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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Immigrants By Chance - Chapter 2

The Last Goodbyes

Before leaving São Miguel to America, there were the inevitable last minute preparations and good byes. My parents were very specific as to the family members and friends they needed to say goodbye to. This consumed quite a bit of the last weeks on the island. However, the last day was quite interesting since, my father had certain people that he had left for last. I don't specifically remember who they were, however, I remember that they were in Ribeira Grande.
For this trip from Ponta Delgada to Ribeira Grande and back, he used my grandfather's car, a 1927 Mathis. The car had been in the family since it had been purchased by my grandmother's brother, João, in 1927 on a trip to France. Interesting enough, the car's license plate was AR 19-27. Upon his brother in law's death, my grandfather purchased it, and it became Alves' family car, used by the whole family.
My father was the first of sons to learn how to drive, followed by my uncles, Francisco and José, and later my aunts Maria do Carmo and Maria José. The girls learning how to drive, was a novelty, since they were some of the first women to drive in Ponta Delgada. My grandfather also learned how to drive, however, I don't remember ever seeing him do so. There were five children who drove and therefore, no need for him to do so.
The car was a jet black four door convertible, right hand drive that sat 5 adults. It had running boards and a 10 HP engine. A box bolted on to the frame, with the spare attached to it, was the trunk. The windshield wiper was hand squeegee, operated from the inside. The car was a four door convertible. I never saw the top down. When I asked, why the top was never put down, I was told that putting the top down and back up, caused too much damage, and tops were not easily available.
The engine was the essence of simplicity, with a carburetor that easily clogged. By removing the top, which had a simple screw, removing the filter and blowing on it, it usually started again, without too much effort.
The wheels on this car, were a problem. They were solid and with the years had a tendency to rust around the lug nuts, and to shear off.
1927 Mathis in Calhetas - My grandfather, José Inácio Alves, my father, Gil Alves,
my grandmother, Catarina Pimentel Alves and my aunt Maria do Carmo Alves (Vieira dos Santos)

On this last day of good byes, I accompanied my father on this trip to Ribeira Grande. This was done on the narrow cobblestone road, lined with large trees, some large homes, corn and wheat fields, fruit farms and just prior to reaching Ribeira Grande, the airport.
The airport at Sant'ana was pasture land, reclaimed during WWII to create a runway for war planes that had been stationed on São Miguel. It later became the home of the newly created SATA airline. With the frequency of the flights being very sparse, cows were used as natural lawn mowers. At times, the plane would have to circle overhead , while the cows were rounded up and the plane could land. The airport was known as Aerovacas de Sant'ana.
On the return to Ponta Delgada, as we approached the area where the new soccer stadium is now, we had a flat. My dad replaced it with the spare, and we were on our way. He had not driven more than a kilometer, when the right front wheel, sheared off. With no spare to replace it, the next best thing was to wait for someone to give us a ride to Ponta Delgada and have the wheel with the flat fixed and return to replace the sheared wheel. Remembering that this was 1957, and there were not that many vehicles on the roads, the first sign of help was a garbage truck. The truck stopped, my father explained the situation, we hopped on with the wheel, and we were on our way to the repair shop.
Once the tire had been repaired, it was back to the car, by taxi, replaced the wheel, and it was on, to leave the car at my grandfather's home, and walk home. The event amounted to about a three fiasco.
One of the things that my parents had done was to say goodbyes, but always keeping from telling friend and family friends, the exact date of the departure. However, in those days, the ships arrivals and departures were printed in the daily newspapers. And so, the secret was out, since there were not that many ships that made the trip, from Ponta Delgada to New York. The only family members that were kept completely in the dark, were my mother's aunts, Arsénia and Mariquinhas, with whom we lived. It was very difficult for my mother to say goodbye because of their advanced ages. After all, they were the one's that had received my mother, when she first arrived in the Azores as a young woman.
On May 9th, 1957, we were rushed to the dock, where the ship, Monte Brasil had finished loading. It was a cool, dark night. On the dock were my grandfather, my grandmother, my father's brothers and sisters who lived in the island, and few members of my mother's side of the family.
It was the last time for hugs, kisses, tears, best wishes and the final opportunity to question whether, my parents had made the right decision.
At about 10 o'clock, we boarded and shortly thereafter, the ship set sail to Terceira, Faial and on to New York.

José Maurício Lomelino Alves
Vista, California
© JMLA 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coimbra 1967 - An Unique Opportunity to Experience Portugual

Click on the photo to enlarge / Clique na foto para ampliar

In 1967, I had an opportunity to return to the Azores to visit my family for the first time since immigrating to California in 1957. After spending about two weeks in São Miguel, seeing the family and reliving old memories, I went on to Lisbon to see other family members and go on to Coimbra to attend an intensive course on Portuguese history, language and culture.
I believe I was the second student to come from California, having been preceded by Antonio Andrade, a family friend who became a high school teacher in San Jose.

The program was designed for international and Portuguese American students from the diaspora who are fluent, or at least somewhat versed in the language. The course was held at the Faculty of Letters at the University of Coimbra, founded by King D. Diniz in 1290.
It is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in Europe and the world, the oldest university of Portugal, and one of its largest higher education and research institutions. It is organized into eight different faculties according to a wide range of fields, granting all the highest academic degrees in architecture, education, engineering, humanities, law, mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, psychology, social sciences and sports.1
On the weekends, we had an opportunity to visit various tourist and cultural sites. This gave the students from the many countries, an opportunity to interact in a non formal setting.
Our day included classes from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The morning usually started at the faculty snack bar, with a typical breakfast of a galão (latté) and a papo seco com fiambre e queijo ( roll with ham and cheese) or a sweet roll. For those with a hang over from the previous nights activities, a beer was usually the norm, replacing the galão. Yes, the university snack bar serves beer!
 In the cloister at the entrance to the library
During the summer course, I lived with a cousin, Carmen Reis, who lived on Bairro Silva Rosas.
There is an interesting tradition at Coimbra, that allows all students to be called by the tittle of "Senhor Doutor". One afternoon,while having lunch at a nearby café, an older women came in and saluted me by saying, "Bom dia senhor doutor", to which I replied, that I was not a permanent student and that I need not be called by the tittle. The women looked at me perplexed and said, "então passe bem senhor doutor" ( have a good day doctor). As the old saying goes, you can lead them to water, but you cannot make them drink.
My two weeks at Coimbra, gave me an opportunity to meet students from varied countries, including, Brazil, Catalonia, Netherlands, Germany, England and Ireland.
 It was truly a wonderful experience. The program continues to this day, and we encourage students at the college level, to apply and enjoy this once in a life time experience.

Conimbriga's archeological site from Roman times


Picnic near Conimbriga's archeological site.