There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Algarve (5): Mexilhoeira Grande and a Long Lost Cousin

This year’s Algarve trip (probably our 20th) involved an interesting and very pleasant new development.

Lynne is a keen genealogist and has traced the many branches of both our families back to at least the 18th century, some much further. Last November she was contacted by Ricky Cruz, another amateur genealogist, who had found names cropping up on her family tree which matched those on mine.

Ricky sent us family photographs of people she had been unable to identify, and we were surprised to see pictures of my mother as a child in the 1920s, my grandmother at various ages, her parents and grandparents.

John Lott was born in Llangyfelach, now part of Swansea, in 1799. He married a girl called Mary (surname so far unknown) from Llangadog in rural Carmarthenshire. They moved to the Merthyr area where they prospered, John becoming an agent for the ironworks and a tea dealer. They had three children, Hannah, born in 1826, John Jnr (1831) and Ann (1836). Hannah is my great-great-great grandmother, Ann is Ricky’s great-great grandmother, which, apparently, makes us 4th cousins once removed.

John Lott (1799-1872)
This is probably John L, but it might be someone else;
whoever it is I wouldn't cross him

Photographic evidence suggests our two branches of the family were in contact until well into the last century but then lost touch… until Ricky’s email.

We learned about each other in a series of emails. Although Ricky is technically a generation older than I am (hence the ‘once removed’) we are the same age. She was also a teacher (it is something of a family failing) and in the 1980s, when Lynne and I were broadening our horizons by teaching in the USA and Sudan, she did the same by taking a job in Portugal. I do not know if she had intended the move to be permanent, but once she had met and married Zeca the decision was made. Ricky and Zeca now live near Mexilhoeira Grande, which, as fate would have it, is not only in the Algarve, but less than 30 minutes from our regular Portuguese base in Carvoeiro. They kindly invited us for lunch.
Zeca, Ricky and 2 of their several dogs

Their house, which Zeca built himself, is a few kilometres north of the village, where the land starts to rise from the coastal plane into the Algarve’s gentle green hills. Their terrace commands a sweeping view over rich farmland to the seaside resort of Alvor, with the silver sea shimmering in the distance.

Zeca and Ricky's house, Mexilhoeira Grande
What John and Mary Lott would have made of this first meeting of two of their direct descendants is anybody’s guess. Sun-dappled terraces beside private swimming pools were something of a rarity in 19th century Dowlais – indeed they still are.

Me and my fourth cousin, once removed

I imagined them sitting beside us, him in a three piece suit with a high, tight collar, and her in shawl and bonnet, looking on with bemusement and complaining about the heat.

I am not sure what they would have made of our lunch, either. Carapau are small fish whose firm sweet flesh lifts easily from the bones; we ate them with an octopus salad. ‘Ych a fi, I wouldn’t put that in my mouth’ was the reaction* of my grandmother (and Hannah’s great-granddaughter) to the thought of eating octopus. There are times when even the Anglophone Welsh resort to their discarded native tongue.

John and Mary might have felt more at home with the chicken that followed, though Zeca’s home grown piri-piris might have left them gasping for air.

For those of us there in body rather than just spirit, it was an excellent lunch, and the wine flowed freely (though not for me, I had to drive).

We talked of our families, the Welsh, the Portuguese and the English and pointed out that Ricky (actually Erika) not only shared an unusual name (though not spelling) with my sister, but also a distinct physical similarity.  By the end I think old John and Mary would have thawed – difficult not to in the Algarve sun – and would be quite comfortable with, maybe even proud of their descendants.
Zeca picks us some piri-piri

Later we strolled through the land surrounding the house. In addition to at least three varieties of chilli (a selection of which are now (22/10/13) drying in our kitchen) Zeca has a vineyard, though he replanted** it last year so it is not currently producing.

Zeca's vineyard, Mexiloheira Grande

He showed me his winery and the remaining 200 litre barrel from the previous planting which he plans to broach at Christmas. ‘I make wine just like my grandfather did,’ he said, ‘so I know exactly what goes into it.’ I did notice, though, that he had an electric press to do the job his grandfather may well have done with his feet.
Zeca's winery

They have olive trees; the harvest starts next month and they will send their produce to the local olive oil cooperative.

Carob trees in the foreground, olives behind
Mexilhoeira Grande

The carob harvest is half complete. Despite the use of carob in many Portuguese desserts and its popularity as a chocolate substitute in the health food industry, the wholesale price is too low to make it worth employing pickers, so they are doing the job themselves, as and when they have the time and the inclination.

The carob harvest - so far

I had expected to have lunch and be driving home by 3, in the fact it was nearer 7 when we left. After a pleasant day in idyllic surroundings (oh, I know, even in paradise there are taxes to be paid, septic tanks to be emptied, etc, etc) we took our leave promising to keep in touch and meet again. I am sure we will, Ricky and Zeca are good people – of course they are, they are family.

John and Mary Lott may have struggled with the ideas of carobs and octopus, piri-piri and olive harvests - or maybe not. Perhaps we should not underestimate them just because he would be 214 and she 211. They may well have been as adaptable and open to new ideas as the brood they spawned.

*She said this in the early 1960s, 24 hours after eating octopus and saying how much she enjoyed it, and ten seconds before being told what she had had for lunch the previous day.

**Wine buff information. The vines are Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional - the usual Portuguese favourites

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