How I got a Facemask on the Azores

Zur deutschen Fassung dieser Geschichte.


When I flew to the Azores from Lisbon on I-don’t-remember-exactly-but-some-time-in-the-beginning-of-March, there was this person at the airport who was probably just snickering disparagingly about people with facemasks. And maybe eating a Snickers bar under the hood, just for the pun of it.

Corona-Schutzanzug

At that time, a mere two months ago, although it may seem slightly longer, that person already knew something. I can just assume that he/she was a virologist or the Portuguese Minister for Health.

Elsewhere in the world, you might have worried that the hoodie was with the Ku Klux Klan. But this was in Portugal. There are no radicals in Portugal, no extremists, no terrorists. Everybody and everything in Portugal is moderate. “Even our communists are moderate,” my friend Romeu had explained in Lisbon, almost with disappointment because, in a way, it moderates even his staunch anti-communism.

Anyway, you are not here to read about politics, and it was time to get on the small plane that would hover me to the island of Faial. That flight was quite something, but remind me to tell you about that in another story, for we shall keep the digressions to a minimum or we are all going to die because we forget to protect our respiratory system.

I survived the flight (Portuguese airspace has only moderate turbulences), and as I left the harbor (that will be explained in the flight story, but stop being interrupted, will you?), I did see a few people, mostly ladies, it seemed, who were apparently conscious of the virus and already wearing facemasks.

vintage-photos-of-portuguese-women-2

vintage-photos-of-portuguese-women-3

vintage-photos-of-portuguese-women-23

Strange fashion, it may seem to you, but the islands are thousands of kilometers from the mainland, and time moves differently here. Faial was last struck by the bubonic plague in the winter of 1717 and 1718, but when people told me about it, it was as if they had been there. “It killed Henrique,” they would say about one of their forefathers, wiping a tear. Or “Maria Luísa never got over the loss of Cajó.” Of course people still had the old anti-plague suits at home, ready to be utilized after only 13 generations.

When I said that I was going to stay in the municipality of Cedros, people would inform me with a ghastly look: “Oh, Cedros, they suffered the most from the plague,” as if nothing remarkable or disastrous had happened in the 300 years since. In reality, hundreds of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and hurricanes have occurred since.

I am digressing again, am I not? So let’s wind our grandfather clock forward to 2020, the year of the Corona plague. I rarely saw anyone with a facemask, because there are not many people here anyway. And people are very reasonable, not hugging and kissing anymore. (The Azoreans who were into that kind of behavior all emigrated to Brazil a long time ago.)

But last week, I went to the supermarket and realized that I was the only one without a facemask. Everything had changed from one day to the next. I felt weird, almost naked. But they still let me in and gave me chocolate and stuff.

As a guest on the island, I want to fit in. So I went to the pharmacy, hoping they would have a facemask. But already at the door, a handwritten note said that they were out of masks until the next ship would arrive. I did learn that it was now required by law to wear a facemask in supermarkets and on the bus.

And then, friends, or shall I call them “friends”, wrote me with “helpful” advice on how I could make my own facemask. “It’s very easy: You just take a piece of cloth, preferably cotton and not used, you cut it this way, fold it that way, iron it, attach some rubber bands and sew around the edges, and there you go.”

I couldn’t even follow the instructions, let alone imagine where I would get cotton, an iron, a sewing machine and rubber bands. What do people think I have in my backpack? If I had that kind of equipment with me, I might as well build a spaceship.

The more “advice” people gave, the madder I got. It was as if someone complained that they are bored, and I told them: “Oh, just write a script, hire a few actors, set up a movie studio, shoot a film, and by tonight, you will have a movie to watch.” Seriously, it’s annoying to assume that everyone has practical talent – and tools to match. I don’t go around assuming that everyone has a penchant for constitutional law or the history of Montenegro, do I?

So I was already rationing food, thinking about putting a sack over my head and cutting two holes for the eyes, when one of the maxims of my life proved true again: If there is a problem, just wait. Somehow, it will be resolved.

Today, as I was going back home from having studied by the sea for a few hours, I had to pass the mail delivery van. The lady who distributes not only letters, but also her heart-warming smile wherever she goes, waved at me to stop. I obliged, naturally, and she handed me a package, saying that it was a gift from the government of the Azores.

facemasks (1)

In it, there were not one, but three fresh facemasks! With instructions.

facemasks (2)

This may be moderately socialist, but I just love it when governments, upon making it mandatory to wear a facemask, mail a box with enough facemasks to everyone in the country, including to people living on a small speck of volcano in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Especially when the mail person flags me down in the middle of the road to make sure that I get one.

It reminded me of my friends in Lisbon, Romeu and Mafalda, again. When we met, they took me to a mural about the history of Lisbon, which you can find if you are at the Portas do Sol viewpoint and ask for the bathroom. They used the cartoons on the wall to give me a very quick overview of Portuguese history. As they got to the time when Portugal was somehow united with Spain (from 1580 to 1640, I believe), Romeu said, jokingly of course, for he is a (moderate) patriot: “We sometimes wish we would have stayed in the Iberian Union because Spain is so much better organized than us.” I, knowing only little of both countries, felt that I had to object. From what I had seen, Portugal is superbly organized. As this episode confirms, one could easily call Portugal the Switzerland of the Iberian peninsula.

