Finding His Way Home

Vladimir’s House

Vladimir was a good neighbour. A stout short man with a full, round jovial face covered in a beard and bushy eyebrows that framed his bright blue-green eyes. Vladimir was born and raised in a small town in Finland. He immigrated to Canada as a young man where he married and raised two daughters. By the time we knew him, he was living alone in retirement after an amicable divorce. Occasionally we would see him walking his ex-wife’s dog.

A master gardener by trade, he had worked as a groundskeeper for the former Scarborough Board of Education (now the Toronto District School Board) and he took great pride in his own garden. Every time he stopped for a chat, he offered us good advice on how we could take care of ours. We even hired him once, to create a new flower bed in our front garden.

In summer, while my partner and I weeded the front garden, we looked forward to seeing him walk up the street, stop in front of our house for a greeting and a brief conversation about the weather, the state of our garden, or to admonish Stephen about not becoming a school administrator.

One day, Vladimir was involved in a car accident while turning onto our street which ended his ability to drive; but he was an avid walker and we would see him most days walking to and fro to the bus, always clutching a bag containing gardening tools. Eventually the bag was replaced by a cane after two knee replacements made walking more difficult.

In recent years, we began to see him less often and his greetings eventually became vague as if he wasn’t sure who we were. I remember the day when Stephen came home, troubled by a strange encounter he’d had with Vladimir who had asked Stephen what towns were east of here and then inquired if this was the way to Vantaa.

Confused but sensing something was off, Stephen replied, “No. We are in Toronto and the towns east of us are called Pickering, Whitby and Oshawa.” And then it occurred to Stephen that Vladimir might be lost in memory. He asked him if Vantaa was a town in Finland, to which Vladimir said, “Yes. It’s where I’m from and I’m trying to get there.”

We learned a few months later that Vladimir had Alzheimer’s Disease and his daughters had moved him into an assisted living facility.

I was quite moved by this story of Vladimir’s search for a way back home, just when his mind stopped living in the present. Although he had his house and family here, in a country he made home, his memory clung to the faraway place of childhood where he had lived.

I hope Vladimir finds his way home.

The Train Station in Helsinki, Finland

I am grateful to Stephen for telling me the story of his encounter with Vladimir. It touched me as much as if I had been the one who had spoken to him that last time on our street.

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The Dundas Portuguese Bakery Reimagined by Nova Era Bakery

Last February I wrote about the closing of one of the oldest Portuguese bakeries in Toronto, the Dundas Portuguese Bakery. I thought, as did others, that this was going to be the end of the famous bolos levedos, one of the many delicious treats this bakery offered to the community.

Many months later, while shopping at Rui Gomes Portuguese Supermarket, I was surprised to find packages of bolos levedos, still labelled with the Dundas Portuguese Bakery graphics on the plastic bag.  Of course, I was puzzled, but also delighted.

Later, I saw more bolos levedos for sale at one of the several locations of the popular Nova Era Bakery. I was thrilled to know that I could continue to get my fix of bolos levedos anytime I felt like having one!

I recently learned from someone who works at Nova Era Bakery that when the owner’s son learned that Senhor Francisco and his wife were closing their business, he had the foresight to purchase their recipes. The couple not only sold their recipes for bolos levedos, pão de ló, biscoitos, and other products but they also personally took on the task of teaching the Nova Era staff how to make them.

Since then, Nova Era Bakeries has been selling the beloved baked goods that the Portuguese community can now continue to enjoy. Interestingly, the same distributor who worked for the Dundas Portuguese Bakery still delivers them to smaller stores throughout Toronto.

In addition to the recipes, Nova Era Bakery also kept the Dundas Portuguese Bakery phone number, and I have been told that they still get calls from people enquiring about bolos levedos. The former owners must feel very proud in knowing that their legacy will continue to live on for years to come, thanks to Nova Era!

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White Birch

This White Birch tree lives by the Scarborough Bluffs in the Harrison Properties at the edge of Lake Ontario. I have watched it age ever since we moved to Birch Cliff eighteen years ago. I wonder if the birch also sees me aging as I walk by on my way to Rosetta Gardens.

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A Snowy Day in Birch Cliff

Somewhere in Birch Cliff, Toronto

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Big Sur is not in the Azores…

Big Sur, California

Driving along Big Sur’s coastal highway, a majestic stretch of winding roads with views of the Pacific Ocean, I could not help but superimpose this California landscape with views of the Atlantic Ocean along the meandering roads in São Miguel, Azores.

The Pacific Coast Highway travels through another beautiful place in the world, geographically so far away from the Azorean Archipelago, yet it can evoke an immediate sense of home, just the same.

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No Longer At Sea: A reader’s response to “No Longer in Translation”

I am indebted to Susan K. Riggs  for writing a reflection on my post, “No Longer in Translation,” and I am delighted to publish it in full here on my blog:

No Longer At Sea

“No Longer in Translation” is an Odyssey for the 21st century and its author is a weary traveler returning home from a voyage of self-discovery that has led him to seemingly disparate geographical and biographical “ports of call”. Appreciative readers have pondered and pontificated about these “ports” for years.

As a writer, Melo’s intriguing constellation of literary themes revolving around dissonance and isolation convey a powerful sense of humanity and understanding.  Now, however, the author is haunted by the Scylla and Charybdis of what he refers to as “emotional places I had never thought I’d visit”, places that he has constantly sought to translate from one world to another.

Now seemingly frustrated with his “journey of self-discovery”, he returns “home” to a simple acceptance of his multi-dimensional self. In this current work, he walks through the front door, lays down his burdensome baggage of endless self-assessment and proclaims that he will no longer attempt to interpret what he may believe is the “uninterpretable”.

While all this may sound pessimistic to some, it may simply represent the beginning of a new journey, one closer to home, for Melo has returned to a house of many mansions. Let us hope that his explorations of self will remain with him forever, perhaps less as a “quest” and more as a “re-deployment” as he moves from room to room in his splendid literary mansion, inhabiting unconnected (but always adjoining) and always well-appointed rooms of the self.

In the final analysis, his body of work will translate itself.

Susan K. Riggs

Jan. 8, 2020

Susan K. Riggs is a writer who teaches writing at Victoria College (University of Toronto). You can read more about her on the Victoria College Writing Centre web page and scrolling down to Writing Centre Instructors.


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Entre as brumas na Ilha de São Miguel

Planalto dos Graminhais Mountains surrounded by Azorean mist calling me home.

All photos taken during my 2017 visit to the island.

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