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Niche of S.Tiago
Preface













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Introduction

Like many second generation Canadians, I, too, at one point in life, questioned myself as to where my home was. After discussing this with some friends, I got a wide range of responses: home is where we live, where we work, where we feel comfortable, where our family lives, where we have a sense of community, and even where our heart is––my favourite.

 

At that particular time, I had suffered a major automobile accident. I fractured my back, distorted my neck, and suffered a head concussion which caused me significant memory loss. I was left with severe back problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

To add to this cart of bad luck, my wife left for Portugal with my two boys. My oldest was eight years old, and all I remembered were our games of Nintendo. When he was six years old, I didn’t have to let him win anymore, because he could beat me with his eyes closed. The youngest was only six months. Just when he started to smile and laugh, destiny tore us apart.

 

Later in the same year, my grandmother, who raised me till I was ten years old, passed away, and I could not afford to travel to Portugal to attend her funeral.

 

Because of the accident, I lost my job and everything else: the house, expensive working tools, cars and credit cards—even my life insurance policy was cancelled. But when I say lost everything, I really mean everything! My health, my sports, my sense of community, all my friends and family. I lost my wife, my children, and I lost my head. I tried to get help. In addition, I was left with considerable debt. Welfare? Not for me! Unemployment insurance? Didn’t qualify. Soup kitchens? They only made me feel worse, especially since my parents were wealthy. Battle against the insurer for fair compensation? Lengthy. Canada, the peaceful and prosperity country? In theory only! I began to wonder if Canada was really my home. If it was, I surely had suffered such a rapid change that my values were in total conflict and confusion.

 

PTSD caused me to experience stress, anxiety, flashbacks, and depression. As in many cases of PTSD, an emotional intelligence was built and extraordinary results followed. In my case, I wrote The Niche of So Tiago. This was my first book and a form of therapy that helped me verbalise my anxiety, stress, fears, and needs.

 

In my story, the character Antonio searches for meaning in his past so he can recover from a horrific automobile accident and its aftermath. Contributing causes could well be the separation from his family and another car accident during his childhood that caused the death of Ana Maria, a nine- year-old cousin. Antonio renews the climb up the mountain of life with a healthier lifestyle, permission to grieve for his grandmother, a search for love, and a more fulfilling career. He uses family and re-evaluation of values, traditions, and culture to determine a sense of belonging and a sense of home.

 

He also uses Padre Himalaya (1868–1933), a real character, as a model and inspiration to help him climb the mountain. Padre Manuel Gomes Himalaya was a Roman Catholic priest and a scientist from the Portuguese parish of So Tiago of Cendufe, Arcos de Valdevez. He is one of the forefathers of the science of solar energy. Following the works of Antoine LaVoisier, Himalaya invented the first pyrheliophoro, a solar furnace that reached temperatures high enough to melt all metals. He was also a pioneer in ecology and, after the Industrial Revolution, an environmentalist with a great passion for all life. Above all, he was a man of faith and great human kindness. By bringing the spirit of this great man close, Antonio feels safe and reassured that he, too, is on the right path.

 

This feeling of “safeness” was a theme I wanted to explore and practise through this story.

 

After I visited Padre Himalaya’s grave in Portugal, which is next to my grandmother’s, I decided to write a story, parallel in time and space to today’s life concerns, so that Himalaya and my grandmother would be remembered. I also had questions that needed to be answered regarding the story of Himalaya: Where was his home? How could such a great man disappear from our memory in such a short time?

Consequently, the more I read about him, the more I wanted to make Himalaya part of the world’s cultural consciousness. This story about Antonio seemed a good place to start.

 

Antonio is a character searching for meaning in his life and healing from PTSD; my PTSD symptoms make up parts of his personality. I also gave Antonio personality traits from the priest Manuel Gomes Himalaya that are not, in a manner of speaking, ethical. For example: a Roman Catholic priest is not allowed to have romance in his life, and since suspicion has filled his biographers, Antonio shall take on the role of a playboy. Antonio and Himalaya become one—a mystical energy in search of a home. Himalaya is an always present character throughout the story, through the emotions and actions of a changing Antonio.

 

The characters of Maria, Hlne, and Emilia, Antonio’s lovers, play the role of cultural context placement of a particular philosophy of life, and one that probably moulded the priest’s real life. Himalaya travelled the world and experienced many different cultures. He knew women from Portugal, Brazil, France, England, the United States, and Argentina. I find it hard to believe that these women behaved the same way as the characters in my story, since the world in early 1900s was changing rapidly and indeed, so different from country to country. In addition, at times he was surrounded by middle- and upper-class women, and at others by peasants or natives. These contrasts are seen through the three women I have chosen for Antonio.

 

To symbolise the East and the West, Terry and Senhor Alberto represent a clash between North America, which is modern in every way, and northern Portugal, which is partially still in the past and partially in the modern European Economic Union. These contrasts serve to show the historical and economical context of Himalaya and how he was ahead of his time. Senhor Alberto and Terry have commonalities with Himalaya as well: they both believe in family and the importance of attachments and feelings of security. To them, this is how they define home. However, Himalaya’s home seems to be a spiritual one.

 

There has been much research into Himalaya, including an outstanding biography by Professor Jacinto Rodrigues of Porto, Portugal. It is an extraordinary work of great academic value. Also, Jorge Antonio, a prominent film director from Portugal, in collaboration with Jacinto Rodrigues, has directed a documentary produced by LX films, which is informative, fascinating, and breathtaking.

 

In 2004, the Municipality of Arcos de Valdevez in Portugal displayed an exhibition of Himalaya’s life works at the Casa dos Arcos. It was assembled to celebrate the centennial of the 1940 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, where Himalaya won the Grand Prize for his solar furnace. Also in 2004, the Portuguese Institute of Technology and Innovation sponsored a nationwide contest open to all schools called Concurso Solar Padre Himalaya. Yet despite this commemorative events, no Web site exists on the history of the solar energy and the solar furnace that recognises Himalaya’s work. I sincerely hope that my novel will contribute in some way to increase the popular awareness of this great man. We must not forget that one hundred years ago, we had the knowledge that could have avoided a century of petroleum and gas pollution. Instead, we were all led by capitalistic greed, and the Earth has suffered enormous consequences, such as global warming. We are now faced with the challenge of saving the Earth—God’s creation—a task that Himalaya also worked so hard to do.

 

The Niche of So Tiago is the first novel ever written about Himalaya, and the first book written in English. It is based on the true story of Himalaya with speculation on the missing pieces of his life’s work. I’m privileged in terms of my knowledge and research regarding the story of Himalaya. I was born and raised in the same community, Cendufe in northern Portugal, and I personally know his descendants. My grandmother used to tell me tales of this incredible witch-priest. However, although I had this inside knowledge, I never had the imagination to question his life work. Then I moved to Canada, and for the last twenty years, I have made my home in Ottawa. This has set me apart from the European rush for economic power at all costs, and has provided me with a better understanding of the importance of Himalaya’s work.

 

I hope you will enjoy learning about the humble beginnings of solar energy and the great scientist Himalaya, as well as be intrigued by the story of Antonio. Plus, I hope you will rethink how we must change our lifestyle if we are to save our planet, God’s creation.