Being a Filipino by birth; born to a Chinese-Filipino Father and a Spanish/German Mother, I had it tough growing up because I was a mestizo and the butt of jokes by Spaniards, Filipinos, and Chinese alike because I was freakishly tall, pale skinned, but had relatively slanted eyes and a Malay-accented nose. Like most people born to mixed couples, I had the unquenchable thirst for identity and hence history.
Like most of you on this blog, I too was in search of my family lineage. The story begins when in 1999, I was on my way from Redwood Shores, California to many destinations in Europe. The eldest of my grandfather's cousin (the black-eyed Spaniard (Moorish)) told me to look up a place called Pau if I ever get to Portugal. Now, before I divulge it all, you have to forgive my Aunt's memory as she is three generations removed from the facts being that our Sarthou lineage dates back from the early 1800 in the Philippines. I kept that in the back of my mind not knowing if I was going to need the snippet of information when I got to Europe for work related travel which would start my 8 year long journey in Europe.
To cut the story short, I was working in Brussels when another devout Catholic friend of mine from Poland decided to visit Lourdes in France. Being young and adventurous, I heeded the call of the road and off we were on the 12 hour journey from Brussels to Lourdes. During the journey, I swapped driver's seat with David when we hit Bordeaux and I started navigating. Not even an hour into the drive, I realized that in the map, just 5 to 10 kilometers West Southwest of Lourdes is this little town called "Pau". Hmmmmmmm, interesting. What were the chances of two cities, one in Portugal and one in France, having the same name....maybe quite large but it was worth the investigative time so I pleaded for us to take the detour. As we were approaching Pau, there was a very old little store, sort of dingy and dark, with a huge poster reading "SARTHOU". OH MY GOD!, that was it. Here I was. I asked David to STOP. Before the car same to a halt I was out of the door and rushing into the store. In the store was a man in his forties about 250 LBS. and about 65 inches tall. He did not look to be a very clean man. His name was Antoine Sarthou and he and his family had owned that store for over 200 years. In my broken French, I had managed to convince him that I too was a Sarthou by showing him my two month old renewed California driver's license. He immediately hugged me and started calling his Mom who was in the kitchen cooking the 'Dish of the Day' to sell for that evening. And a 14 year old boy who was a spitting image of me when I was that age come out and he screamed orders to the boy and the boy dashed out of the place and returned about ten minutes later with what seemed like half the town. I was an overnight celebrity. David thought I had started a fight or something. Anyway, as the people sat around us, we sipped on some really good coffee and just talked for about an hour and a half. The conversation produced some information that answered some really important questions:
1. If you are a Sarthou, you come from Pau. The name does not hail from any other place in Europe other than Pau. Any Sarthou's from France who can date their family geneaology far enough will find that what is said here is true. You know why???? Half the freaking town (about 600 in total), were Sarthous. The other was Pellicer.
2. There are many famous Sarthou's in history, yet they were self-made people. Sarthou's were all working class people. If they were big, they were big in Pau, which is not very big. :) We do not hail from nobility and we were never in favour with the Spanish Royal courts. How do I know this? I asked Antoine, how the hell can I be French when I have always thought myself to be Spanish. He almost hit me in the head and said, back in the late 1700s many people in the South of France were jobless and had no future to look towards. Many of our ancestors crossed the Pyrénées mountains into Spain to look for jobs as ship hands on the burgeoning Spanish nautical escapades. At least there, you could either strike it rich from booty or you can die having experienced some adventure.
3. Sarthous that I'd met in this visit were very jovial people and very easy going as most country folks would be. They are kind and generous and overly affectionate. Funny thing is, I really felt at home. They called me their cousin and that I should come by again. I still write to Antoine to this day. I promise to see him now that I live closer to France, (as I live in Rome). I HAVE SO MANY PICTURES OF THEM. If you want some, please let me know and I will email them to you so you can see the original Sarthou's OR WHAT THE HELL, GO THERE AND TELL THEM RAMON SENT YOU.
Here is some interesting information about the region:
From humble beginnings as a crossing on the Gave de Pau ("Gave" roughly translates as valley) for flocks en route to and from the mountains, PAU became the capital of the ancient viscountcy of Béarn in 1464, and of the French part of the kingdom of Navarre in 1512. In 1567 its sovereign, Henri d'Albret, married the sister of the king of France, Marguerite d'Angoulême, friend and protector of artists and intellectuals and herself the author of a celebrated Boccaccio-like tale (the Heptameron), who transformed the town into a centre of the arts and nonconformist thinking.
Their daughter was Jeanne d'Albret, an ardent Protestant, whose zeal offended her own subjects as well as attracting the wrath of the Catholic king of France, Charles X, thus embroiling Béarn in the Wars of Religion – whose resolution, albeit only temporary, had to await the accession to the French throne of her own son, Henri IV, in 1589. An adroit politician, he renounced his faith to facilitate this transition, quipping that "Paris is worth a Mass" and then appeasing the regional sensibilities of his Béarnais subjects by announcing that he was giving France to Béarn rather than Béarn to France. He did not incorporate Béarn into the French state; that was left to his son and successor, Louis XIII, in 1620. As Pau's most famous son, Henri acquired a suitably colourful reputation. He was baptized in traditional Béarnais style with the local Juraçon wine, and his infant lips were rubbed with garlic. In his adult life he was known as the vert-galant for his prowess as a lover. He also gave France one of its more famous recipes, poule au pot – chicken stuffed and boiled with vegetables: he is reputed to have said that he did not want anyone in his realm to be so poor as not to be able to afford a poule in the pot once a week.
The least-expected thing about Pau is its English connection, which dates from the arrival of Wellington and his troops after the defeat of Marshal Soult at Orthez in 1814. Seduced by its climate and persuaded of its curative powers by the Scottish doctor Alexander Taylor, the English flocked to Pau throughout the nineteenth century, bringing along their peculiar cultural obsessions – fox-hunting, horse-racing, polo, croquet, cricket, golf (the first eighteen-hole course in continental Europe in 1860 and the first in the world to admit women), tearooms and parks. When the rail line arrived here in 1866, the French came, too: writers and artists like Victor Hugo, Stendhal and Lamartine, as well as the socialites. The first French rugby club opened here in 1902, after which the sport spread throughout the southwest. During the 1950s, natural gas was discovered at nearby Lacq, bringing new jobs and subsidiary industries, as well as massive production of sulphur-dioxide-based pollution, now reduced by filtration but still substantial. In addition, there's a well-respected university, founded in 1972, whose eight thousand or so students give the town a youthful buzz.
Pau lies within easy reach of numerous small, picturesque villages in northwest Béarn, as well as the GR65 footpath that runs some 60km down to the Spanish border.
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