How I Spent My Summer Vacations (Portugal to Hungary)
Portugal/AzoresOn Sunday, July 12th, I woke up … but while getting ready for the flight to Portugal the next morning, I never went back to sleep. In Lisboa, my 2nd cousin Teresa Rocha Homem and her husband Antonio Melo met me at the airport. They served as chauffeurs, tour guides and translators. Teresa's father, Silvano Rocha Homem, is Dad's 1st cousin. Sometimes staying at their apartment in Lisboa and sometimes at Silvano's “grand casa” in Cartaxo (45 min. away in the countryside), they treated me to all the sights possible in the 5 days I spent there. Although Lisboa is full of history, crowded cities with bad traffic problems have never interested me. The best sights were found nearby at “Sintra” where a castle dominates a mountaintop surrounded by rich and beautiful homes and great views. A drive along the coast revealed quaint villages and wonderful cliffs similar to the California coast south of Big Sur.
The topless beaches were also a nice surprise! Don't let anyone ever tell you that the Portuguese girls aren't pretty. Portugal has its share of beauties. One of them is Teresa's sister, Ana Rocha Homem. Ana had modeled at one time, but quit because of the constant concern with her looks.
I met another sister, Cristina Rocha Homem, a lawyer and considered the brightest of the family and very pretty, to boot. Finally there was Luis Rocha Homem, the only boy and a very nice person. He is the one that will eventually run the very successful family winery business. I didn't meet the oldest girl, Isabel. All five of Silvano's children are married. Ana and Cristina have husbands that are direct descendants of some of Portugal's oldest noble families. All five also have college degrees; almost mandatory for a person to be successful there unlike in the U.S. Silvano de Abreu Cardoso Rocha Homem, as mentioned, has a really nice house in the small town of Cartaxo. He is semi-retired from his practice as a family doctor, but still works 2 or 3 days a week at home where he has his office. Silvano is a wonderful host. Because of his lack of practice with English he spoke mostly Portuguese with only a few words of English, although at one time he spoke English well. The overall impression one gets by a visit to his home is that you are in the company of a very rich and well respected man who lives in a place that could be described as a hotel with many servants and a music room and dining room fit for a duke.
One can only admire the close relationship of his family who travel every weekend to Cartaxo to visit. The huge house and the winery business come from Silvano's wife's side of the family who has unfortunately suffered many strokes and is now practically helpless.
My last day there was on Sunday, July 19th, and I was treated to an extravagant midday meal before flying to the island of Terceira in the Azores where the Rocha Homem (Holmes) family originates from.
There to meet me was Dad's other 1st cousin, Jose Leal Armas, one of the most important men of the island. Jose is a thoroughly likeable guy. Real down-to-Earth.
Staying at Jose's modest house and sleeping on a antique bed valued at more than $6,000 US dollars, I was shown the way to the Archives of Angra where I spent 50% of my time digging through old records of the island. If it weren't for the fact that the archive closed at 5pm, I would have missed seeing most of the sights a normal tourist would see.
Angra is more than 500 years old and is very interesting to see, especially if one's own family played a part in it's history. Manoel Joaquim Leal da Roza came here as a rich man from Chile and established the first pawn shop, “Prego,” of the island. This building and several other family homes were photographed. Seeing these tend to bring to life the history of one's family.
Another benefit from genealogy (besides implementing an “adopt-a-ghost” program on Halloween) is discovering living relatives previously unknown. (As if we don't have enough already!) Such was the case when I and Jose went to the home of Francisco da Rocha Homem, a farmer in Angra. Jose knew him and called him “cousin” without knowing how they were related. I revealed that they both shared the same great-great-grandfather, Manoel da Rocha Homem born in 1786. So this man is a 3rd cousin to Dad and Jose.
The research done in Angra, which is not even close to being complete, has revealed the oldest member of the Rocha Homem line to be a Joao (John) Bras born circa 1660. He didn't use the Rocha name, so this is yet another puzzle to solve.
