Friday, 29 May 2009

Celebrations in Roça Sundy

Banners are out as we arrive at the plantation in a convoy that has grown to almost a hundred delegatess. In an island with a population of fewer than 5000, this represents a huge success!

As you can see in the photo, the dancers and band from last night have all got matching T-shirts made for the occasion.

I have a proper look around the plantation in daylight. It is laid out around a central courtyard, with ornate stables at one end; the church, cantina and owner's residences in a row, opposite the the buildings that used to be slave quarters. The latter are now owned and occupied by their residents. Nothing lasts long in this climate and they have clearly deteriorated. Government-sponsored efforts to repair and preserve the site are being helped by Tulla, who was born here but moved to São Tomé for a career in politics. He shows me the train tracks (and rusting remains of the train) that used to carry cocoa pods to ships waiting at the beach below - and possibly also brought up Eddington's equipment. Tulla's goal is to build a hotel on the beach below, bringing jobs and money to the plantation that could be used to preserve and further repair the buildings and the road.

The kids here are very excited by our digital cameras, and swamp us to see photos of themselves with their friends. They are clearly not overloaded with tired images and video clips like in Europe - and like the website will soon be. I'm feeling daunted by the task of sorting through my 1200 photos (not to mention everyone else's; the islands are too beautiful to put a camera seat for long). About a quarter of those are of excited Roça Sundy kids pulling faces at each other...

With a copy of Eddington's letters at hand, we try to piece together exactly where he was staying, and the location of the his telescopes. He wrote that he could look down from his bedroom window onto the open area where he set up equipment. This would have needed to face North, towards the sea. It's not exactly clear which building he'd have occupied; the primary residence has a date on one wall of 1920: too late, but it may just refer to extensive renovations. Some of the Scientists In The World team are staying there, and their rooms have balconies that overlook suitable sites. Alternatively, a slightly smaller adjacent building is also possible.

A visiting Brazilian astronomy professor suggests that some concrete blocks rising out of the ground in the central courtyard could have been built to securely mount Eddington's telescopes; it's possible, but the oddly-shaped blocks could have been for anything else too. Richard Ellis came here last year and didn't reach a firm conclusion either, so this is likely to remain a mystery.

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