The Dreams of Manuel Inácio Nunes (*)

Summer of ‘46 brought him to the island, in the way that the calm transports a boat or seabird after September storms. And, in truth, this man of seventy-one years was well able with all his strength to make use of some rhetoric of late-life inspiration in order to speak of the struggles and challenges that life sent his way.

In the newspapers of that period we see him in that respectable, yet also slightly remote, pose of those who fully recognize that their efforts have put bread on the table and earned the gratitude of their land. But it is difficult for us to catch a glimpse, behind this austere figure, of the youth who at age seventeen decided to confront the inevitability of island famines and crossed the Atlantic, borne by a dream that only Pedro da Silveira’s “Californias lost in abundance” could fulfill. Especially because it is not always possible to go in pursuit of the most modest jobs or follow the baby steps that Manuel Inácio Nunes and his brother António had to take before they could establish Nunes Brothers’ Boat and Ways Company in Sausalito, California – with that aura of elegance and aesthetic perfection that led millionaire railroad heir C. Templeton Crocker to order from them the legendary 118′ schooner Zaca, to which the names of movie stars like Marie Dressler (who christened her) and Errol Flynn (who later owned, and died on, the yacht) would be forever linked in Hollywood history.

The reader who leafs through the pages of Oakland’s Jornal Português will find amid its texts that the pen of Manuel Inácio Nunes, who was perhaps lighter and more agile in boat design than in poetry, has left us with some vestiges and the memory of this return to his land. And it is easy to surmise that his summer of ‘46 in Santo Amaro was the occasion for the final encounter of the youth from abroad with the adult on a pilgrimage of saudade.

Between his poems Chegando à Pátria [Arriving in the Fatherland] and Adeus [Farewell], the days from June to September flew by in leaps and bounds, the nostalgia over his departure almost overlapping the euphoria of his arrival. “I come from my adopted country, that colossal and beautiful America where we attain greater comforts, but this greatness does not have the power to heal the scar caused by the maternal embrace – my Motherland!” But from the one text until the other, there was time to deceive age and conquer the challenge of climbing the hills behind Santo Amaro, and to participate in regattas of the triple-masted toy sloops that used to fill the shores of Pico’s Lagoa do Peixinho lake with people in the bygone years of his youth. Time also for taking stock of one’s life, because a man of this age who returns to the place of his childhood reckons his accounts with more care: boats dreamed-of and built, friends no longer there, days that are dwindling. However, he is spared melancholy by the public and community recognition of his loyalty to his land, and in this loyalty he will surely find one of the underlying reasons that gave meaning to his own life.

Who would not count in his favor the fact that he always kept the name he received at the baptismal font, refusing to Americanize it? Or who can forget that, even from afar, he was a moving force behind boat-building in Santo Amaro, which owes him a debt of gratitude for the valuable contributions to its stylistic and technical renewal? Everyone is still mindful that on this current trip he is the bearer of $2,500 raised in the California community, earmarked for repairing the parish church. And the oldest will remember the anxiety with which in 1923 they turned their eyes toward the channel, beseeching God that each ship sighted might at last be “the corn ship” that was bringing from America the 96 sacks of grain solicited there by Manuel Inácio Nunes to bring an end to the starvation of the victims of the previous year’s great drought – since “all that ever came from Lisbon were edicts,” as Manuel Ferreira Duarte (another Picoense swallowed up by the diaspora) would write in this regard several decades later.

These and other matters would be recalled on June 24, 1946, at the dedication of Manuel Inácio Nunes Plaza, broader in symbolic intent than in its physical dimensions themselves – and in all fairness, someone must have mentioned the honoree when noting that, in the village, “if there is improvement it is due to our intelligent, ambitious children.” And all this would continue to echo in Manuel Inácio Nunes’ heart when in September of that year he was writing the last verse of his sonnet  Adeus: Adeus jardim meu,  para sempre adeus! (“Farewell, my garden, farewell forever!”). In the slow deliberation of this written assessment he would surely have had time to review the dreams of a full life that soon enough would be extinguished the following year.

(*) Translated into English by Katharine F. Baker and Bobby J. Chamberlain, Ph.D.

[Urbano Bettencourt, Santo Amaro sobre o mar. Desenhos de Alberto Péssimo. Arganil, Editorial Moura Pinto, 2005. 2.ª edição, Câmara Municipal de São Roque do Pico, 2009]

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