Since it’s our first Sunday in Portugal, we decide to join tia Ana and attend mass. Her church is a short walk away and is spectacularly located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Five years ago, the church celebrated its 500th year which puts its first service sometime in the year 1507, which was over a hundred years after the Azores was initially settled. I’m not even sure if the rocks in our subdivision at home are 500 years old.
While attending church in Canada can be somewhat painful, the churches in Europe are designed for maximum pain, and from what I have been told, it is to ensure you stay awake and focused during the service. To combat this, churchgoers regularly eat double helpings of potatoes and bread to grow and extra inch or two of fat on their asses, which makes sitting on the pews tolerable. Though I’ve been trying my best, I just hadn’t been in the country long enough to produce this padding, so the iron-like wooden boards did significant damage to my backside, not to mention the oak kneeling boards which obliterated my kneecaps. But to be honest, the service was pretty good, and the songs and music were way better than average. The kids are always very well behaved in church, and this time was no different, even though they couldn’t understand what was being said.
After mass, which was at 11:30, we drove over to tia Alda’s house for yet another massive lunch and drinking fest. Today’s lunch was unique though, as it was cooked in the ground and called caldeirada. There is a town on the eastern side of the island called Furnas, which is a very active geothermic area. In fact, the entire town smells of sulfur and there are hot springs and steam coming out of the ground everywhere. A tradition from this area is to take a big pot, fill it with beef, pork, sausages, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and spices, then lower it into the ground where the temperatures get quite high, and let it sit for six hours, then retrieve and consume. Early in the morning, John, Pedro and Paul had taken such a pot of food there, lowered it into the natural oven, then picked it up in time for lunch, and we arrived just in time to avoid all the work and enjoy all the benefits of the meal. As expected, it was delicious, and the fresh bread, wine and half a dozen desserts made it even better.
The lunch lasted right until dinner time, which is exactly how all good Sunday lunches should play out. The whole crew that were at the previous days lunch at tio Luis’ house were here again today, with the addition of cousin Manuella, Tony and their son Francisco. The kids all got along well and spent the afternoon playing and chasing each other around the house, it seemed like they had overcome the language barrier that made the first couple meetings with the other kids difficult.
We left at 5:30 and went straight to the beach for a quick swim, by this time the sun had appeared and the beach was full of people. The kids and I took a dip and played around in the big rolling while Ana enjoyed the sunshine. The sand in the Azores is black, which looks a little strange at first, but you get used to it, especially once you realize the colour makes it impossible to miss any when you’re brushing it off your body.
We arrived back at tia Ana’s house at 6:30, just in time to eat again, but this time it was a lovely fish meal of chicharros (I think the English word for these are mackerel, or at least they sure look like small mackerel)– which happen to be Ana’s favourite fish. I was determined to get to bed at a decent time, so after dinner I went upstairs to read and wind down while the kids and ladies played a rousing game of Trouble. We actually had the kids in bed by 10pm, and I was out cold shortly after that.