VOLTAS by Elaine Ávila PART III
One of my favorite conversations was with Diana Zimbron---a novelist from Terceira now living on Pico. She shared that she used to see no value in history, as it is taught in a conservative way in school in the Azores, but she was starting to see that it held many treasures. I shared that for me, a footnote about a woman in history is like a small bone from her body. If I write and write, then she will come alive again, in a play, and we can hear her voice.
Then Diana told me that a woman, Brianda Pereira, led the successful rebellion in 1581 against the Spanish on Terceira (the only place which “remained Portugal” at the time), in the Battle of Salga, where residents gathered all the bulls on the island into a central caldeira, then let them loose in the streets, driving off the invaders. Diana also told me she once stood at the entrance to the tunnels which had been dug beneath the city of Angra to withstand piracy, wondering, how, how could our ancestors do this? Digging tunnels beneath your city to survive is a seemingly impossible, endless task.
I told her I felt the same on Pico, where my ancestors, 500 years ago, were left to wait eight years for the next supply ship. They began moving black lava stones into a network of small stone walls to protect plants in a maze so beautiful and extensive that it has become World Heritage. How could you get the mettle to move the first stone, and the next and the next?
We felt the same about José Lisandro. No matter how you feel about whaling, the question remains. How could an individual find the power within himself to kill one of the largest animals on earth from a small and rocking canoe with a small, pointed stick? I asked Sr. Lisandro, what was the most important thing to remember when harpooning a whale—aim? Force? He exclaimed, without a doubt, “Força!”
Diana and I agreed, we absolutely must draw upon the incredible fortitude of our ancestors. After each stop in each turn in our own writer’s “parade” of many days, I realized this festival worked its magic on my soul: I began to feel the passion and courage to continue my work, the “força” that Jose talked about.
Nina Soulimant (Associação Reinventar Ilhas), the recipient of this year’s prize for exemplifying the power of the festival, played her beautiful song for us on our last day, which brought tears to my eyes, as it so beautifully expressed the força in art, with its ability to build community and hold up mirrors to society:
Estrangeiro na rua
Companheiro de vida
Se tens medo,
fecha os olhos e espera
Só um pouco
para o coração abrir e ver
(Full translation available on a short video she recently released:
One of the events of the festival was a reading of part of my new play in Valzinho da Fazenda movement studio (Nina´s home), performed by musician/artist Pieter Adriaans, novelist/poet Carolina Cordeiro of São Miguel, novelist/dancer Susana Júdice of Bombarral, Portugal, and Festival Director/Theatre Artist Terry Costa. They poured so much love, humor and understanding into the play, it was an incredible privilege for me to share it on Flores island.
Diana said my play reading reminded her of something she missed most of all about Terceira: Carnaval. I immediately thought of my grandmother’s writing on the back of her photograph. She wrote that those beautiful days, of Carnaval, would never return. However, thanks to the inspiring work and conversations I had with leaders, writers and artists at Encontro Pedras Negras, especially with Azorean women, the times had, indeed, returned.
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