The final portion of my trip was to the island of Pico where the Silveira family (Grandma's parents) comes from. This was the prettiest of the islands visited. Very lush; green plants were everywhere with the dominant mountain soaring 8,000 feet above the sea, from which the island gets its name. São Roque was my major place of interest, where, on Sept. 17th, 1896, Jose Francisco da Silveira and his new wife Emelia Candida Leal left for America. Grandma was born the next year in Sacramento.
Another village of Pico, Piedade, is where the Leal da Roza family (mentioned above) comes from. With the assistance of the taxi driver hired for the day, I was able to meet a heretofore unknown member of that family, Jose Leal da Rosa, a wine-maker in that village. The connection between our families has not been established yet, but it's nice to know the name has not died out in its native land.
Hungary/SlovakiaArriving home on Thursday, July 30th at 12:30am, I had 6 days to recover before I was grabbed and thrown onto a plane headed for Budapest, Hungary. Luckily, I was already planning to go there and was fully packed.
Now being a seasoned traveller (my 3rd trip to Europe in two years), I negotiated for free housing in some girl's apartment in Budapest for the first 3 nights there. The girl is Klara Szmodits, a cousin of Irene Poutinen (our cousin) who lives in Florida.
I was soon heading for the countryside of western Hungary where there are beautiful rolling hills and mountains that are a joy to travel through. For a little danger and excitement, I crossed the border into the new Croatian republic to get my passport stamped. To prove this side trip to those inevitable doubters, I got it all on videotape. The trip lasted a whole 10 minutes, but my passport never got stamped – damn! No gun shots were reported.
Continuing on to Békéscsaba, Hungary to the East, I checked into the Koros Hotel where I stayed last year and where, for $15 a night, one gets a room with a shower and sink but no toilet. I'm becoming a regular there.
One of the main objectives of this trip was to contact living relatives in the towns of Szarvas and Mezobereny where the Liska family has its roots. Re-establishing contact with friends I met last year proved very valuable. In Mezobereny, where grandma Irene (Liska) Specht was born, my elderly friends secured permission for me to look through all the church record books for relatives (information after 1895 not available on microfilm). So far, the most valuable result of this is a gift from an 82-year-old man of a big picture of Irma Liska (this man's godmother) who was our grandma's 1st cousin. He also had more family information since he knew many of our relatives. But, sad to say, this branch of the Liska family has no living descendants.
In Szarvas, with the help of my friend Andras and his girlfriend in the mayor's office, I looked through secret information for more relatives. In addition, the computer gave me the current family names I was searching for. In this way, I was able to contact many relatives still living in the town where the oldest known Liskas from Slovakia first settled in Hungary after the Turks withdrew in 1700. These families have remained in Szarvas for almost 300 years!
Among the relatives I met were those with the family name of Pecznik, Brauner, Hlivar and Liska. The 84-year-old man, Gyorgy Hlivar, is the last male with the name and therefore that name in Szarvas will die out. He was particularly happy to meet me and he told me the story of his lands and wealth being confiscated by the communists after WW2. And in the book I am planning in the future, he wanted this fact and his sad life afterwards mentioned. He also told the story of the first Hlivar of Szarvas who was the town's first magistrate.
The highlight of the whole trip was the discovery of the last related Liska family in Szarvas. Out of all the many Liskas on the huge family tree I made, only this family still has the name of Liska. Surprisingly, one of them, Janos Liska, had seen my photo in the county newspaper from last year's trip when I was interviewed and was trying to meet relatives. Janos contacted the newspaper, but for some reason the paper couldn't give him my address. On the Hungarian “Coronation Day” of King Istvan in 1000 A.D., equivalent to our July 4th, the whole Liska family was gathered for a big meeting where I showed everyone the large Liska family tree and took everyone's portraits. A parting gift of bootleg “szilva palinka” (plum brandy) was received with promises to return there in the future. These Liskas are 5th cousins to us.
