Cape Verde is a sovereign nation and so it can do whatever it wants, and in 2010 what it wanted to do was host the first Macaronesian Summit. Macaronesia comprises Cape Verde, the Spanish dependency of the Canary Islands, and the Portuguese dependencies of Madeira and the Azores. I can't speak for the Canaries, but I have a feeling Madeira and the Azores, left to their own devices, would have skipped this. Indeed, since the summits were supposed to be biennial and there seems not to have been a second, they did skip something. Even Cape Verde itself probably wanted to. All of these places are out in the central Atlantic but none has felt, to me, particularly needy of attention. None feels remote. Someone on the Azores told me it was a terra santa, a blessed land, by definition not Godforsaken; nor, I would say, forsaken by anyone else.

The Azores, or at least the two I set foot on, Faial and Pico, are definitely in something, namely Portugal. The language is emphatically Portuguese, the elastically-voweled Iberian version: the guy who called it a terra santa pronounced the word lei as "lawy." The culture is Portuguese, for only Portugal would run a TV news story about Guinea-Bissau - which in theory speaks the same language, though here for some reason it was subtitled. I also saw a memorial to local boys who'd served and died in the Overseas War, and I had never seen anywhere else in Portugal what the 1960's-1970's military operations were even called. And while hiking up to Monte da Guia, I saw a detour marked The Cod Trail. Cod came from Newfoundland but where Portuguese are around, cod get worked into everything.

And speaking of Newfoundland, I think it's still your last stop or next stop when you're deep-sea yachting via the Azores. The harbor in Horta, I mean the jetty that most immediately shelters the boat basin, is plastered with emblems and inscriptions left by visiting sailors. None is very enchanting or memorable - I suspect if you have limitless cash, absolutely no responsibilities, and a full-time hobby that guarantees almost full-time solitude, you're missing some major social enzymes, like you have the interpersonal equivalent of lactose intolerance - but there are a lot of them. Clearly these islands will never want for visitors, whether or not those visitors liven up the place.

While in the Azores I expected to meditate on remoteness, but I did no such thing. I did however do it on the remainder of my trip, which was up to a town called Peniche, an hour and a half north of Lisbon. It looked quite nice, but as it happened, I did not stay in it: I'd wildly picked a hotel about which all I knew was that it was reasonably priced, attractive-looking, and at the westernmost point in Europe, and this turned out to be a long cab ride out of town. The hotel was comfortable and the area scenic, but I really wanted something to eat and drink, and there was nothing to do but take a hike in gathering darkness, toward the only buildings I could see on the eastern horizon, themselves mostly unlit.

Now I was thinking about remoteness. But not Peniche's. The walk was not hazardous or complicated or too long, and I eventually did find a tiny grocery where I bought beer, almonds, and crackers. These provisions did however remind me of a recent drive from South Carolina to Texas, when I overnighted in Alexandria, Louisiana. There too I ended up in a hotel not near anything useful, and wound up buying and consuming practically the same sorry things. But the experience was far worse in Alexandria. The proprietress of the Peniche shop was perfectly agreeable; the guy in the bulletproof cage in the Alexandria c-store might have been but who ever chats with someone who's surrounded by cigarettes and lottery tickets? This place really did seem Godforsaken. It was actually across the highway from the hotel, but looked starker for that. The city was right down that well-lit highway but the streets were not simply empty, I could tell they were being actively avoided by people who valued their health and wealth. Northern Louisiana is not southern Louisiana. It has no reputation for fun.

While in Portugal I had wondered exactly when this historically poor and backward country had become a tourist spot (and a very good one), when exactly someone got the idea that coming to it for no practical reason at all was still a good reason. I still don't know when this happened, but it did, and so coming to it - any part of it, the metropole, Madeira, the Azores, one former colony (Cape Verde) if not another (Guinea-Bissau) - now makes sense. You don't feel as if you've strayed, coming to these places. You do feel that way in certain parts of Louisiana, though. Coming to them, you say, "I gotta get back." Or get out, or resume moving. And that is how I would define remoteness.

2013 J.A.Hutter

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