After returning from our bus tour of São Miguel in the Azores, we wandered along Ponta Delgada’s clean, narrow streets which were unencumbered by SUV’s or traffic lights. In front of a tiny market a woman spent five minutes leisurely loading ten grocery bags into her trunk while eight cars stacked up behind her on the one-lane street. This maneuver netted her only two short honks. A similar move in any American town might be considered just cause for vehicular homicide.
The last sight awaiting us near the ship was one of the most memorable—attributed not to the Azoreans, but to those merely passing through. A patchwork of graffiti by ships’ crews covered about a half mile of dockside wall, turning thousands of square feet of barren concrete into an impromptu international art museum.
I easily sensed the sailors’ pride in their ships, whether displaying flags, crests, emblems, ships, or names. A polyglot of English, Russian, Arabic, Polish, Danish, German, Greek, and more was layered thickly across every available inch. Any spot beginning to fade was fair game for a new graphic. The artistry mixed cartoons of a bulldog with Prometheus. Renditions of three-masted schooners battled for space with modern naval ships. Just a sampling of the ships: HMS Carlskrona of the Royal Swedish Navy, NOAA’s Ronald H. Brown, Holland America’s Noordam IV, the Dutch clipper Stad Amsterdam, the guided missile frigate USS McInerney, the destroyer USS Carney, the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, the Dutch Navy’s Hr. Ms. Tromp, the Polish tall ship Fryderyk Chopin (found in three separate graphics), the German Navy’s Air Defense Frigate FGS Sachsen, the Danish Navy’s HSMS Vaederren, the British Navy’s HMS Coventry, our own Navigator of the Seas (paint still wet).
Every crew found a way to leave their distinct imprint. Where the seas showed no mark of their passage, that wall surely did. I couldn’t help but think of my 1831 diarist recording his European travels with pen and ink, leaving behind a memento that would survive the centuries, charting a trail for me to follow.