The closest relative, a 4th cousin, was discovered by accident while I was looking through the Szarvas church record books. A lady talking on the phone was overheard saying her name was Nobik Erzsebet. Hearing this, I perked up and quickly looked through my notes confirming that the Nobik name was a Liska relative. After the phone call, I introduced himself and showed her my notes hoping this lady would have some information. An Irma Liska had married a Sandor Nobik and these were her grandparents! She was astonished and invited me to her home where we had lunch and talked for many hours (in Hungarian, of course). She was also a 4th cousin from the Pecznik name. So, does that make her the equivalent to a 3rd cousin?! Her occupation is the female equivalent to the priest of the Old Evangelical Church in Szarvas. She had much family information and a few old Liska photos which I copied with my video camera.
With all who met me giving their assurances that they will send photos of any female prospects for my future wife, I finally left Szarvas and headed to Slovakia. Driving on the eastern-most roads possible (within view of Russia), I toured the beautiful hills and valleys of Slovakia. On another whim, I decided to go into Poland where I picked up some teenage Polish hitchhikers returning from camping in Slovakia. After trading for 13,000 Polish zlotys (the equivalent of $1.00) I dropped them off and continued for a few more hours before crossing back over into Slovakia.
In the tiny village of Molca, Slovakia, I found a possible relative named Ondris Pecnik, who is the town official, and his son, Ondris Pecnik, Jr. Finding a lady who spoke Hungarian, I was able to tell Mr. Pecnik why I was there. This man said that the Pecnik family were landowners of this village ever since 1426 according to the records in the local Banská Bystrica archives (the major city nearby). So, there is a very good chance we can trace this family back that far eventually. After promising to return in the future, I again parted company with new acquaintances and headed back to Budapest for one last day.
With the assistance of some friends, I, as Director of the Sacramento Hungarian/American Friendship Society, received permission from the Hungarian National Archives to purchase any of the microfilms of the church record books (the primary source for genealogy research); thus opening up many possibilities in the field of Hungarian genealogy to make money.
During the trip, I decided that in the future (maybe two years from now) I will make an extended visit to Hungary for maybe 3 to 6 months to learn the language well and find a wife. When asked why I want a Hungarian wife, I say because of my interest in Hungarian culture and language and I want any future children to appreciate this heritage as well as the Portuguese and German ancestry. If I married a Portuguese girl, there would be such a dominant percentage of Portuguese that the German and Hungarian ancestry would not likely hold much interest.
I feel most Americans are afflicted with too many ethnic backgrounds, unlike most Europeans, and I prefer to limit the amount of new ethnic backgrounds. But why not marry a German girl? Well, I haven't yet met any that were appealing (admitting that I really haven't met many at all). And the Hungarian women are great cooks!
This is a story 'bout a girl named Lucy
Otherwise known as “The Rappin' Watusi”
She lays down a beat that gets your toes tappin'
If your toes get tired, let your fingers do the snappin'
She says “Hey buddy, don't you be no square”
If you can't find a partner, use a wooden chair”
Okay, so you've heard those words before,
but she don't care. She's the girl next door
Does that make sense? It just doesn't matter
It just doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter
So next time you see this girl, just say
Sorry I forgot. Happy Birthday, anyway!
— Billy Bob Joe Jim Holmes
Saturday morning I got up early, put on my long johns, dressed quietly, made my lunch, grabbed the dog, slipped quietly into the garage to hook the
boat up to the truck, and proceeded to back out into a torrential downpour.
There was snow mixed with the rain and the wind was blowing 50 mph. I pulled back into the garage, turned on the radio, and discovered that the weather would be bad throughout the day.
I went back into the house, quietly undressed, and slipped back into bed. There I cuddled up to my wife's back, now with a different anticipation, and whispered, “The weather out there is terrible.”
She sleepily replied, “Can you believe my stupid husband is out fishing in that?”
(September, 1989) — Bill returned from his trip to eastern Canada a few weeks back. He was supposed to seek out and capture “Wild Man” Doug. Remember? Well, he's back. Bill, that is. When asked to report his findings, however, Bill said, “What? You never said anything about finding anyone!”
