Lay it Down

Dragonflies resting in my garden

Lay down my camera,                                                                                                                                  Lay down my sketchbook,                                                                                                                          Lay down my notepad,                                                                                                                                 Lay down my words.

Listen to the falling rain,                                                                                                                            Watch the rainbow,                                                                                                                                        Look at the raindrops resting on leaves.

Listen to the Robin’s song,                                                                                                                          Watch the squirrels run across the fence,                                                                                                  Look at the fleeting hummingbird appear and be gone in a flash.

Listen to the whisper of the wind, shaking the trees into sound,                                                      Watch the sky as it darkens before the rain comes,                                                                                 Look at the 18 shades of green in my garden.

I want to stay in my garden and never                                                                                                     Speak another word,                                                                                                                                      Write another word,                                                                                                                                     Think another word…

Lay down my struggle to find the words to lay down my thoughts.

Iron Dragonfly over green glass ball

Hoje foi um dia de silêncio profundo. Apenas o chilrear dos melrinhos e o som do vento soprando as folhas das árvores, acalmando a minha alma. Quero ficar no meu jardim para sempre e nunca mais proferir nem uma palavra.

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August Light no meu Jardim

August light covers my garden like a sheet of yellow cellophane. It then fades in fleeting moments, only to return again, in a game of peek-a-boo between sky and earth. And then, perhaps bored by the game, the light goes away as quickly as it came. An impermanent light that returns the next day.

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Photographing My Summer Garden

I was born in Sr. Borge’s house, on rua da Arquinha, in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Açores. I lived there until the age of two, so it’s not probable that I remember its orchard of banana trees (bananeiras), figs trees (figueiras) and araçaleiros; nonas, and groselhas. It’s also not probable that I remember the garden’s rose bushes (roseiras) and daisies (malmequeres), among the many other flowers that filled the garden. And yet I still recall that garden of childhood whenever I walk through my flower garden.






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Drawing My Summer Garden

My Summer Garden © Emanuel Melo

In summer, I like to fill my sketchbook with pastel pencil drawings of my garden.

I have kept a child-like quality to my drawings. It’s as if, when I move the pencil on the page, I am still that little boy back in the Azores who loved to draw on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Welcome to MY ART

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Looking for Azulejos in Toronto’s West End

The house where I lived in Ponta Delgada, showing an azulejo of Senhor Santo Cristo

I meander up and down the streets of Toronto’s west-end neighbourhoods, where many Portuguese came to settle decades ago, and I look for signs that show me a Portuguese family might still live there. It’s not guaranteed that every house will have the religious azulejo glued to the front facade, but many houses still do, although fewer and fewer, as Portuguese families leave the city for the suburbs. Newcomers to the area are gentrifying the houses by removing these ceramic tiles; the azulejo has no resonance or meaning except for the Portuguese Catholics who put them up as a way to remember a tradition from back home.

When I come upon a house that still has the azulejo, I stop; and like a reverential pilgrim, I take a photograph as a souvenir of these religious signs. Most azulejos depict the image of Senhor Santo Cristo (identifying the house as Azorean-Portuguese), but there’s also many Our Lady of Fátimas, Holy Families, Guardian Angels, and a variety of saints, the most popular being St. Anthony of Lisbon (better known to the rest of the world as St. Anthony of Padua).

There’s something comforting to still see this colourful sign that assures me of the Portuguese presence in Toronto; but I can’t help feel sadness, too, knowing that one day they will all disappear.

In 2015, Phillip Mendonça-Vieira did an important study of the azulejo in his photo-essay, “The Saints of Little Portugal,” and I urge you to read his remarkably thorough documentation of the history of this Portuguese tradition, for now, still present in Toronto’s Little Portugal.

These are just a few of the houses in Toronto that still display the azulejo:

Lansdowne Avenue:

Dufferin Street (the triple azulejo):

Markham Street:

this house on Markham does not need an azulejo to be Portuguese:

Euclid Avenue:

Palmerston Blvd:

Robert Street:

Bathurst Street: after a recent house fire, the azulejo remains:

And I could not resist to include this photograph, taken in Montreal:


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Fio de Ternura

Joaquina Pires has brought her 2017 exhibit, Fil de Tendresse/Fio de Ternura/Thread of Tenderness, from Montreal to Toronto, where it opened on Thursday, June 6, at the Peach Gallery to a room full of people, young and old, who came to celebrate and share their stories of grandparents.

The current exhibit, in a series of photographs, videos and written texts, explores the role and place of grandparents in the lives of their families and especially of their relationships with grandchildren.  Manuela Marujo, who collaborated with Joaquina on making the Toronto exhibit an interactive experience between the young and the old, organized two competitions. The first, a Concurso Literário for children between the ages of 10-15, asking them to write about why their grandparents are special. The best three texts won prizes that included tickets to a concert by Xutos e Pontapés, as well as a tickets for a Blue Jays game. The second, a Concurso Fotografía, for those between the ages of 15 to 25. The best three photographs were chosen to be displayed as part of the exhibit. In addition to the same prizes given to the children, they received a copy of MEMÓRIA: An Anthology of Portuguese Canadian Writers, a gift from the editor, Fernanda Viveiros.

Originally inspired by hearing me reading my short story, “Avó lives alone,” at Café com letras, readings with Luso Vox Writers, in Montreal, Joaquina embarked on a journey of documenting her Montreal community’s experience of grandparents, and now that of Toronto. The theme, of course, as seen through a Portuguese lens, is not restricted to the experience of Portuguese families but rather embraces the universal themes of ageism, the place of the elderly in society, and the relationship between intergenerational members of families.

I like Joaquina’s exhibit title, A Thread of Tenderness, because often the relationship between the old and the young are linked by nothing more than a flimsy thread, one that can be broken so easily, especially through neglect and the passage of time. The importance of including grandparents in the life of their grandchildren is paramount for the survival of the memory of the past. There have been many times when I have been told stories by young adults of how it was their grandparents who helped them keep the Portuguese language alive, how it was their presence in their lives that have sustained them through changes and the instability of modern family life. Again, this experience is not exclusive to the Portuguese: it’s a universal family experience, and one which parents ought to pay attention to as an important legacy for their children by ensuring that they are given a chance to have a relationship with their grandparents.

It is a fragile relationship, hanging on a fio, a thread, partly because it is so time sensitive. The grandparent will surely die, the grandchildren will surely grow up and be less interested in their elders, this is normal, but if they have had a strong bond with their grandparents when young, they will remember it for ever. The time spent with grandparents is a gift for the future of their grandchildren and one that will ensure that their memory will live on beyond a fio de ternura.


Photo credit: Michael Baptista

I am grateful to Joaquina Pires for hearing “Avó Lives Alone,” and for having the generosity of heart to create an exhibit about grandparents inspired by the story.

View the photographs of the opening reception

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Agustina Bessa-Luís 1922-2019

Foto da Agustina Bessa-Luís que tirei quando estive em sua casa no Porto em 1984.

Hoje, dia 3 de junho, morreu a grande escritora portuguesa, Agustina Bessa-Luís. Desde o dia em que ela acolheu-me em sua casa, com um sorriso nos olhos que ficou gravado na minha memória para sempre, nunca deixei de ler os seus livros. Ouço a sua voz em cada palavra que leio, e, agora, apesar dela já ter partido para a eternidade, a sua voz continuará viva na minha memória. Para mim, Agustina não é só uma figura importante na literatura portuguesa, mas será sempre a minha Agustina Bessa-Luís, que recebeu-me na sua casa em 1984.

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