Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ribeira Grande

Been having some browser issues that have prevented me from posting for a few days. Seem to have found a work-around for the moment.

On this trip I'm staying in the town of Ribeira Grande, which I had been to once previously for one evening so didn't know very well at all. Having been here for almost two weeks now, I can say that I like it very much. We are on the north coast of São Miguel, in the middle part of the island. It's not as big or busy as the main city of Ponta Delgada, but that is only a 20-minute drive away. We have plenty of most things one would need, and the town has a relaxed feeling that I really like. And yes, we do have a large river. There is also a very nice sand beach here, a bit of a rarity in these parts. And a fancy new contemporary arts center where I have been rehearsing and will be performing soon. I'll write about that in another post. For now, I'll just post a few pics taken along the main street that give a pretty good sense of the town.





Below is a picture of Nuno's house, where we are staying. The door in the center is his, and everything you see on the top floor. This was originally two houses that were later joined together.








Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's How They Roll Here

The phone rings: "Olá, Steve. We are going to Furnas. Do you want to go? Bring a swimming suit and a towel. We will pick you up in 40 minutes." OK.

I'm assuming "we" means Raquel, my housemate Robin, visiting artist Peter Cusak, and me. Raquel arrives and there are actually two cars, the other one containing Diana, João Pedro, and two women I don't know, Rita and Isabel, who work with Diana. We drive to Furnas, which is a spa town in the caldeira of a volcano, and it is very foggy and raining (see the Penúmbria film mentioned in my previous post.) We get out at the fancy hotel at Terra Nostra park, which is a rather magnificent botanical garden with hot springs. We walk through the hotel to the park entrance, where there is a little moment of confusion as most of our group suddenly vanishes while Robin and I try to figure out whether we should bother to pay the €8 to get into the park, since it is pouring rain and we are already getting drenched. We decide to go for it because our other option is to stand around in the pouring rain waiting for them to come back.

Once in, we walk past the large public thermal pool, which I've been in before and is really not so great. But down by the dressing rooms there are a couple of other smaller pools that I did not notice when I was last here, probably because they are hidden behind a wall of plants and trees. And here we find Diana, Raquel, Peter, and João Pedro. Robin is not much of a water guy and goes off to wander the park in the rain. I'd much rather be completely drenched in a pool of hot water than in my clothes and soon join them, and we soak contentedly for a very...long...time. I can feel the last of my cold being leached away by the warm mineral water.


A couple of hours later, we somehow drag ourselves out of the water and into the hotel bar, where we find not only Robin and Rita and Isabel, but the whole entourage from the Pontes events, which has more or less merged with the Invisible Places crew. There are sandwiches and coffee and drinks and conversation, and this goes on for another hour or so. Then it is announced that we are going to dinner. So we pile in the car and head off somewhere. Turns out we are going to O Cantinho do Cais, a fabulous seafood restaurant in the little town of São Bras, where I went with Emanuel and Diana and João on my last trip. When we arrive there is a delicious fish soup already waiting on the table for us. And bread. And wine.


But then the propietor, Senhor Jorge, proceeds to serve us (about 20 people) the house specialty, molho de peixe, an incredible stew made out of several kinds of fresh fish ladled over toasted bread.


After another hour or so (coffee, pastries, etc.) some of the group are heading off to a theater thing in Ponta Delgada. Others are going to Arco 8 Gallery, where Raquel has a DJ gig tonight. Robin and I opt to be dropped off at home in Ribeira Grande, to dry out and recover, full and happy. Just another day in the islands...

Today's Handy Portuguese Phrase Is...

"Estou constipado." Translation: "I have a cold." Looks like the long flight + no central heat + late nights + lots of smoke finally caught up to me. I've been laying low the past few days, resting a lot, trying to kick it. The good news is that it is moving through quickly and I'm now feeling like the worst has passed. And I've got a lot of work done on my upcoming artist talk for Invisible Places. But because of this there isn't a lot to report. I try to get out and walk a bit each day, usually first down to the beach if the weather is nice (it's been spotty), and then around town. The waves have been quite big lately, and at night I can hear the sound of the surf echoing off of the houses on the hill behind us.


Diana Diegues has been organizing a series of events that were originally curated by her late husband, João Da Ponte. The series is called Pontes (Bridges), and has a theme of encouraging dialogue between artists from different disciplines. They got government funding to do it, so Diana has carried on in tribute, and there have been things happening in different venues around Ponta Delgada every night this week. I've managed to make it to a few of them. Monday there was a film screening and photography exhibit at a great gallery called Arco 8.


