“This is our favourite island in the Azores, but we’re of course biased… I’m not sure you will like it all that much”, said Jorge while his wife nodded her head. We had just arrived at Graciosa and were chatting to the couple that owned the house where we were staying. While Gabriel chased an annoyed lizard across the garden, they told us more about the island. – “There’s not much water, so the vegetation is not as luxuriant as in Flores. Our harbour is tiny, so you won’t find here the many sailors that stop at Faial before crossing the Atlantic. We don’t have a big mountain like Pico. And there’s only a handful of restaurants on the entire island, so don’t expect the nice food they have at São Miguel.”
Despite the warnings, we were off to a good start. Keen on ensuring we had at least one good meal, the couple had left freshly baked fish and potatoes in the oven. We brought the loot to the patio and savoured it under the mellow spring sun.
That same evening, I was sitting in the living room reading a book. Soon my attention drifted from the pages to the words that came from the nearby bedroom, where Jules was telling Gabriel a bedtime story.
Once upon a time there was a little girl called Alice. One morning, Alice could barely contain her excitement at breakfast. – “We’re doing a race today at school”, she said, between hurried mouthfuls. “I bet I’ll outrun all my friends!”, added Alice excitingly while copious amounts of cereal fell from her mouth.
At dinner, Alice’s excitement had vanished. – “How did the race go?” asked her father, while she stared at her vegetables. – “Not too well, dad. But that’s okay, because tomorrow we have a math test, and I’ll have the highest score!”. Alice’s excitement had returned, albeit in a more cautious guise.
The following dinner, Alice’s enthusiasm had once again vanished. – “How did the math test go?” asked her father tentatively. Alice mumbled something intelligible and proceeded to stab a poor Brussels sprout with her fork.
– “You know what would pep you up?”, intervened Alice’s mother. “After dinner, go make a drawing for your best friend, I bet he will love it”. To the relief of the surviving Brussels sprouts but the frustration of her parents, Alice immediately sprang up from her seat and went racing to her bedroom. – “I’ll make the best drawing Lucas has ever seen!”, shouted Alice from halfway down the corridor.
The next day, when her mother picked her up from school, Alice would not even lift her eyes up from the sidewalk. They sat at a garden bench to talk about what was going on. – “I’m not good at anything” blurted out Alice between sobs. “Noah won the race, Leonor had a perfect score at the math test, and Lucas gave me a drawing that everyone thought was better than the one I gave him”, added a dejected Alice.
– “You know”, countered Alice’s mother, “being good and being the best are two very different things. There are seven billion people in our planet, and only one can be the best at running, the best at math, or the best at drawing. The rest of us can only strive to be as good as we can be.”
“Don’t be mad that Noah outran you, don’t be frustrated that Leonor outsmarted you, and don’t get despaired that Lucas outdrew you. Knowing someone that does something better than you is a privilege, do your best to learn from them.”
“We are all good at a few things, bad at a few things, and average at all the others. That’s what makes us normal, that’s what makes us equal.”
Graciosa means graceful in Portuguese. The island had once close to 10,000 inhabitants, but today barely reaches 4,000. In our loud days of über, outstanding and extreme, everything understated goes by underrated.
elegant, stylish, refined, polished, charming
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