Saturday, September 6, 2008

Faial - 3rd Rock From the Left

Before launching into the day let me say that Grupo Silveira ROCKS! Eight different personalities that seem to mesh pretty well. Not even a food fight, so far. We have diversity that runs from contemplative to lightning in a bottle (we can guess who that is, Sarah). The topic last night at dinner was “fairness” and even with a clear head this morning I’m not sure who was in favor and who against. Our hotel desk lady is a fireball who would have recommended a real Azorean folk dance if we had “only asked” since she is an expert on everything. She makes us laugh.

Friday – September 5th - Sao Miguel and Faial

After an excellent nights sleep (leaving the window open makes all the difference) another beautiful, breezy day greets us on Sao Miguel. We have the morning to explore the library, and if time permits, stop at the University of the Azores. We have a few hours before checkout and our trip to the airport for our flight to Faial.

We have unknowingly walked past the library on our way to the town center at least 4 times, perhaps because of the beautiful ivy covered homes beside it. It is right next to the theater behind a very popular, lovely, flowered park. Just as we approached the front doors, they swung open and there was Rich just leaving. For a moment we were startled to see someone we knew so far from home then remembered; Oh! He’s with us, that’s right. He was on his way to the Grupo SATA office to confirm the flights, and continue his multi-continent argument over their refusal to rebate unused portions of his highly discounted ticket. Good luck.

The library is very modern and the people in the archive section could not have been friendlier or more helpful. I provided the name of my grandfather, his birthplace and what I thought was his date of birth. This was going to be a snap, I smugly thought to myself. What I got was a good lesson on the difference between an Internet search and a primary records search.

The archivist brought bound, handwritten indexes, one for each council on Sao Miguel (about 12), for all births over the 50 year period 1860 – 1910 (this is about right, as I was too surprised by the volume of data to note the exact years included). She explained that all I had to do was locate the one line that referenced my grandfather’s birth and she would bring me the citation.

OK. First problem was I couldn’t understand how these indexes were indexed. How would we do it? How would they do it in 1910 in the Azores. Well how they did it makes a lot of sense given they had no computers and no way to shift large volumes of information easily. Each page began with the child’s first name (e.g. Jose), then for each Jose, the father’s first name until that changed, then fathers last name until that changed and so on through the mothers first and last names. So we began, looking through the index for each council for anything that could be close to the information we had.

One entry (and it was from the council of Ribiera Grande) was for a child name Jose, born to Jose Vieira and Maria Augusta, and it was dated 1885. Our information was that my grandfather Jose was born to Jose Vieira and Maria (last name unknown but transcribed as Gula in the marriage book of St. Marys in Newport) in September 1884. I had to remind myself that the record I was looking at was the baptism record not the birth record.

As exciting as this discovery was, it paled in comparison with the information Richard brought back with him from the SATA airlines office. It appears that while he was able to confirm 6 Silveiras on the flight to Faial that afternoon, neither Kathy nor I were on the passenger list. Hmmm. I had an electronic ticket receipt but strange things do happen sometimes. Kat, the dear woman that she is, suggested I continue the research and she would go down to the airline office (a 10 minute walk to the waterfront).

I showed the archivist the entry I was interested in and she returned about 10 minutes later with the church book from Ribiera Grande that was referenced by the index. I don’t know what it says, or what it means, what I do know is that I’m looking at a faded 120 year old, beautifully handwritten entry about someone’s baptism. There are more recent entries in the margins, and they may be readable. The archivist offered to make a copy for me and I readily accepted, figuring I could decode the entry back in the States.

Kat returned and her first words were: “No problem.” It appears someone (maybe me) when making the reservations had reversed the first and last names. She decided to go down a floor where there was Internet access while I waited for the copy of the baptismal record. With record in hand, I descended the stairs and came upon a tableau that took me by surprise. Seated in front of computer monitors was ½ of our group and not a sound emanated from it.

Kat and I headed out on our second mission of the day; we hoped to buy a lettered t-shirt from the book store at the University of the Azores. We had a limited amount of time available to us, so we focused our wishes on the first person we came in contact with upon entering the beautiful grounds of the university, a guard in what appeared to be the philosophy wing of the school. He made a quick phone call and directed us to the main office where Dr. Andrea would be glad to help us.

The receptionist in this beautiful old mansion that served as headquarters made a quick phone call upstairs and moment later we were greeted by a young woman who spoke heavily accented English. We explained that we would like to buy a school t-shirt and she explained that although the school didn’t sell the shirts, she would be pleased to “offer” us a couple and inquired as to the sizes we desired. In that case, we would be pleased to “accept” just one, and the receptionist went to fetch it. During the intervening minutes Dr. Andrea described her trip to the U.S. and how although she enjoyed it greatly, she could not live so far away from the ocean. When asked she said that she had been in Rhode Island, and Little Compton specifically (where son Adam lives with his wife and four children). While we still did not have t-shirt in hand we declined correcting her on the geography of Rhode Island. Two minutes later, we left with our prize, and I’m sure Dr. Andrea must have thought what strange people these Americans are.

