Aida and the not so Old Man of The Sea
Sat 12 Jul 2014 17:32
Aida was born on the island but then her parents moved to Boston, USA where her father learned English at the University and worked in the maintenance dept. before setting up a fish market with a friend.
He returned to the island and started a restaurant in Maia, another ribbon settlement facing the east Atlantic. His wife hoped they might retire and take it easy but in fact they ended up working even harder and ran the popular restaurant on well water and generator electricity.
Aida’s father’s nickname was Il Grota so that is what he called his pride and joy. He loved to create his own dishes and Aida was pleased to serve us two bowls of his famous fish soup. He bought his fish early in the morning, as does Aida today, from the local fishermen who would later come and have their lunch with him. Three types of fish, cinnamon, locally grown, mint, lemon, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and wine all lovingly blended together to produce this wholesome and slightly sweet medley.
Sadly both Aida’s parents died before they reached my age and Aida, single and with no dependants, returned to live opposite and work the garden and restaurant with her cook and another helper. She petitioned for piped water and mains electricity for this little community nestling between the vine-clad, terraced slopes of the caldera and the sea. So the lower diamond necklace of lights we saw on approach last Monday in the early gloom were thanks to Aida.
Aida has created her own social dish which she serves up in a massive bowl so the diners can help themselves. First in goes the clams, then layers of fish and her home grown vegetables, stock and wine and finally a crown of crabs. This is accompanied with local rustic bread made by her cousin in Santa Espirito, just up the road.
Such dignitaries as the chief of police of the Azores and the President of Portugal have enjoyed her culinary delights. A letter addressed to Aida, Maia, Santa Maria would find her and all she asked of us was an apron from Rutland and a copy of the photos I took.
While we were there teams of men were setting up a stadium with canopy, staging lights and amplifiers for the impending Folk festival on Aida’s open air grounds. Over one thousand people are expected, being ferried down to the site by coach. Next weekend all the gear will be set up in Santa Barbara for a Blues festival and the following weekend it will move somewhere else until the beginning of September. Then all goes quiet for another year. They know how to entertain themselves and keep the youngsters on the islands.
We filled the car on the way home with fresh fruit and veg, some fish and meat, all locally produced and from the municipal market. Plus a few more items from the supermarket and that evening treated ourselves to a meal at the Clube Naval.
The not so old man and the sea. Next morning, yesterday, we had to return the car to Lui Sousa at Ilhe Verde Car Hire based at the airport. While he drove us back to the top of town we got onto the subject of his boat. A fairly heavy, six metre fishing boat that gives him much pleasure.
One day Lui was out on his boat with his friend Fernando. They were taking it in turns to land a very big fish. “Lui I cannot hold the rod any longer, it is much too hard” “Fernando just drink some water and you will be fine.” Three and a half hours and eight bottles of beer later both of them were exhausted when they finally landed the 130kg big eyed black marlin across the swimming platform at the back of the boat. “I like the black marlin from the deep, it’s much tastier. It fed my family and friends for quite some time”. We asked him if he knew where we could get a courtesy flag for the Azores. He double parked outside the stationers and as he got out said “If they don’t have one I will ask my wife which of ours you can have, the newest.”
We wandered through the delightful town and had a cool beer in the Central Pub where we had supper a few nights before in the pupil dilating dark interior. The pub was started 49 years ago and I’d love to be around next year for the half century celebrations. Run by a very friendly local family the menu is extensive and their apple pie in thin crisp pastry is delicious.
For centuries the Chinese have travelled the world and settled in places far from home amongst people of a different culture. They have set up businesses knowing what the local demands would be and created a financial success to support themselves and their families. Santa Maria is home to one such couple who run Loja China, a tardis like emporium with tidy shelves and hanging rails covered in everything you could need for the home, office and wardrobe. We wandered up and down the aisles and came out with two deep melamin cereal bowls, better than the shallow dishes when on passage and a degree more appealing than the mixing bowls we had been using!
Today we have strolled around and along the outer harbour wall and now little used dock. Since the building of the inner harbour wall the ferry now docks nearer the town. Past the now defunct tuna processing plant, up the long old track beside a river full of frogs, and dotted with bats in the dusk, we noticed last night, to the town. We sheltered in a beautiful old church while a shower passed and now we look forward to another meal at Clube Naval, this time with the solo French sailor on the aluminium yacht next door called Jaoul (his surname). He is from Normandy and will explore the islands until September when he will return home. Don’t ask me his name as we don’t know it yet. Watch this space!
Back on board Zoonie is looking clean, well stocked and ready for the off. We just need to fill up with diesel on Monday morning and we will be away home from this lovely peaceful place.