Faial of the faias, by Victor Rui Dores
Translated into English by Katharine F. Baker and Bobby J. Chamberlain, Ph.D.
“If I lived here, I would want a house and bed from which I could only see Pico. It would fill my life,” Raul Brandão wrote in 1924 in his masterful book As Ilhas Desconhecidas [The Unknown Islands]. Because of this writer, Faial – so named for the abundance of beech-trees [faias] at the time of its discovery – would come to carry the soubriquet “blue island” due to the profusion of hydrangeas that line its roads, and divide its pastures and other properties.
Faial’s mother is its breathtaking Caldeira – nature reserve, spectacular sanctuary of flora and vegetation, cathedral of imposing silence. The view of it volcanic crater – roughly 1¼ miles in diameter and ¼ mile deep, lined with lush endemic vegetation – is dazzling to behold, so great are its splendor and the grandeur of its 773 acres. An impression of sensuality and freshness hangs in the air, and there is a scent of earth and humidity in this landscape that instills respect.
The next “must-see” is the volcano at Capelinhos, in order to imagine the explosions of lava that erupted from the sea in fiery jets during 1957 and 1958. It was followed by the greatest movement of Azorean emigration in the 20th century. And nothing on Faial (and in the Azores) would ever be the same again. Today there is very modern, beautiful volcano interpretive center to preserve the memories.
The life of Faial revolves around Horta – the seat of the island’s only concelho [county], with thirteen villages – and the Azores’ political center, since the regional parliament is located there.
Sloping toward the sea, and an oasis of rest and relaxation in the middle of the Atlantic, Horta (the westernmost city in Europe) forms a natural amphitheater with its heart tilting toward the majestic island of Pico – whose mountain is an effective barometer and everyday object of aesthetic contemplation of and for Faialenses. Indeed, the islands of Faial and Pico are sisters, as there cannot be one without the other, despite the existence of some historic regional rivalries.
More than just a city, Horta is a feeling. Perhaps of love. Maybe even of passion. Certainly of affection. Its civil architecture includes bourgeois edifices, “art deco” buildings, balconies adorned with wrought-iron gratings, turrets, cut-stones, and shutters on the windows. Also worthy of attention is a whole patrimony of architecture – religious (churches and convents) and military (forts and castles).
Taking pride in its Flemish past, indebted to the Dabney family’s legacy, the splice that linked trans-Atlantic underwater telegraph cables, utilized as a naval base during two world wars, possessor of one of the world’s most beautiful bays, a place of arrivals and departures, a port of welcome – the harbor city of Horta lives on memories and myths, having once been “the biggest little city in the world,” as poet Pedro da Silveira wrote.
At its Marina, the island’s ex-libris or hallmark, there is a whole maritime enterprise. As part of the Schengen Area – Portugal is among the 26 European nations that have abolished passport and immigration controls for one another at their common borders – in terms of pleasure-boat movement, Horta’s marina today ranks first in Portugal, second in Europe and fourth worldwide. Many regard it as the world’s most international ocean marina. Through here pass sailboats and sailors (yachters) from around the world, reinforcing Horta’s cosmopolitan reputation. The city has assumed mythical stature. There are superstitions not open to debate. “Those who visit the port of Horta and do not paint anything about their boat on the marina jetties will experience problems on their return voyage.” It is always best to play it safe. As a result, the Marina is now a veritable art gallery.
Horta’s other mythical space is Peter Café Sport, considered the world’s greatest sailors’ bar, where one can sip the gin-and-tonic of universal friendship, and there is a magnificent scrimshaw museum.
This city hosts Portugal’s biggest and best nautical festival: Semana do Mar [Sea Week], starting in the beginning of August. For a week Horta dresses up in sailing regalia and puts itself on display for the ages, for the pure pleasure of being ogled. To enjoy this city is surely a contemplative art.
Faial is the beauty of a new day.
Faialenses live with their hearts stuck in memories of the past and their eyes fixed on the sea. And this is certainly one way to be happy.
Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/zinnie/2521391164/