A Baltic Journey: Finland

A rainy day in Helsinki

Havis Amanda Fountain and Sculpture  by Ville Vallgren

Bicycles at the edge of Esplanadi Park

Esplanadi (Espa) Park

Helsinki Central Station

Helsinki Central Station

Helsinki Central Station

Senate Square and the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas

Oodi Helsinki Central Library

Oodi Helsinki Central Library

Kansalaistori Square and Sanomatalo Building

Finlandia Hall

Sanomatalo building (headquarters for  daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat)

Opera House

Temppeliaukion Rock Church

Temppeliaukion Rock Church Dome

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A Baltic Journey: Germany

The Queen Elizabeth docked in Warnemünde

Whenever I tell anyone that I am going on a trip, the predictable question asked of me is, “Where are you going to in Portugal?” But as much as I enjoy visits to the mainland and the Azores, I also like to explore other parts of the world.

This autumn, my partner and I embarked on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth at Southampton, England for a 14-day Baltic Highlights Voyage.

Our first port of call was the seaside resort town of Warnemünde, at the mouth of the River Warnow, in Germany (formerly the German Democratic Republic – East Germany). In the nearby town of Rostock we explored the Neuer Markt, surrounded by beautiful houses, the Town Hall (The Rathaus), and Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church, begun in the 13th century).

The highlight for us, however, was talking to our tour guide, a young man in his thirties, who shared with us his life story of growing up in a post-Berlin-Wall Germany.

Our time there ended too quickly and soon we were back on the ship sailing onwards north across the Baltic Sea to our next stop: Helsinki, Finland.

Universität Rostock

The Rathaus (Town Hall) with countdown to the 600th anniversary of the University

houses along Neuer Markt, Rostock

houses along Universitätsplatz, Rostock

St. Marien Kirche (St. Mary’s Church), Rostock

Neuer Markt, Rostock

The Fountain of the Joy of Life, Rostock

Warnemünder’s oldest Kirche

Bookstore in Warnemünde 

Warnemünde Lighthouse

Baltic Sea 

Warnemünde Beach

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I EMBARKED on a very long journey of self-discovery in July of 2000. It was meant to be only a holiday in Ponta Delgada, with perhaps a hint of nostalgia for the city where I had been born, and where I had taken my partner to visit the beautiful island of my past.

It was my first time back on the island since my other visit there in 1984, which in turn was the first time I visited since immigrating to Canada in 1968. But in 1984 I was in love with someone back in Toronto, and as much as I enjoyed the visit, I was counting the days to return home to be with him.

There had been no anguish of soul then over doubts of identity and belonging, language and culture; no angst about “Portugueseness” or “Açorianidade,” a concept and word unknown to me at that time.

However, in 2000, it was a different story. Upon arrival on the island, the contact was like a knife ripping me open and it left this gaping wound that I have spent almost twenty years trying to heal. It was a visceral emotional experience that started this inner journey of trying to make sense of myself as a born Portuguese/Azorean living in Canada for most of my life.

The journey has taken me to emotional places I had never thought I’d visit, as I tried desperately to connect and claim my full identity as a person in the world living in two languages and cultures.

I started this blog four years ago as a way to help me articulate my discoveries, my questions and doubts, my acceptance of some things and the rejection of others. It’s been a long interior journey of constant self-awareness and the process of trying to translate myself from the Portuguese side of me to the English world has been exhausting, yet fruitful.

But I feel that I have now reached the end of this journey and I am ready to put down my mind’s travelling suitcase full of all that I’ve gathered along the way: the ideas, the people I’ve met, the mementos I’ve guarded jealously, all that I have clung to in order to feel secure in who I am.

The ever present awareness or consciousness of myself as a cultural hybrid is now settling in my mind into a state of comfortable acceptance of who I am.

I am no longer in translation nor do I care to translate myself any further for the benefit of making myself known or understood.

I am simply content to be, to exist in the world as I am, without having to process, explain or justify who I am as Portuguese/Canadian.

This new awareness allows me to experience my life without further dissection, analysis, justifications, interpretations/translations, and social labels.

This means that I can pick up a book by a writer like Agustina Bessa-Luís, (whose books are not yet translated into English) and read her without having to think about how she would sound like to an English reader. It’s enough for me that I can read her and feel her words in the language that I learned when I came into the world. For myself, I don’t need her in English and I leave it up to others to carry on the task of translating her if there’s a desire for it. I am simply grateful that I can meet her in the language in which she wrote.

Perhaps my recent journey to countries where I did not know the languages awoke something new in me: the realization that I’m fine not knowing everything or having to dissect everything about me in order to appreciate who I am.

I am letting go of all those burdensome tools of translation I have used during my journey. I lay it all down and walk away, wordlessly, no longer in translation.

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WHILE TRAVELLING during the month of September I made a conscious decision not to read emails, blog posts, text messages or news. In that time, I experienced a heightened level of disconnection from all methods of communication and that suited me just fine. It was only upon my return home in October that I faced countless emails and the blogs to which I subscribe. Seeing all these notifications cascade down my screen, waiting to be opened and read, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. My first impulse was to simply press the delete button and pretend that September never happened.

