Discovering the Azores

When I bring up the subject of the Azores Islands in conversations about vacation destinations, most people I know respond with a blank look. They may have heard of the archipelago, but in most cases, have no idea where the islands are located.

Manadas shoreline

That response changes when conversing with someone of Portuguese descent. Portuguese Americans whose great- or great-great-grandparents emigrated from the Azores know exactly where the islands are. They’re situated in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, somewhere in the vicinity of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. More than one theorist has explored the possibility that the Azores Islands are the remnants of Atlantis. But that’s another story.

In contrast to today’s typical island tourist traps, the Azores are relatively untouched by commercialism and have retained their charm. Tourists are welcome and find it very easy to enjoy the many lovely features of these islands. A four hour flight from Boston brings visitors to a refreshing world of islands with diverse vacation pastimes. Hiking, swimming, sailing, whale watching, or simply lying on a pristine beach under a Mediterranean sky.

Hydrangea Hedges

The visual feast alone is worth the trip. Green hills bordered by giant hydrangea hedges, rocky slopes dropping to a shoreline dotted by rustic villages untouched by time. Harbors filled with yachts making this ideal pit stop on their way to or from faraway destinations.Horta Marina

The gustatory feast is one to be savored and remembered long after the experience. The subtle green wine and the cheeses made from the truly happiest cows on earth would be enough to sustain most travelers. But that’s just the beginning. There is nothing as delightful as Portuguese cuisine. Fresh-baked breads, chicken prepared in succulent recipes, myriad seafood dishes, of course, and roast beef flavored with secrets handed down for who knows how many generations? Perhaps from the inhabitants of Atlantis.Atlantis

For folks who dream of finding that mythical location, the Azores Islands might be the next best thing.

The Aimee Machado Mysteries feature a protagonist whose parents have retired and moved to the island if Faial in the Azores. They are very happy with their new life. So far, they are unaware of Aimee’s tendency to get caught up in solving murders that involve her job as a hospital librarian in northern California.

Many websites feature visits to the Azores. One good example is www.visitazores.com.

A Vacation Getaway

Have you ever longed for a few days without computers, television, do-everything phones and devices? It seems ironic that most luxury getaways offer to keep us plugged in and turned on, even when we’re paying a bundle to get away from life’s constant demands on our time and attention.

What could be a greater luxury than to disconnect from the cyber world and reconnect with the natural world we’ve nearly forgotten? Thanks to our country’s protected mountain wilderness areas, it’s still possible to get back to basics—and to remember that we were once, not so long ago, creatures of the earth who used more parts of our bodies than just our thumbs.

Travel Arrangements:

My favorite luxury getaway is one where the only sound of civilization is the distant murmur of a commercial jetliner passing overhead. And speaking of travel, the mode of transportation in the wilderness is as basic as it gets. It’s called walking, and requires nothing more than a well-fitting pair of boots and proper socks designed for hiking. The movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, does a great job of demonstrating the problems encountered with incorrect footwear.

Hiking accessories can be minimal, with everything necessary fitting in a backpack. Smoke packingAgain, Witherspoon’s character went far overboard with her pack. With the load she carried, she should have taken along a llama or two.

A few words about llamas: they are great pack animals, but only if the hikers are proficient llama packers. I have it on good authority that hikers with no llama handling experience should not try to rent these extraordinary animals for packing. According to my source, who has seen it happen, it can turn into a “horror show.”

Accommodations:

TentBe cautioned that there will be no maid service. Wilderness hiking requires that visitors leave their accommodations as pristine as if they were never there. Nothing is more disheartening than arriving at a campsite and seeing empty beer cans and cigarette packs scattered on the ground. Fire rings should be dismantled, and broken fishing line, particularly dangerous to wildlife, should be packed out along with all other trash.

Pets:

Dogs may be allowed on your trip, but check ahead to be sure. Outdoor outfitters sell doggy backpacks, so Rover can carry his own food, water, and bedroll. If your dog does come along, check leash requirements. Owners who do not respect these rules may be subjecting their animals to a heap of trouble. Dogs who spook passing llamas or horses on the trail could end up the victim of a vicious kick severe enough to spoil the outing.

Entertainment:

All in all, the preparation involved in wilderness hiking is well worthLake it when the destination is reached. There’s a special joy in sitting on a fallen log after a dinner of fresh trout, sipping hot cocoa while watching moonlight rippling on a clear mountain lake. No TV, no Internet, just human to human communication around a glowing campfire. Ahh . . . time to book a trip.

For information on wilderness hiking throughout the U.S. contact: http ://www.fs.fed .us /organization/506

Checked Out, the second book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, finds Aimee and Nick llama packing in the northern California wilderness to track down a witness to murder. Due for release in October, 2015.

Heard any accordion jokes lately? Who Hasn’t?

CIMG1304The accordion has been much maligned throughout its history. Each time I hear someone belittle accordion music, my hackles rise. I must come to the defense of my late mother, an extraordinary musician who made beautiful music on her accordion. Have the detractors of the accordion never heard the romantic and evocative strains of Lady of Spain or a haunting accordion rendition of The Third Man Theme?

Maybe not, those musical delights are from a bygone era. But there are other more modern musicians who have incorporated the accordion into their repertoires. The instrument brings its subtle but enchanting sound to the music of a variety of artists, from the fifties up to the present day. Those delightful notes and chords often go unrecognized, leaving the accordionist an unsung hero of many musical hits. Superstar musicians who have used the accordion to enhance their musical numbers include The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Billy Joe, Bruce Springsteen, Grace Jones, R.E.M., The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Tom Waits and many, many more.

One of my favorite Pandora Radio Stations is the one I created when I discovered Dan Newton’s CafĂ© Accordion Orchestra. It is reminiscent of the music heard in Paris bistros of the twenties. It set the perfect mood when I was writing the second novel in my Aimee Machado Mystery series.

Aimee and her co-workers sometimes have lunch at a restaurant near the hospital where they work. The character of Margie, the restaurant’s proprietor who sometimes plays accordion solos for her patrons, was inspired by my late mother. So here’s to Mom and her lifelong love of the accordion. May she live on musically in the pages of the Aimee Machado Mysteries. And whenever I hear an accordion, I’ll continue to say, “Thanks for the memories.”

Who killed the cowboy?

First draft of my latest hospital librarian mystery is almost finished, but I can’t keep it under 90,000 words unless I leave out the last two chapters. But then no one would know who killed the rodeo cowboy. Guess I’ll go back and take out the parts people don’t read. But I’m keeping the llamas. And the scary woman doctor who operates on . . . well, that’s TMI.