We hurried to our hotel, informed the desk clerk of our need for a taxi, and while Kat went upstairs to pack I ran next door to the bakery for a box of fresh pastry. No sooner had we descended into the lobby of our hotel to check out than our taxi driver of two days ago greeted us, grabbed our bag, and whisked us up the narrow streets directly to Casa dos Vitoriana where he had deposited Rich and Lu previously. Small island. It was a short ride to the airport and we arrived in plenty of time to share our little box of goodies with the rest of the tribe.

The flight to Faial was short and there was a pretty dense cloud cover that seemed to blanket the islands. Just when I thought there would be nothing to see, we turned onto our approach to the airport in Horta and I got my first glimpse of Pico, poking it’s head through the cloud bank.

First impressions: Faial feels different than Sao Miguel or Terceira. It is small, rural, compact, and old (not bad things).

We found a taxi that would hold the 8 of us and off we went to find our digs. We were surprised when we pulled up to a beautifully maintained, modern set of mostly 2 floor townhouses across from a modern school. The only thing out of place was the old battered street sign. We were also surprised to find out that apparently our "landlady-rental agent" had rented out two of our previously reserved rooms. Curious. Still available was the large room that would be shared by Z&M, M/S, and they went in to unpack. Our agent then went a couple of doors down, roused the owner and apparently told him that he was going to have some guests that night. We hauled our suitcases to the second floor of this townhouse and were left wondering what had just happened. Whatever it was, it was not cool. We were, apparently, about to share a bed and no breakfast with a not very friendly Shrek-looking-fellow and his family.

What was cool was Horta. It was a short walk down to the water to Porto Pim, an old section of town with a great beach. Build into the seawall are seats, just perfect for doing nothing, and of that I am a master. I looked forward to a cigar and a chance to capture some thoughts in my journal, but that would have to wait. Kat and I were on our third mission and second library of the day. We walked across Horta (it didn't take that long) right to the modern library that houses Faial's genealogical records. The Silveira's hail from Faial, as well as Sao Miguel Jose's wife. It was Friday, and late afternoon, and the sign on the door told us they closed at 5:00, so we only had an hour to do our thing. We were undaunted because we were armed with the knowledge about indexes, etc. gained in Ponta Del Gada that morning.

When we presented our request to the information lady at the desk, she smiled and pointed to the woman beside her and (we believed) said that "Ella would help us out." Excellent; bom tarde Ella, and we showed her a family tree excerpt I had brought with us. Ella directed us to a table and within 15 minutes returned with a church baptismal book that listed births chronologically. No indexes here. With time running out we picked what we thought was the most likely entry for my paternal great grandmother from the Praia do Norte (North Beach) parish and asked Ella to make a copy for us. I took a picture of the entry, just in case, and in this case a lucky thing I did for the copy machine mal-functioned all the way to 5 minutes after 5. Offering thanks for the efforts, and with the shades being lowered, we scooted from the library unsure of our success. What we did find out later from Zach is that "ela" means "her" or "she" in Portuguese, as in: "She will help you find the information." Embarrassing. I'm glad we scooted.

Walking back along the waterfront, we came across a beautiful little park (Parca Enfante) right across from a snack bar. Realizing the only food we had eaten were the pastries from this morning we sat beneath the trees and enjoyed a late afternoon sandwich/quiche and a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (the best I have ever had, and with 61 years behind me it's uncommon to be able to make that claim about anything). We dawdled among the graffiti painted onto the walls of the breakwater, left by superstitious boat crews over the years (leaving a memorial, according to legend, ensures a safe crossing of the other half of the Atlantic).

By prior arrangement we met the other 6 Silveiras at the local watering hole (Cafe Sport-known by all yachtsmen the world over), and went searching for dinner. Clearly the pousada (elegant - with a fancy stone walkway) was out of our league, so we headed toward the A. Avore, the restaurant where Rich had previously had "the exact same Spirito Santo soup mom served to us as kids." Well tonight there was no soup on the menu, but there was a wonderful buffet with meat and fish, vegetables, good wine, and excellent deserts. In the entry was a large slice of an ancient tree, inscribed with a famous poem that Rich had asked Zach to translate a few years ago. We needed the long walk back to our housing to settle our digestive tracks. On the way back as we passed Cafe Sport, a young woman handed Rich his umbrella (inadvertently left by him on the wall outside). Pretty, pretty good.

We retired to our warm/hot, smelly (I thought it was old cooking oil, Rich thought something worse), rooms for one of the worst nights sleep of the trip. I could sense trouble brewing when I ran into Rich in the morning and our normally un-ruffable chaplain had steam coming out of his ears. That's a story for another day.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

HAHAHA, I love how you tll the good, bad and ugly!