Wednesday 23 April 2014

O Dia de São Jorge

It's been a while since I wrote about saints, but I did Shagsper, England's poet, on this day last year, so it seems appropriate to reflect a little on St George patron saint of Olde England and also of Portugal, Україна, Россия and 18 (!) other countries. Many people in Ireland have a problem with the Union Flag and its associations with imperialist oppression. Many people in the UK also have problems with it and its associations with the National Front.  But to me there is something quaintly cosy about the flag of St George which flutters at the top of medieval church towers on 23rd April and other holidays designated by the Church of England. Fits well with bangers'n'mash, Miss Marple, warm beer, cricket and rose-gardens. Apart from the countries and 30 very miscellaneous cities and towns, St George is the patron saint of soldiers, archers, boy scouts, farmers, saddlers, lepers and syphilitics.

About thirty years ago, I'd completed three years of field-work and data analysis and almost finished writing the PhD thesis which sprang from all that work.  My boss and I agreed that the next project was to carry out a parallel study on the Portuguese Atlantic Islands.  The first step was to investigate the Açores a group of nine islands and some rocks in the very middle of the Atlantic. Accordingly, having arrived at the international airport in Terceira, we spent three weeks tooling about between the islands. We flew from São Miguel at one end of the archipelago to Faial at the other, both of which were civilised in a provincial town sort of way - small hotels, restaurants and bars, grocers and ironmongers. In the Turismo in Horta, I discovered that we could catch the rather wonderful old British-built inter-island steamer back to Terceira from a port called São Roque de Pico.  That would mean ticking off (been there, done that) another island.  Pico is very quiet, distinguished mainly for having at 2350m the highest point in Portugal, that's far higher than anything in the Western European Archipelago where I currently live. The helpful lady in the Turismo booked a room in São Roque by telephone, we crossed the strait to Madelena de Pico and commandeered the only taxi on the island to take us the 15km to our hotel.  The hotel was rather hard to find because it wasn't one, it was a spare room in one of about 20 houses spread out along the road; the port wasn't one either - just a quayside and a short pier. The next morning we walked down to the pier to catch the ferry. It was 3 hours late, the weather was sunny, there was a sea-breeze, the water was turquoise and crystal clear, I could see big fish cruising about all the way to the bottom.  I, perforce, got an early lesson in mindfulness - we had all day and looking at my watch wasn't going to help.  When the ferry eventually chugged round the headland, I was in something approaching a state of grace and equanimity. Ommmmmmm.

An hour later we were docking at the harbor of Velas on the South coast of the island of São Jorge.  I was entranced, the ship tied up to the dock on one side of a narrow gut of water.  There was a romanesque archway leading into the town and on the other side of the water a steep scrub-covered cliff along which kestrels were hunting.  It was almost impossibly romantic. The ferry was scheduled to stay there for 20 minutes, and was already 3 hours late, so I barely had time to step onto dry land before a klaxon sounded the "Sr. passageiros todos a bordo" and we were backing out to sea again for the altogether too busy town of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira.  I'd go back to São Jorge in a trice, preferably in about 1931.

Saints on The Blob: Barbara, BlaiseBrigidJames, KildaMartinNicholas, Patrick,

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