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:

Gone:

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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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Revisiting the Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres in Toronto

Procession of Senhor Santo Cristo at St. Mary’s Church in Toronto, May 26, 2019

I had planned on going to the Azores this year to once again attend the Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres,  but circumstances changed and, here I am,  in Toronto, where I was still able to attend the festival in the diaspora, at St. Mary’s, one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the city.

The tradition of the Christ of the Miracles procession started in 1700 in the city of Ponta Delgada in São Miguel, Azores, and was brought to Canada in 1966 by Azorean emigrants, whose devotion to the Ecce Homo, the suffering Christ crowned with thorns, has never wavered with the passage of time away from the homeland.

My father, who had come to Canada in 1965, saw that first procession at St. Mary’s in 1966, along with my paternal grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and my two little cousins, who had all been the first of our family to come to Canada. My grandmother once told the story of how everyone cried with emotion that day, remembering their family members still in the Azores, and how there was no filarmónica band to play the Hino do Senhor Santo Cristo. As a substitute, a gramophone record of the hymn was played from the back of a truck accompanying the procession through the streets of Toronto.

My father was a great devotee of Senhor Santo Cristo and belonged to the Irmandade do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres. As a member of the brotherhood, every year, my father would take his two-week vacation to volunteer with the setting up of the electrical decorations outside the church as well as taking his turn as one of the men who had the honour of carrying the statue in procession. As my father got older and no longer able to carry the heavy andor, he still processed along with his fellow brothers of the Irmandade. I remember watching him the last time he was able to join in the procession. He probably  had already been diagnosed with cancer that year, 2003, but I had blocked this certainty from my mind until now as I write about it. I remember taking his photograph as he went by, fingering his rosary beads, absorbed in his prayer and with perhaps the knowledge that this might be his last time processing with his beloved Santo Cristo. He stopped to look at my camera and for a second he was out of step with the others walking with him. When my father died, in 2005, the president of the Irmandade, Senhor Raposo, came to the funeral home and offered my mother the red sash members wore in procession. My father was buried with it, the last symbolic honour given to him in recognition for his many years of faithful service to the Irmandade. And before his coffin was brought inside St. Helen’s church, several of the brothers, wearing their sashes, stood in silence on either side of his coffin to offer their solidarity and condolences. Many of these men, who were my father’s friends, are also now gone, too.

Over the years, the number of those who come to participate in the festa has been decreasing, from the highest attendance back in 1974 (90,000) to the few thousands I saw in this year’s procession. Partly because of an aging population, but especially because so many Portuguese started to leave the city core, known as Little Portugal, for places like Mississauga, Vaughn, Woodbridge, and Brampton (where they have their own festa do Senhor Santo Cristo, as does the community in Kitchener). The festival of Senhor Santo Cristo is also celebrated in Montreal, and in the US, at Fall River, Massachusetts.

Everywhere that Azoreans went, they brought with them their most treasured spiritual possession, one that continues to tie them to their deep Azorean roots. But as a significant symbol, the replica statues in the diaspora are only a reminder of the original statue back in the Santuário do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres. “É uma emoção diferente,” says my mother, whose mobility keeps her at home, and who now watches the procession in the Azores on RTP television. One can also watch it on-line and, if my mother had Internet, I know she would do so. It’s a very different world from 1966 when the Azorean immigrants in Toronto had to rely on a gramophone record to remind them of the sounds of home.

Inside St. Mary’s before the procession, May 26, 2019

The last time I saw the procession of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres in Toronto with my parents was in 2003:

My father

The very first time I saw the procession in Toronto was in 1969. These photographs of me were taken in the early 1970’s when I was an altar boy at St. Mary’s Church.I am the one in the middle, carrying the processional cross

That’s me in the foreground

my drawing of S.S. Cristo

The future of Senhor Santo Cristo in the diaspora is in his drum beat

Also posted on Comunidades

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Rosetta’s Spring Awakening

After a very slow spring awakening, with daily temperatures mostly below-average for the season, there are now signs of plant life surfacing in Rosetta Gardens. The daffodils and tulips are the first to make their appearance, followed by other plants and flowers; suddenly filling the garden beds with bright yellows, reds, blues, and purples, while trees continue to put on their summer dress in imperceptible spurts. And soon the gardens will be filled with a sheltering green canopy; perfect for sitting under its shade with a good book in-hand to read. But not just yet. There’s still an early morning chill in the air today at 11 Celsius and I’m sure the plants and flowers wished they hadn’t been so bold as to make their appearance and had waited just a little longer for the warm days that I am sure will soon be here!