I liked Paulo Abreu's film NYC 1991, which is all Super 8 street footage in the tradition of Bruce Baillie, with a soundtrack by Lee Renaldo.



There was another screening/discussion at an old, but still functioning factory that makes sugar out of beets. They now only use this factory about one month out of the year, and it operates at a big loss, but they keep it going to help the local beet farmers and the workers. It will eventually be turned into a museum.


Eduardo Brito showed his very beautiful short film, Penúmbria – a Calvino-esque fictional documentary about a town that was founded in an impossible location, marketed as the most melancholy place on earth, and eventually abandoned.

Penumbria was founded two hundred years ago, in a distant isthmus - a place of arid soils, angry seas and violent weather. The city was due its name to the almost permanent shadows and cloudiness. One day, its inhabitants decided to leave, offering Penumbria to time. This is the story of an uninhabitable place.

He shot it in several different locations in Spain, Portugal, Chile, and I think somewhere else, but somehow managed to weave them all together into one seamless locale. This very brief trailer barely hints at what a wonderful little film this is.



Last night I roused myself from bed to go to the concert by Medeiros/Lucas, who I have mentioned before on this blog. Carlos Medeiros is a great older singer, coming from the more folk end of the spectrum. He lives here, in a little house on Diana's property in São Vicente. Pedro Lucas is a young guitarist now living in Lisbon who combines folk elements with sampling and electronica. Last night they played with a keyboardist in a small church high on a hill overlooking the whole town.


I should mention that the audiences for all of these events have been quite good, with a lot of familiar faces every night I attended. People really seem to come out for things here. And of course there are big social dinners afterwards. Last night I skipped that part and came home to continue recuperating, and today feel quite a bit better. I was very happy to finally see my friend Emanuel last night, and look forward to spending some more time with her when I am back on my feet. Rehearsals for my project at Arquipélago start on Monday.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Almoço com os Romeiros

I previously mentioned the romeiros – groups of religious pilgrims who spend a week walking around the whole island, visiting all the churches and praying and singing as they walk. Early this morning as I was gradually waking up I heard two different groups pass by the house. What a lovely thing it is to lie in a warm bed on a cold, rainy morning and gain consciousness to the sound of twenty or thirty men quietly singing as they process beneath your window.



After a slow morning (emails, late breakfast, online Portuguese lessons), Robin, the other visiting artist who arrived late last night, and I decided to head out for a walk around town. At some point Robin got to feeling hungry and I suggested we return to the cafe where I'd had my meeting with Gianna on Saturday for some lunch. Many of the cafes here have a small room up front with a bar and a couple of tables that is visible from the street, but then there's another room in back that isn't so obvious. The front room being full, the waiter directed us to this other room, about the size of a typical dining room in a house, which was mostly taken up by a long table full of boisterous guys ranging in age from 20-something to 70-something. They were having a great time, laughing, eating and drinking and getting just a little rowdy. I noticed that many of them were wearing rosaries and figured they might be romeiros who had finished their walk. Robin and I were the only other people in the room, our table pushed into a corner just a couple of feet from theirs.

At about the same time that our lunch arrived, the singing began. One hymn followed another for maybe 30 minutes. Some were very solemn, others more upbeat, all delivered with much sincerity, enthusiasm, and varying degrees of intonation – the latter becoming more variable as successive rounds of aguardente were consumed. Occasionally they'd sing a verse in English for our benefit, looking our way to check if perhaps we were feeling perturbed, which of course we weren't. In fact, we couldn't have been happier, and our recording devices were on the table in an instant. I just had my phone, but it gets the point across.



At some point there was a break in the singing and I told them how beautiful it was and asked if I could take a photo. This led to them bringing us a couple pieces of their leftover chocolate cake (how could we refuse?), and one of them coming over to relate to us in quite good English what was going on. He graciously explained the whole romeiro thing – who they are and what they do and why they do it – and said that this was their post-pilgrimage celebration. He referred to the men as his brothers, and mentioned that not all of them had completed the trip; one ended up in the hospital (reason unknown) and another sprained his ankle and they had to carry him on their backs, and some just got tired and couldn't finish. So this lunch was all about some hard-earned letting off steam after completing their long trek.

Best. Lunch. Ever. And especially for Robin, an excellent first-day introduction to this place.