As freeing as that act of erasure would be, instead I spent the month of October going through each email and blog post. I lie. Most of these posts are saved and waiting for a day when I can read them. The trouble is that I came back home with a virus I did not know I had. It’s a soul virus the ancient monastics called Acedia; when nothing speaks life into the soul and everything is like a dry desert. In the simplest terms it means to stop caring for anything, finding boredom in all things one used to enjoy. It’s a strong word, full of complex meanings and perhaps I exaggerate or misuse the word as it might apply to my current state of soul. (I highly recommend the book Acedia & me by Kathleen Norris for a modern soul’s journey of living with acedia.)

I suspect Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the popular 19th Century Roman Catholic Saint, knew all too well, the state of acedia – in so far as reading was concerned.  In her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Thérèse wrote how she could only read the gospels and the 15th century classic by Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, for spiritual nourishment. Everything else left her dry.

As much as I try (and want) to find nourishment and solace in books, each one I pick up and start to read, I soon abandon. I am left cold and arid, the words fading from the page, leaving me bored and uninterested. I am not connecting to or finding joy in reading – even my favourite authors. I am not despairing of this state of mind as I know it will eventually pass.

In the meantime, I know my situation is not totally bleak because, like Thérèse, I am still able to find comfort in, at least, one writer. I pay him homage by spelling his name in the lower-case (as he has recently taken to spelling his name): p. r. cunha writes in Portuguese with elegant, thoughtful, meditations on life, literature, philosophy. He blogs from Brazil and his words come to my in-box almost daily. During the months of September and October alone he posted thirty-seven reflections! I have been opening them, one at a time, chronologically, with anticipation, as an antidote to my current state of mind and soul.

I read cunha while on long subway rides into the city. Sitting around me in crowded trains, people chatter away in loud voices. It’s a cacophony of languages – a soundtrack of Chinese, Urdu, English among other languages heard daily in the public spaces of Toronto – all distracting me from the Portuguese words I read on my phone’s screen. I try to block off the languages around me and concentrate on p. r. cunha’s words. His writing is all I can digest, for now.


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Back to My Garden

It’s October and there are days when the sun still shines warmly on my body as I return to sit in my garden after a month’s absence.

Since my last post, when I wrote about the joy of staying in my garden forever and never uttering another word, I actually left it to go travelling.  Such is the fickleness of my restless heart – claiming one thing yet seeking another.

The garden has done very well without me. It took care of itself and is as beautiful and full of life as the day I left it – a humbling realization that the garden doesn’t really need me to thrive. Perhaps I also don’t need it as much I claim.

One month of travel and not one thought given to my garden. I was fully distracted by places I had never been to before as I immersed myself in the discovery of the new.

I travelled with my partner on a two-week cruise of the Baltic Sea on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.  The ports of call gave me a very small glimpse and entry-point to wonderful countries: Germany, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, and Sweden!

I can’t claim that I have truly visited these countries. I merely had a taste, an “amuse- bouche” of these beautiful places. However, the little I saw and sampled, like items observed from a long buffet table, whet my appetite to further explore these countries another time.

The cruise followed two weeks spent in parts of England and Wales I had never been to before: Bath, Torquay, St. Ives in England; as well as Tintern, Cardiff, Tenby, and St. David’s Head in Wales.

Although I was not looking for the Portuguese in any of these places, I was surprised and delighted to find Pastéis de Nata in Bath, close to the cathedral, at the Cornish Bakery, flown in from Lisbon, according to the server. I found them also in Guildford, where they were on display at the Saturday market; and in Cardiff where there’s a chain of three Nata & Co Portuguese bakeries!)

At the Holburne Museum gift shop in Bath, I recognized the voice of Portuguese singer, Ana Moura. I told the woman at the cash register that I was delighted to hear Fado there, of all places. The clerk, it turns out, had learned Portuguese forty years ago and still liked to listen to Portuguese music.  I asked her if there were many Portuguese living in the area and she told me that, yes, there were many, and over at the nearby village of Straub, the Portuguese bring their Pastéis de Nata to sell at the Saturday market.

Walking in the English seaside town of Torquay, I came across a now-closed Portuguese restaurant: O Pescador! Too bad. But we were lucky enough to have dinner at a beautiful restaurant in Cardiff, Tŷ Madeira, where the Portuguese food was delicious and the people lively and joyful.

I only mention all this Portugueseness because I found it “au hasard.”  I had gone travelling to find new places, not to be reminded of what I already know. But such is the power of the familiar – there as a reminder that no matter how far from home I go, I can’t really escape or totally ignore my cultural roots.

Soon I won’t be able to sit out in the garden as much. The days ahead will start to turn rainy and cold. I will close up the garden before the snow will eventually come and cover everything until spring. In the months ahead I will look out into the garden from my window and remember, not only the garden of summer, but my travel through England, Wales and seven Baltic countries. I need time to savour and ponder the memories I have gathered, sort them out, before I can translate the emotions I feel into words.

Guildford, England


Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff, Wales

Torquay, England

Astoria, with Portuguese flag, docking next to Queen Elizabeth in St. Petersburg, Russia

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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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