All photos were taken on May 2, 2019

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Paraquedas/Parachute

Paulo Renato Souza Cunha is a young Brazilian writer, poet, photographer, and musician: a truly modern Renaissance man. He was the winner of the VII Prémio Aldónio Gomes  for his book, Paraquedas- um ensaio filosófico, published in December, 2018, by UA Editora- Universidade de Aveiro. He made the trip from Brazil to Portugal where he joyfully received his literary prize and shared his travelling adventures with the dedicated followers of his blog.

I waited eagerly for a copy of the book, a generous gift from the writer who I have befriended over the last year. When it arrived, on one of the coldest spring days in Toronto, all the way from the warm climate of Brazil, I decided to wait until our own weather improved so that I could sit in my garden to read the book while the warmth of the sun covered my skin. I waited as long as I could but, alas, at the end of April we were still wearing winter coats to keep the chill away. It was impossible to sit in my garden for more than a few minutes before hypothermia set in! I finally gave up on the weather as a prop to my enjoyment of reading and, holding Paraquedas in my hands, my fingers turned the pages with a caress of admiration for its aesthetically bound softcover, eye-catching typesetting and layout, and simple clear lines, so full of understated elegance. Sitting cozily on my sofa by the warmth of the radiator heat, I entered the world of P.R. Cunha’s writing.

I wish this book was available in English so that those who don’t read in Portuguese could discover and appreciate Parachute: a Philosophical Essay (my translation). “There are no correct tones for an essay beyond those of enthusiasm and sincerity,” wrote John Moss in his Introduction Essay in The Canadian Novel: Here and Now- A critical Anthology, 1978 (p. 12/13). And he could have been writing about P.R. Cunha, whose writing is, indeed, full of enthusiasm and, more importantly, sincerity. His essay is divided into four parts and may be read as part memoir, part philosophical musings, but the reader is never really sure how much of what we are told is about the protagonist writer in the essay, who after ten years of grappling with writing a novel, decides to run away (for a very short time) to England before Brazilian literature drove him to madness (p. 9), or the author himself. Is it pure biography or a reinvented biography-cum-fiction? It’s up to the reader to decide.

But I do know that the author of Parachute, like his first-person narrator, shares the same love and fascination for the writers J.G. Ballard, W.G. Sebald, Montaigne, Thomas Bernhard, Sterne, among others. The love for these authors was instilled in the narrator-protagonist by his tia Laura, and we wonder if this is P.R. Cunha’s aunt, too, or simply that of his alter-ego, the writer-protagonist who discusses literature and life, while revealing unflattering facts about his mother, his father, his brother and his sister. The description of his father’s death and his siblings’ greed at spending their 24% each inheritance, while our protagonist-writer is left with only a mere 2%, reveals a family dysfunction that made me cringe. It is tia Laura who has mentored and financed the writer’s adventures and travels, thereby exposing him to the arts, including music; an assistance which allowed him to pursue his intellectual interests.

The book can be read as a tribute to the aunt who dies towards the end of the narrative; and the protagonist wishes that someday, someone in the future may take his dusty book off a shelf to read it and, by doing so, afford his tia Laura a fleeting reward in eternity (p. 168); but the book can also be seen as the inner journey of someone trying to make sense of his life through literature and his own literary pursuits; questioning in every page what is real and what is fiction.

P.R. Cunha is a master weaver of the long, meandering sentence, common in Portuguese writing but not unknown in the English world of literature. It’s a style that appeals to the lyrical writer, regardless of nationality. But not everyone who writes can carry a long sentence without losing their breath along the way. With the long sentence, we can only rely on the helpful use of the comma in order to pause before reading on. Cunha’s narrative starts in one place but by the end he has taken the reader to another world; and yet, managing to brilliantly unite each idea and meandering thought, making it all fit and make sense like a carefully thought-out chess move, a game that both P.R. Cunha and the protagonist of Paraquedas share with passion. I enjoyed this book precisely for this reason; savouring the elegant writing on ideas, philosophically connected to the personal.

The essay questions, in a broader sense, the meaning of the self, and the relationship between literature and everyday life, by referencing philosophy as a guide to the art of living. A parachute is used to allow someone to come down from the sky in a slow, safe way to reach the ground unscathed, and I wonder if P.R. Cunha chose this word for the title of his book as a metaphor for the self’s movement from the internal “sky” world within us, as it floats down from the abstract air, towards the concreteness of the world landed upon.

What Paulo Renato Souza Cunha’s imaginative and complex mind is trying to offer through his meditations, observations, reflections, is perhaps an invitation to his readers to be in touch with their deeper thinking selves.

It is now mid-May and the weather teases the promise of real spring days ahead, when I will finally be able to sit out in my garden again to satisfy my pleasure in reading surrounded by trees, plants and flowers. And I will then take delight in rereading Paraquedas.

Paraquedas canadiano

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