Well, there you have it. Another in-depth report from the Newsletter news team. Fortunately, the Newsletter, predicting such a “report”, sent a private investigator out after Bill. And here is his report:
DAY 1: Doug meets Bill at Burlington Airport. They greet each other brotherly-like, then leave airport together. It takes them 27 seconds to get from Gate 4 to the airport parking lot, the airport is that big. They spend the night in Doug's camper in a shopping center parking lot.
DAY 2: They do a little shopping, then they head north.
They cross the Canadian-American border (is there any other Canadian border?). Doug's camper is searched while Doug and Bill are held for questioning. The border guard has trouble believing Doug and Bill do what they do for a living, but finally lets them go with a warning.
Doug kills bird on highway. He could have swerved, but no. He aimed for it! Then he stopped, turned around, and picked it up while Bill took pictures!
The murderers drove to the city of Quebec that night and spent most of their time pretending to be innocent tourists. You know, buying shirts, flirting with girls, stuff like that.
DAY 3: Doug attends the Changing of the Guard at Quebec's Citadel, while Bill spends his time wandering around the Citadel, apparently trying to find a way of getting in for free. He never does.
Doug and Bill meet up again and spend the rest of the day looking through gift shops, taking pictures (well, Doug takes pictures, lots of pictures), etc.
They head east toward New Brunswick and spend the night in the middle of nowhere.
DAY 4: Doug wakes up feeling sick to his stomach, so Bill drives.
They go to a national park called Kouchibouguac. Don't ask me to pronounce it. There's a beach at this park. Bill wades in a ways then wimps out. Too cold, he says.
Meanwhile, Doug can be found wandering around the nearby swamps frog-gigging and taking pictures.
Then they head east to Nova Scotia.
DAY 5: Doug spends about an hour wandering through a cemetery in Halifax with a shovel and a camera! Bill runs away screaming.
Found Bill walking around in a daze in an indoor mall.
Eventually, they leave Halifax and drive to another national park with a weird name — Kejimkujik.
DAYS 6-8: Lost them when they take off in a canoe in the wilds of Kejimkujik. Kept an eye on their parked truck. It didn't do anything for three days.
DAY 9: Found Bill hiking back to the truck without Doug. All he has is his outback hat, his brand-new boots and a canteen (and his clothes, of course). He looks thinner and unshaven, and his boots are dirty.
He gets into truck and drives away. Meets Doug where he was waiting with the canoe and all the equipment.
They leave Kejimkujik and drive to the western-most edge of Nova Scotia to a town called Digby.
Doug drops Bill off and heads north, saying something about heading north to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Bill catches a ferryboat headed for Saint John, New Brunswick.
I follow Bill.
Bill gets off ferryboat at Saint John and catches a cab to a motel for the night.
DAY 10: Bill spends most of next day wandering around Saint John, apparently waiting for bus to Bangor, Maine to arrive.
Bus finally arrives at 3:46 p.m. Bill gets on. Bus leaves at 3:59 p.m.
Bus arrives in Bangor, Maine at 8:34 p.m., local time. Bill was supposed to get off here, but he doesn't, obviously trying to lose me. He enters bus station and pays additional fare to take him to Boston.
DAY 11: Bus arrives in Boston at 2:30 a.m., local time. Bill makes a couple phone calls. Finally, catches a cab to Logan Airport.
Makes a couple more calls at the airport. Tries to sleep on couch in airport. Can't.
At exactly 5:45 a.m., he takes his place in line at the ticket counter. Gets his ticket. Wanders around airport some more.
Then he does something strange. He puts his bags in a locker and starts asking where the control tower is. (If he has a bomb, it's an awfully small one.)
He follows the directions to the tower. But when he gets there, he can't get in. The doors are locked. It's too early in the morning. He picks his nose and flicks the booger. It just barely misses me.
He walks back to Gate 34C, buys a paper, waits around, then at exactly 7:31 a.m. he boards United Flight 91 to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles, he catches a connecting flight to Oakland Airport.
The first Saturday in May. What does this date mean to you? Probably nothing, except that Spring has finally arrived, unless you live in California where it's been Spring already for two months or more — real Spring, not calendar Spring.