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Azores, Health, Portugal, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to How I got a Facemask on the Azores

  1. I hate wearing the facemasks, they make my glasses steam up. I have a feeling that we’re all going to be wearing them for a long time.
    It’s kind of funny, all of the people in U.S. that make such a big deal about women who wear hijabs and now we’re all wearing face masks.
    I was gifted with cloth masks by a blog friend… no quotation marks. 😂😷

    • Those are real friends!

      I was actually also thinking about the hijab debate. In Europe, some countries had actually made it illegal to cover one’s face. And now they require everyone to wear facemasks and we find out that women with traditional Muslim dresses were always better for our health than the people spreading their viruses. Quite ironic.

      So far, I don’t mind the mask myself, but it also hasn’t been hot. And of course I always wear them only for a short time. It must be really tough for people who need to wear it for a whole shift at work, especially in a hot place.

  2. Pingback: Azorische Gesichtsmasken | Der reisende Reporter

  3. Ildikó Pethő-Dévay says:

    Lucky you, you got the masks right before you starved ;) I’ve seen these signs… “you are not allowed to enter the supermarket without a mask”, and another sign, just right next to the other one “we are out of masks”. Catch 22…

    Jokes put aside… I’m already worried about how will I work in a mask, because my glasses steam up pretty badly. In 2 days the sate of emergency will be over, and there is a good chance that the curfew will be lifted too. With this comes the wearing of masks inside becoming mandatory. Our president said that it’s going to be mandatory inside. Nothing more. Nothing about public places, work places, supermarkets, etc. Just: INSIDE. So… that means, even if I’m sitting at home, totally alone, but INSIDE, am still obliged to wear a mask! Anyway our leader politicians have made totally contradictory declarations in the last week about the ending of the state of emergency. So, even if it ends in 2 days, nobody knows exactly what will happen after that.

    Don’t let me interrupt your interruption of me reading your story… but please do not forget about the story of the flight ;) I hope you made photos of the flight and the plane too :)

    • The thing about interrupting the interruption sent my thoughts down a rabbit hole from which they can barely escape.

      But don’t worry about the ambiguity from politicians. Surely, there will be a 14-page ordnance detailing everything. Maybe published at the last minute.

      Anyway, soon there will be second wave because everyone will be hugging and kissing again.

      Oh, and thanks for reminding me of the story about the flight to Faial! I had already forgotten about it again.
      And knowing that you (and many readers) are always skeptical of what I write, I will indeed add some photos.

    • Ildikó Pethő-Dévay says:

      That is the problem… they should have been releasing this new ordnance a week ago, so we won’t be in this situation of 2-3 days without ANY restrictions. Stores, public transport companies, etc have no idea how to prepare for the next week if they don’t know the new rules. As usual the details won’t cover everything, there will be loopholes, there will be ambiguities, like with the rest of the laws around here, so they had to complement them with all kinds of press releases, explaining things.

      I’m not a big kisser/hugger (maybe because I have some German blood in me :) ), but I really miss the human touch… I haven’t hugged anybody for more than 2 months. There are many studies about how a simple, friendly hug can be good for mental health.

      P.s. Do not forget about the flight :P

    • But don’t you have a teddy bear?
      I am definitely an exception from this study. When I see the “Free Hugs” people, I get scared.

      And thank you!
      I honestly had already forgotten about the flight. (But had plenty of other ideas instead.)

    • Ildikó Pethő-Dévay says:

      It would be scary if a teddy bear hugged me back. Anyway I don’t like the free hugs either… I miss the hugs from my family and my closest friends, not strangers.

      P.s. … flight … :)

    • Because I knew you would remind me again, I worked on it all night:
      https://andreasmoser.blog/2020/05/15/flight-to-horta/

    • Ildikó Pethő-Dévay says:

      Aaww, thank you :)

  4. ronbwilson says:

    Great writing! I need help from time to time, do you do freelance writing or editing! keep up the good work. Look forward to following.you.

    • Thank you, Sir!
      Actually, I have been thinking of doing that indeed. But so far, people have only asked me to write terrible marketing bla bla stuff, which I have always declined, preferring to go to bed on an empty stomach. From what I have read on your blog, however, that would be quite interesting.
      If there is ever anything where you think we might cooperate, please e-mail me.

  5. Mary says:

    I loved your story!

  6. Happy to know you have the mask now 😂❤️ let’s hope when things go back to normal life and you come again to Lisbon we can meet . I took my last walk is Lisbon with you , and one of my last meals in a restaurant with you also , can you imagine how long it was ? No 💡 already

    • Wow, knowing that is actually quite an honor for me! I am really worried about coming back to the continent because I think I will be very shocked. Here on the islands, everything is quite relaxed and I don’t feel the severity of the restrictions. (For example, in two months, I haven’t seen a single police car/officer on Faial.)

  7. Oh yes, the ‘Capote & Capelo’ is a very traditional gown that women used in the old days, is like an historical icon of the Azores.

    https://www.europeanheritagedays.com/Story/56eec/Azoreanhood

    • Oh. For not knowing anything, I got surprisingly close. I mean, at least I got the part about passing them from mothers to daughters right.

    • Now I was left wondering whether this garment could have had a role during the Spanish flu… and the others before that. Just a couple of days ago I was reading about the pandemics in the Azores in 1918.

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