Past meets present in Portugal

Having lived in Portugal in 1987-88, this was a particularly enjoyable piece for me to write. I loved that the sisters went on this journey to discover more about their father’s life, and of course their own.

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Sept. 14, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

John Charest, Diane Charest, Stan Cheika, Carm Provost, Pam Trett at the Port Wine Institute in Lisboa

John Charest, Diane Charest, Stan Cheika, Carm Provost, Pam Trett at the Port Wine Institute in Lisboa, Portugal

WHO: Diane and John Charest, both 56, of Fitchburg, Mass.; Pam Treet, 45, of Fryeburg, Maine; and Carmina Provost, 58, and Stan Cheika, 54, both of Chicopee, Mass. (The women are sisters.)

WHERE: Portugal

WHEN: One week in April

WHY: “For years my sisters and I have wanted to visit Portugal, particularly the small town where our dad grew up,” said Diane Charest.

OPEN ARMS: Jose Valentine is from Caldas da Rainha, an hour north of Lisbon. At 16, he moved to Chicopee, where he still lives. He turns 85 this week. “My father founded the Portuguese American Club in Chicopee,” Charest said. “We called him the Portuguese godfather because everybody who moved there from Portugal would go to him for advice. He still goes to the club to watch soccer.”

Carm Provost (left), Diane Charest, Pam Trett standing in front of their father's childhood home in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

Sisters Carm (left), Diane, and Pam standing in front of their father`s childhood home in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

TOWN TOUR: The sisters stayed in downtown Lisbon, at the Hotel Mundial, and took day trips. Lena and Jose “Joe” Ribeiro, friends of their father who had lived in Chicopee but retired to Caldas da Rainha, gave them a tour of the town of 13,500. “It really was like a time warp,” Charest said. “I almost expected to see a horse and buggy go down the street. Joe took us to my father’s old house. That was very emotional for me. We also went to my great-grandmother’s grave. She would visit us every summer. All the graves have pictures on them, and when I saw it I remembered her.”

Diane and her husband John in front of Obidos castle

Diane and her husband, John, in front of Obidos castle

MEDIEVAL MASTERPIECE: Their father’s hometown is just north of the popular tourist stop of Obidos, a walled 12th-century town with a castle. “That’s where he went to school. He and Joe would walk up the hill there every morning. We saw the building, and it’s now the welcome center. That town is like going to Brigadoon. We didn’t want to leave.”

OUT AND ABOUT: The group toured Lisbon as well as other spots, including Fatima and Sintra. “I was moved by Fatima,” Charest said. “We looked around the church and shrines and did the walk of the stations.” Lisbon reminded her of New Orleans, with its balconies of wrought iron. “I was amazed at how the whole country was tiled,” she said. “Every night we ate outside – always fish – and we took the funicular to the Port Wine Institute.” The only downside, she said, was the number of beggars and homeless people. “That surprised me.”

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: The daughters gathered with Dad after the trip to view photos. “We did a slide show on TV so we could all see them and my dad kept telling us about everything in his town, saying, `Oh, that’s this, this is that.’ He loved seeing his house.”

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