The Self-Isolating Heart

I have seen this suspended heart many times on my walks through Rosetta McClain Gardens. I thought it endearing and sweet to see how it hung there between a thin branch and a wooden post. But when I came across it this week, because we are still allowed out for short walks, it had a new meaning for me. This plastic heart reminded me of our own self-isolating, suspended hearts in this new age of Covid-19.

Even as we are self-isolating, distancing, quarantining, staying away from each other, until this health crisis is under control, we are longing more deeply for our human connections. We can’t take each other for granted any longer and as we sit isolated in our homes, we are reaching out. Thankfully, in this age of social media, we are connecting with each other more mindfully than ever before.

Some of us have been good at maintaining relationships with family and friends without being physically with them. For those of us who are introverts, who love solitude and seek time alone, I think, it’s a bit easier, because we have practiced disembodied communication; we know that reaching others by our words, our minds, and our hearts, can be a deeper connection than being physically present.

But even we, the introverts of the world, still crave human touch and presence: to see someone we love; to read their emotions; to react to their smiles; to see the joy or sadness in their eyes; to give them an embrace; and to touch their hands. These are the most human ways of fostering love and connection with one another.

It is my wish that once this health crisis is over, as all things do eventually come to an end, that we remember to keep reaching out to one another.

I am thinking of my family and friends throughout Canada, Portugal and the Azores, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe and I am wishing them love.

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Visiting Fronteira Palace in Lisbon

Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira (Fronteira Palace)

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of meandering through the Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira gardens in Lisbon. I took these photographs to remind me of the magnificent azulejos that adorn the garden.

I highly recommend the book Portuguese Decorative Tiles by Rioletta Sabo for beautiful photographs of Portugal’s azulejos.

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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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