But ask any horse racing buff and they will tell you without hesitation the first Saturday in May is the day of the Kentucky Derby! Well, this story isn't about the Kentucky Derby or the first Saturday in May.
This is about the Breeder's Cup and the first Saturday in November.
It was on this day that I ventured north from Nashville to Louisville, Kentucky, and Churchill Downs; about an hour and half drive. I had never been to Churchill Downs, so I followed the map — always a good idea — and found the place, no problem.
You know, the site of the Kentucky Derby since 1875? Twin spires? The first race of the Triple Crown? The Mecca of Horse Racing?
Enough of the melodrama. Fact is, it was just plain cool to be there.
I prowled the neighborhood, looking for a parking lot, but there didn't seem to be one. So, I ended up paying $10 to park on some guy's front lawn. The price was high, but it seemed to be the going rate. At least it was just a few yards from the track entrance.
At the gate, they wanted $15. Fifteen dollars just to get in! I said to the gatekeeper, “I just want into the infield, not the Clubhouse!” He shrugged and said it was $15 no matter which entrance I took. So I forked over the $15.
As I started downward into the tunnel that takes you under the track and into the infield, a female voice from behind said, “A little steep isn't it?”
I turned and looked at her as if she was an idiot. It was a slight downgrade, not steep at all. “Huh?” I said.
“Fifteen bucks just to get in,” she said. “It's a little steep.” And she smiled.
She looked to be somewhere in her mid to late twenties. Thick, long light-brown hair. A little overweight, though it was hard to tell with the raincoat and baggy pants she wore. She was fairly pretty, and seemed to be alone.
“Oh, yeah,” I agreed. “Let's just hope we can win it back at the windows.”
“Got any hot tips?” she asked.
“Not really. You?”
“'Fraid not,” she pouted.
If I had any hot tips, I wouldn't have shared them with her, anyway. What good is a hot tip if you go around telling everyone about it? Her boyfriend then came trotting up from behind and, with a quick glower in my direction, whisked her away from me.
“Good luck,” she said over her shoulder as her boyfriend tugged at her to hurry up.
I stopped at the first booth in the infield and bought a program. It cost $2.50, and I was already down $27.50 and hadn't even placed a bet! Oh well, that's the price of entertainment. That's what I told myself, anyway.
In case you don't know, the Breeder's Cup consists of seven races. It's basically the end-of-the-year championship day of thoroughbred horse racing, and it attracts the best horses from all over the world. They offer gobs of money, and that tends to entice the best horses that racing has to offer.
Each race has a minimum “purse” of $1 million. The Breeder's Cup Turf race offers $2 million, and the Classic offers $3 million. The winner doesn't get all that. They “only” get 60%, with the rest divvied up amongst the next four finishers.
Anyway, on the first race, the Sprint, I put a few bucks down on some horse whose name doesn't really matter. Ten minutes later, I was tearing up my losing ticket. I skipped the next race, the Juvenile Fillies race, since I'd never heard of any of the horses entered.
The third race was The Mile, and since I had skipped the previous race, I put a little extra on this one. By the end of the race, I was tearing up a couple more losing tickets. It was not a good beginning. And it's important to get off to a good start in gambling, otherwise you quickly degenerate into desperation. And, as any degenerate, desperate bettor can tell you, desperation is not a good thing.
Following The Mile, came the Distaff, a race strictly for fillies and mares. Again, I lost. [This is getting repetitive, isn't it?] After the Distaff was the Juvenile (for 2-year-old colts and geldings). The crowd's betting favorite, the only horse I'd ever heard of—but whose name escapes me now—had odds of 3-5 or something. I figured he'd win, but at 3-5 odds it wasn't worth it. So I bet on some other horse based on his name and the jockey. I lost again.
By this time, I had lost $60 of my personally-allotted $100 for the day—not counting the above-mentioned initial expenses—and I was getting annoyed. I was paying $4 per beer—Miller Lite, which I generally can't stand—and $4 for a crappy little cheeseburger that even McDonald's would be ashamed of. It was time to get down to business.
