“The Island of Flores – A Dreamworld,” by Victor Rui Dores. Translated into English by Katharine F. Baker. Originally published at:
http://www.rtp.pt/icmblogs/rtp/comunidades/index.php?k=Ilha-das-Flores-%96-um-mundo-de-sonho—Victor-Rui-Dores.rtp&post=45505 “Ilha das Flores – um mundo de sonho”, 26 Aug 2013
To Regina, Tânia and Pedro
Since the island is like a balcony above the ocean, 19th-century travelers gave it names like “The Garden of the Atlantic” or “The Azorean Switzerland” – in great part for the stunning beauty of its seven lakes: Rasa, Funda, Comprida, Negra, Seca, Lomba and Branca. In the summer of 1924 writer Raul Brandão, on his visit to the Azores, spent several days on Flores and gave it the name “The Sleeping Forest,” which he also titled one of the best chapters in his book As Ilhas Desconhecidas [The Unknown Islands], published two years later.
Situated on the North American Plate, a rough and wild island of extraordinary contrasts, an inimitable landscape, untouched Nature in its pristine state – Flores today is for me the most spectacular and fascinating of the Azorean islands. It is all grandeur and awe: deeply carved bays, cleanly chiseled cliffs, amazing sculpted geologic reliefs, rolling hills, deep and steep valleys, massive craters, jagged islets, colossal cliffs, dreamy lakes… and all this framed by dense vegetation in every shade of green imaginable.
The telluric expression of this island manifests itself in these very slopes, and on these steep and unpredictable plateaus. There are no words, no adjectives to describe the steam vents, grottos and caverns that I have enjoyed exploring off the coast of Cedros, Ponta Delgada and Ponta Ruiva. What can I say about Rocha dos Bordões, the imposing cliff that appears made of walking sticks? And the vast silence of gently sloping seaside fajãs? And the bright green of the pastures illuminated by a chilly, delicate light?
Everywhere there are hydrangea hedges (which divide fields) bursting forth into bloom, and fragrant yellow rocas (also known on other islands as rocas-de-velha, ginger lilies, conteiras or palmitos). Above all, the abundance of water on the island of Flores, where there are some 400 streams, is amazing. More astonishing still is the water that rushes from the tops of the slopes, and continuously falls in foamy cascading white ribbons, crashing down below and disintegrating into a mist of liquid droplets.
But an island is also made up of people. And Florentinos possess the openness and generosity of warm, hospitable islanders who live with persistence in a unique and harmonious relationship with Nature.
En route to Fajã Grande I stop by an old-time water mill (dated 1862) that still grinds grains by the most rudimentary and artisanal of means. I make conversation with Fátima, the miller who seems to have stepped out of the pages of a rustic short story by Trindade Coelho. She does not take her eyes off the grain, following the milling equipment with all the serenity in the world. The monotonous racket of the millstones transports me to the past. Moments before, I had experienced another such return to yesteryear while visiting the stone houses in the nearby village of Cuada, where everything is rural and archaic, including the name of the co-proprietor of that rustic place: Teotónia.
I go about capturing a succession of photographic images. From overlook to overlook, I surrender myself completely to the lush beauty of the mystical island that is the most Kabbalistic of the Azores: it has seven lakes, seven bays and seven valleys.
From Santa Cruz to Lajes, and thence to Morro Alto, my dazzled eyes behold all manner of trees: incense tree, beech, laurel, acacia, broom, pine, Japanese cedar, araucária, New Zealand Chrismas tree, plane tree – and along island trails I see smatterings of laurel and juniper and, to a lesser extent, other endemic species: buckthorn, pau branco, Madeira mahogany and St. Dabeoc’s heath. The soil around the trees where truffles grow has a velvety softness. At Poço da Alagoinha I walk the half mile that transports me to the most fantastic regions of an earthly paradise! And the same feeling assails me when I visit Poço do Bacalhau. So much grandeur for such a tiny island. Now I better understand Roberto de Mesquita and Pedro da Silveira’s verses.
The ocean is all around. The island of Corvo looms on the horizon. I view on my camera monitor the images I am capturing. At the bottom of the valley at Fazenda de Santa Cruz, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Lourdes [Church of Our Lady of Lourdes] lends a mystical and poetic note to the landscape. And how lovely the white houses are that arise from Mosteiro’s bucolic green. At Fajã Grande, I see Monchique rock off-shore and know that I am at Europe’s most westerly point.
Skittish rabbits cross the road in front of the car I have rented to visit the island for a week. I drive in silence along deserted roads and am surprised by the touristic four seasons in one day. There is an extensive road network that twists and turns until you say “enough.” It is warm and muggy in Caveira. The landscape is pristine and melancholy in Lajedo. The environment in Fajãzinha is pastoral and idyllic. I see cornfields in Lomba and crops of yams in Fazenda das Lajes. And everywhere I hear birdsong and the sounds of streams and waterfalls.
In 2009 UNESCO recognized the environmental importance of the island of Flores, adding it to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
And finally there are the cattle. Kept out in the cold and fog along the roadside or on the most inhospitable hills, the cows (white, black, spotted and red Charolais) regard me with contempt. The soil is soaked with moisture and a scent of wild mint hangs in the air – as well as an impression of freshness, calm and voluptuousness. Serenity and melancholy. And a peaceful green that soothes my spirit.
Reader, come along and see it all with your own eyes. Because I swear nothing I have written here is fiction.
Reference: Sjögren, Erik. Plants and Flowers of the Azores / Pflanzen und Blumen der Azoren / Plantas e Flores dos Açores). Angra do Heroísmo: Os Montanheiros, 2001.