The Road to Urzelina

Sign to Porto da Urzelina

It’s been three weeks since the contractor completed the last of the punch list items, and I’ve been slowly, very slowly, moving things back into the house in Napa. In packing up the house, I purged a lot of things for charities. And now, in moving back in, I purge once again. I have tried to be discerning about what goes back into the pristine new surroundings, “curating” my way through my mom’s belongings.

Nearly all the old furniture, with the exception of the two beds and my dresser, have been donated to Habitat for Humanity. I also kept the two kitchen chairs and the chair she had in the living room. I hope to re-finish or paint them into something fresh and modern. I had tried to figure out way to keep other items, but when M. and I tried moving my bookcase into the house it was immediately clear it simply no longer belonged. It was too “heavy” for the lightness of the space.

Creating this new home from my old home has been an interesting psychological exercise. Before I started the transformation the house was frozen in time. My mother’s presence, and absence, was in every item. By cleaning the slate, literally, it has given me an opportunity be mindful of the intention for the new space. Just like the visual weight of the bookcase, the emotional weight of all these things was taking its toll. I wanted to use this home as an exercise in minimalism—clean, peaceful, easy to maintain and clean. My vision for the house is for it to be a retreat, a place to “re-charge the batteries.”

A couple weeks ago the new furniture arrived. It’s modern, with clean lines and natural tones. It looks beautiful. And it’s sparse. People who have visited have been surprised how much roomier this 900-square-foot cottage looks. Indeed without so much furniture and bric-a-brac there is a spaciousness that was not there before.

But it did not feel right. It was too clinical, without soul. It looked like an executive suite in a hotel.

So this weekend I have been tipping the balance back, somewhere between the minimalist ideal and having it still feel like “home.” I still needed the house to honor its past–our past.

Urzelina is the village in the Azores where my parents were married. My father’s expansive property was above it and reached all the way up the ridge. There he grew oranges of all types. My cousin now owns the property and the house. Although much of it has been renovated, a lot of it is original. It was an amazing experience to walk through the house and on the property, knowing my father had walked the same steps. Not having known my father, who died when I was three years old, meant I have virtually no memory of him. So I have to experience him in different ways.

In some deep ways, the Azores feels like “home.” My parents came here to find a better life. I was born here and raised here. But from the moment I stepped foot on the Azores, when I first went with my mom when I was 21, I wanted to be there. I don’t want to live there, but I have longed to spend a sabbatical there, at least three or four months.

The question of what makes a house a home is an interesting one.

T.S. Elliott said, “Home is where one starts from.” And of course, we all know the quote “Home is where the heart is.”

On our last visit to the Azores (the marvelous vacation we took with friends, and the time I often reflect on as the last time I felt pure “joy” without the twinge of grief), G. took a photo (above) of an old sign pointing the way to Urzelina. I decided to have a diptych on canvas made from this image and the main artwork in the new living room.



Every time I walked by it this weekend it felt like a window back to the Azores. And suddenly the space had “meaning” and I felt more grounded there. I was home, looking to the road to another home.

Granted, I have yet to spend a weekend in Napa just “being” in it and enjoying it. I do look forward to sharing the space with friends, and thinking of “the road home.”

5 thoughts on “The Road to Urzelina”

  1. Emily, I found your web site via the Azores Genealogy facebook group and will be following you. My mom was from Sao Jorge and when I saw the picture of the road sign I couldn’t help but wonder how often my grandparents might have walk by it. Could I have permission to use the photo on my blog and if so who should have the credits?
    Hope to see more of your visits to the Azores.

  2. Hi, Lester. Thanks for your note. The photo was taken by my husband so I will check with him. 🙂 What village in Sao Jorge is your family from? My mother’s family is from Ribera Seca going back to the 1700s (I’m still working my way back). My father was from Santo Amaro; his parents were from Caldeira de Santo Cristo.

  3. My mom was born in Santo Amaro in 1915.Her mom (Maria Silveira Borges) same village in 1890. Her father born in Urzelina 1885 (Abel De Souza Freitas). Other names are Manuel Silveira Borges, Matteus Silveira Borges. Also 4 Silveira’s and 1- Goncalves.
    Thanks Les

  4. I am certain our families knew each other, then. My father was Antonio Jeremias Avila, born in 1908 to Tome d’Avila and Emilia d’Avila. I have Silveira in my family line. But then again, who doesn’t?! Ha! BTW, my husband says it’s fine to use the image and credit him. His name is Greg Sherwin. You can link back here if you like. Thanks for checking in!

    I am hoping to visit again (my fourth time) next year. And some day I want to have an extended visit, maybe three or four months so I can visit other islands.

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