From Opera Stages to a Life without Money
Everybody knows the red doors in Silveira on the south coast of Pico Island. Once the entrance to a big piece of land full of vineyards, it is now the always open door to a little paradise, created by Jean-Daniel.
He greets everyone with a smile and if you don’t know that he only arrived to Pico in 2018, you would think he is a local. His french accent gives him away, even tho he speaks portuguese, english, german and russian fluently. His skin is always tanned from the work outside and his little puppy Pollux, the black cat Phébus und his chickens and ducks are always somewhere around, following him throughout his vast land.
Born on Réunion Island – which belongs to France even tho it lays in the Indian Ocean – and with frequent visits to his grandfather on Corsica, Jean-Daniel has been growing up on islands. At the age of fourteen however, he decided he had enough of it and signed himself up for a military boarding school in the south of France. Much to the surprise of his parents. And even tho he was terrified to be so far away from everything and everyone he knew, he needed the challenge to grow.
After graduation he dreamed of studying literature. But the pressure of family, society and his own self doubt were too high so he went to university and became a bio-engineer. But he never felt like this was his true path.
If you are brave, you can be anything
After years of studying with multiple sabbaticals, for example in Russia and Germany, he decided to finally follow his heart. He had started singing in Russia at random, but found his passion. When reminded of the memory, he laughs, mentioning that in the beginning he failed a lot and his teacher simply felt sorry for him. But he kept going and eventually became a talented and hard working singer.
So, after he finished his degree in bio-engineering, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. It was a big step, leaving the stability of a job like this behind to choose a more uncertain but also more passionate route. It even affected his relationship to his father so heavily, that they didn’t talk to one another for multiple years.
“Due to singing I discovered things that were completely new to me.”Jean-Daniel about his transition from engineer to artist
Living in Paris, he produced his own shows and went on stage as an actor, dancer and eventually also as a singer, even winning performing competitions at first entry. Only a short while later, in 2006, he shifted his career towards being a stage director and a teacher, mainly in opera. From the outside it seemed like he had it all and he was on his way to a huge career. Even his father started to respect his career choice now. Everything went so smoothly and no matter what he did, it seemed to turn into a success.
But Jean-Daniel already knew that this life had more in store for him. He didn’t like the topics of corruption, money and influence that were very present at the higher levels of professional singing and acting. He knew that at some point he would have to leave that world behind, just like he had left his island as a child. His true calling was still awaiting him. And he found it a few years later, completely unexpected.
A promise of returning
It was late July 2011 when he first set foot on Pico Island. He had simply accompanied a friend who visited the Azores, never really wanting to come here in the first place. But once here, he realized the beauty of the archipelago and his heart was reminded of all the things he missed about island life as he knew it. On Pico he spent only one single day. It was enough for him to lose his heart to the island.
“When I finally found my place, I cried and said to him: Thank you. You see, I am here. I am back. This is for you.”Jean-Daniel about returning to Pico
While he otherwise might have gotten over the idea of living on Pico and would have moved on with his life as it used to be, the death of a close friend settled it. The intense pain of this loss was like a wake up call. It showed him that some chances only come once and that life could be over any second.
So Jean-Daniel decided, in honor of his late friend, that he would be brave and make Pico his future home. Because that was what his heart wanted. He promised to return to Pico and make it happen.
While still living in France, he dedicated every waking hour of the following years to finish up projects and too slowly say goodbye to the life he had built with so much effort. It took six years for him to complete his goals and finally turn that promise into a reality.
A dream that changed it all
In October 2017 he returned, determined to find a house and land to buy. A friend from São Miguel had set him up to meet a man on Pico who had land to sell. At first, Jean-Daniel was shocked. The land was huge and had multiple houses, but only a small part of it had the conditions to live in. Everything else was full of dirt, garbage and broken things. For Jean-Daniel, it was a clear No, he could not even imagine living in such a mess of a place. So he forgot about the land instantly.
Until his last night before he had to leave Pico, when a dream shook him awake. He saw the land of the house in his dream. The land that was covered in a jungle of old vineyards and wild growing trees. He saw the coast line and the forgotten stonewalls, he saw everything so clearly. He had not visited the land and had no idea where these images came from. So he called the owner in the morning, asking to see the place once more. He only had a few hours before his departure.
“In my first dream, I saw the present. In the second dream, I saw the future”Jean-Daniel about his decision
At 10am, they met at the house, looked at the place again that Jean-Daniel still could not imagine living in. But he insisted on seeing the land. As it was impossible to enter from the side of the house, they hiked down the little pathway close by which ends at the end of his land. And there it was. The exact coast from his dream. He entered the land from the seaside, as vegetation wasn’t as harsh here as up at the house, and he saw the walls and structures he could not possibly know about, since no one even told him that they existed. But yet to him they were familiar, because he had seen them in his dream. Taken aback, he asked for more time to make a decision.
In the following night, already on Faial, ready to board the plane to France the next morning, he had a second dream. Again, he was on the land. But this time, he saw the future.
Creating a home for everyone
He saw the houses restored, the doors painted, the rooms light flooded and with children passing by and animals roaming around his vegetable garden. He saw the possibility of teaching all the things he had learned to everyone interested and to create a place everyone would feel welcomed and safe. He saw groups of people in exchange and deep discussion about important topics, sharing dreams, ideas and wisdom.
He realized that in a place like this, as much work as it would take to turn that vision into reality, he could still be the artist he always was meant to be. He could teach singing, Tap Dance, Yoga, Wushu (martial art) and open his doors for everyone who wanted to broaden their horizon. He could perform. He could be surrounded by people every day. He could grow. He could pass on his wisdom. And once everything was done he could live without any money, autonomously, just day by day, in peace.
So he got to work and turned that shabby, broken place into the small paradise we all know and love today.
“I don’t want to change the world. I just want to do what I want and I know if I do it well, it can change the world around me. You don’t have to convince people. Just show the example.”Jean-Daniel
Finding happiness in oneself
While his life story is full of shifts and drastic decisions, Jean-Daniel tells the story as if he was reading from a good book. Full of emotion, but without any regret, fear or worry. He knows that every step of the way has let him here and that every challenge in life can be overcome. He has followed his heart every step of the way and by staying true to himself, he always knows that he is doing the right thing.
When asked about loneliness, he shrugs. When he came to Pico, he didn’t have a family or a partner. He doesn’t expect to find the man of his dreams on the island, but it doesn’t bother him. He is so confident and at peace with himself that loneliness doesn’t have a chance to win.
And this is maybe the biggest lesson everyone can learn from meeting Jean-Daniel: how to find happiness and strength in yourself, no matter what life throws at you.