It was then that I ran into that girl from the tunnel. She was standing about twenty yards from one of the betting windows, watching the replay of the previous race on the big-screen t.v.
“Got any hot tips?” I asked as I approached her.
“Oh, hi,” she said as if surprised to see me, though I knew she wasn't. I had seen her glancing in my direction, and that's why I felt comfortable in approaching her. “Well, my boyfriend says Lure is a sure thing,” she offered.
“Lure, huh?” I said. “Yeah, he's won it the past two years.” I didn't think much of Lure's chances this year, but I figured I would let her boyfriend blow his money on him.
Her boyfriend showed up a few seconds later. And, again, he glowered at me before pulling the girl along after him. I hadn't noticed it the first time I saw him, but this time I saw the words “DAIWA” stenciled into the front of his black baseball cap. Daiwa is a major manufacturer of fishing reels, which explained why he was so “hot” on Lure.
The girl smiled at me over her shoulder, but said nothing as her boyfriend dragged her off. Like a caveman, it seemed to me. I shrugged my shoulders. Some women like cavemen.
Flattered and inspired by this girl's flirtations, I decided to do something bold. No, it didn't involve her. What I decided was to just blow the rest of my bankroll on the next race, the Breeder's Cup Turf, and then simply watch the following and final race as a pure, non-betting fan of the Sport of Kings, i.e., a destitute bum hanging out at the track. Women do tend to inspire me to do stupid things.
There were several quality horses in this race; the above-mentioned Lure amongst them. But they were all quality horses. These were the best horses in the world on grass. The betting favorite, a horse named Missionary Ridge, was giving odds of even money. I didn't like his name or his odds, but he seemed like a pretty sure bet, and I was sick of losing. So, I figured, why not bet on him? At least I'll get my money back and have the satisfaction of betting on at least one winner for the day. I put $20 to win on him.
With the remaining $20 of my “bankroll” I played a couple of hunches. That girl's boyfriend was betting on Lure at least in part because he liked fishing. Well, I like hockey. And also entered in this race was a horse named Tikkanen, presumably named after the hockey star, Esse Tikkanen. He appeared to be a good horse, on paper anyway. His last race was a win in a major grass stakes race. And he was giving 16-1 odds. Never again would I get such good odds on such a good horse, so I put $10 on his nose. The other $10, I put on some foreign horse who had won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, France's biggest race, earlier in the year.
Well, guess what? My hunch bet, Tikkanen, won and I collected $160! With one bet, I had just paid for all prior expenses and lost bets, and then some. I was jazzed, but I was careful not to show it. There are people who hang out at racetracks looking for big winners to mug in the bathroom or parking lot. A hundred and sixty bucks is not exactly “big money,” but they (these imaginary muggers) didn't know I had only bet $10. For all they knew, I'd bet $1,000 and would be collecting $16,000. You can never be too careful when they are watching. I sort of hoped I would run into that girl again, just so I could gloat and make her boyfriend look stupid. But I didn't see her.
For the seventh and final race, the Breeder's Cup Classic, I decided to follow the same thinking I had followed on the previous race. I put $20 to win on my “intellectually-calculated best bet.” And then, on another hunch, I put $5 to win on a horse called Concern. I don't know what it was about this horse Concern that told me to bet on him. His name just sort of stuck out in my mind for some reason.
And yes, you guessed it. Concern won and paid $40! I was a happy camper all of a sudden. Again, I looked around for that girl, but she was nowhere to be seen. She was probably huddled with her boyfriend somewhere commiserating over their losses.
As I drove home to Nashville, I stopped for gas at a Chevron station somewhere in Kentucky. In Kentucky they have Lotto and Power Ball. Feeling lucky, I spent $5 on a “quick-pick” Power Ball ticket. The jackpot at the time was $10 million. Small by Lotto standards, but still, I could always use $10 million.
And, guess what? I didn't win. Oh well. At least I was still $150 ahead of the game, all told. Plus, I had fun, and had spent a day at Churchill Downs, the Mecca of horse racing.
I wonder whatever happened to that girl.