museums as witness below from the Camara Municipal of Lajes' website boasting of the three they already have. (There's also a fourth in Fajazinha which, though complete, has never, so far as I know, been opened to the public.)

And, of course, because we have not one but two local authorities on this island of 4,000 people, there's also the Museu das Flores in the Sao Boaventura monastery within the bailiwick of Santa Cruz das Flores:-

There's also the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental do Boqueirão in the old whaling factory. You can dress it up as a centro de interpretação all you like but to my mind it's still a museu. It's also the only one on this island I've ever been in. It was while I had time to kill while Braga's were doing a job on the car. You'd need a Smithsonian Institute to kill the amount of time it actually takes when Braga's bloke says "uma hora mais ou menos" but, anyway, being plunged into darkness with whales and turtles and whatnot squawking at you out of telly screens doesn't really do it for me. 

It was very slick, but for my 2,50€ a museum is not complete without a glass case containing a cutaway working model of a steam engine with lots of cranks and pistons and - most importantly of all - a button you can press to set the engine in motion.

I do, however, give the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental do Boqueirão credit for not having any examples of what we call "broken pots" - nondescript fragments of Iron Age earthenware out of which some archaeologist trying to make a career for himself has built an entire civilisation in a triumph of hope over expectation. (That's because nobody lived on Flores in the Iron Age - and the day someone discovers evidence they did is the day we leave.) 

If you can't have a steam engine in your museu, then a Boeing 707 flight deck (supra) is a good second best. In fairness, I doubt if a 707 has ever landed on Flores. If it had, it could certainly never get off again and thus would merit a centro cultural to house it in. But what does exist on this island is a typewriter ribbon cassette thingy still for sale on a shelf in a shop in Lajes (naming no names) and priced in escudos (the Portuguese currency before the Euro). I kid you not. I'm jolly tempted to buy it and present it to the new museu in Lajes (or Sta Cruz if they'll make me a better offer) as a centre piece. Because otherwise, I have a mental picture of bargain hunters fanning out across the island shaking down old ladies' houses in the hunt for bits of old toot to fill this over capacity of espacos culturais.

But if there's one thing we've got even more of on this island than museums, it's sports facilities. Thus, for example, there is currently being built in Faja Grande what the Camara Municipal is billing as the "21st century sports facility":-

This is in addition to the already existing sports facility in Lajes (which admittedly is 20th century and perhaps, therefore, no longer fit for purpose - not being a sporty type myself, I wouldn't know):-

That's as well as the indoor gym and swimming pool at Lajes which has never been finished for about 3 years now due to some contractual dispute between the Camara and the contractors:-

You can replicate all of that in Sta Cruz municipality in the north half of the island.

Of course, we all know what's going on here - there are EU development funds on offer to "fragile peripheral areas" to fund "cultural and sports" developments. I have a mental picture of some earnest Eurocrat imagining the back streets of Sta Cruz to be hoatching with undiscovered Ronaldos kicking tin cans around their mothers' skirts for want of a paper bag in the middle of road never mind a 21st century sports facility.

And the Camaras of Lajes and SC hoover all this dosh up to keep people in short term employment. And well done to the Camaras for being so astute to take advantage of what's on offer. It's not them I blame but Brussels for designing grant schemes for developments of dubious long term value to the island. More and more museums and sports facilities are not - to use a word very popular just now in British English - sustainable.

Given that the fibre optic cable is now underway (I believe), I don't know what I'd spend a couple of big ones of Eurodosh on in pursuit of a truly sustainable investment in Flores once I'd paid for the runway lights to be upgraded to allow night flights so as to give a far more flexible schedule, perhaps even allowing a day trip to Lisbon at least one day a week.

Note to self to think about that but I'll leave you with the observation that the new museum in Sta Cruz which provoked this post is being built on the site of - irony of ironies - a redundant football pitch!


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Living While We're Young

I'd been going to title this post "Teenage Dreams (Adult Education)" until I remembered a blog I follow by a douce lady called Isobel who's a member of the church in Rothesay, a small town on the west coast of Scotland.

She did a post about search terms associated with links to her blog and was surprised to discover that, for some inexplicable reason "access to male showers in the military" featured highly. Any traffic's good traffic as long as it spells the name right (and isn't too rough), I say, but I reckoned "Teenage Dreams (Adult Education)" might find me cropping up in all the wrong search results were it not for the fact I'm talking about nothing so innocuous as tracks downloaded from Apple iTunes.

Yes, about 250 years after the rest of humanity, we've got into downloading tracks from iTunes.

The eponymous "Live While We're Young" is by a pre-pubescent boy band called - I've forgotten - but they won Popfactor a couple of years ago and we saw them on the tellybox at Jose Antonio's recently and Carol insisted we try and download it.

The issue about this, as ever, is the crap internet connection on this island. If we lived on an island like Great Britain, we could be living while we were young in the blink of an eye before lunchtime (although I might need a cup of tea afterwards). But out on here Flores, downloading a track is more of a struggle. Indeed such is the marital disharmony provoked ("why haven't you done it yet?"), we call it iTones.

I believe it's all to do with our internet connection being beamed down from a satellite. That sounds very space age but apparently the weather buggers it up - how very British in a corner of a foreign field! If it's cloudy (which it is quite a lot on Flores in February) you can forget it but if it turns out nice, downloading "Skyfall" might just work after the fifteenth attempt of 45 minutes before it says "download failed".

Suffice to say we've been doing the downloading off Apple thing (which you out there all take for granted) for about three weeks now and the weather has permitted us to download a grand total of twelve tracks in that time.

But today, the weather was particularly good and it allowed us to indulge in an unprecedented orgy of "Teenage Dreams" (Katy Perry, supra), suitably dampened down by a dose of "Adult Education" (Hall & Oates) administered by "My Brother Jake" (Free). I could continue in this vein but suffice to say we managed to get to "The Edge of Heaven" (Wham!) before a thunderstorm just before tea time prevented "Everything She Wants" (ditto) reaching its logical conclusion. "Same Old Scene" (Roxy Music)

If it's nice tomorrow, I might do "Sultans of Swing" before I go out and propagate the vine. People think it's all picking oranges on this island but there are dirtier jobs to do like getting on midnight trains to Georgia.