Graça, Praia do Vitória, Azores
Interview conducted in Pastelaria Graça
Winter seems to be coming. The air is notably cooler today and wind is driving rain. I walked by a statue that locals of the town attribute to Brianda Pereira, heroine of the Battle of Salga. History books attribute the victory of this battle to careful cannon fire and the acts of a wise general, but local legends tell a different story of the 1581 conflict between the Spanish and Portuguese. The Legend states that Brianda instructed the old men of the island to gather all the half wild bulls and cattle from around the island while more able men and women gathered arms.
A herd of over 1000 cattle was driven into the landing by force and the sound of musket fire at the Castilian landing party who were forced to retreat. Many of the invading Spanish forces are reported to have downed trying to avoid being crushed by the stampede. Few made it back to their ships. Each time I see the statue of the bulls in Angra do Heroìsmo I feel this legend must be true. It sounds like good common sense thinking that the often male dominated history books of the time might suppress.
Woman were once thought to be bad luck on boats, but I am happy to have the captains wife Judy aboard. She offers a more sensible perspective to the difficulties encountered at sea. Another strong woman I have encountered in my time in Praia do Vitória is Graça, owner of the cafe where I write. I was worried while walking past empty establishments on this chilly night that it might be closed, but once again it is lively and packed with a diverse and respectful group of locals. Graças warm smile, food and attention to details are why people gather here. Her words follow.
What is your favorite part of living in Praia do Vitória?
I have lived here 55 years and own this cafe and the other small building in the garden across Rua de Jesus. It is quite calm here and very green. I have been to many places on the mainland. Geece, France, and Germany but I would never live anywhere else.
What is your least favorite part of living in Praia do Vitória?
When the US downsized the base many stores closed and it was very hard on the economy. We do not have a lot of places to buy things.
Do you see the changes in the natural world where you live?
Yes. The seasons are not like they used to be. It can be summer one day and winter the next. It is much less cold in December but that does not seem bad.
How do you think these changes will impact the community.
It is hard for me to tell but I think it will be good for the Azores. We normally have a very short tourist season but as it gets warmer people are staying longer. There are more boats visiting later in the season. Tomorrow there will be a cruise ship in port and lots of people in the streets. It helps our economy and give young people jobs so they can stay and don’t leave to other countries.
It is not the first interview where people of the Azores are happy about the more mild winter weather that seems to be the new normal in the Azores. Nothing is all black or white and there is always some shade of grey. This short term consequence of climate change is certainly increasing the length of the tourist season and enabling economic benefits. About 1/3 less people live in the Azores now than they did in 1950 and the islands have been experiencing negative population growth. Older folks here report that during the 50s the islands were largely self sufficient, even with almost 100,000 more people. Many people here are striving to create environmentally sustainable economic growth and based on historical data the Azores is a place where it could happen.