When Walking Doesn’t Get You There

Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Pranto

As much as I like to walk alone while exploring the countryside during my sporadic visits to São Miguel, there’s an advantage in knowing family who live there who can show me places (by car!) I might otherwise miss.

In 2014 I was staying in Achada where my father’s cousin, primo João Fernandes, one of the loveliest men I have ever met, would run into me during my long walks. One day he stopped his car and gave me a ride, stopping at the Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Pranto, a chapel he was sure I would like to see. He actually took the time from his busy work life to let me go inside for a few minutes.  I was delighted to be shown this ermida, one of the many that populate the island, and to feel its silence and sense of simple mystery.

I would have liked to stay longer but primo was in need of getting back to work and insisted on giving me a ride, as we were still halfway to Achada and he worried about me walking so much, so I politely accepted. I thanked him and waved “Até logo” as I watched him drive off, returning to his cows pasturing in a field somewhere nearby.

Primo João Fernandes and his beautiful smile

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Walking as Holy Pilgrimage

 Terceira, Azores

This road, somewhere in Terceira, one of the nine Azorean islands, leads to nowhere and at the same time to everywhere. It’s an inviting place to let yourself get lost in time and simply meander without the expectation of reaching a destination beyond what’s in front of you. Besides, the ocean is just a little way beyond to take you away from the insularity of the island whenever you wish to rejoin society.

Walking is the thing I do best; it’s what pilgrims do on their journey to a pilgrimage site. But what if your pilgrimage is not to a destination already anticipated, such as a saint’s shrine, or a holy stone, but rather a walk towards the unknown?

My legs take me wherever my curious soul wants to go; exploring trails and roads leading further into solitude, away from villages, towns, and cities. I spent one day in Terceira and after exploring the beautiful city of Angra do Heroísmo, I ventured away into the countryside for a bit of solitude and came upon the road on my photograph.

After all these years it still reminds me of the simplicity of that day, of the choice I made to simply let the road take me to wherever it was going, without thought to destination, and letting that be my pilgrim’s holy walk.

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Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres 2022

Convento de Nossa Senhora da Esperança, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Açores

The photograph for this post’s heading shows only a hint of Senhor Santo Cristo ensconced behind the grill. If you look through the top bar next to the column with the cherub, you will get a partial glimpse of the statue.

The annual feast of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres  will take place in Ponta Delgada this May (week of 20-26) after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. I have already written about this quintessential Azorean religious and cultural festival that has taken place since 1700 and I invite you to have a look at my photos and the reflection I wrote in 2017, the last time I saw the procession in the Azores: TRAMPLED BY FAITH

The Azorean diaspora brought the love of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres to North America, where the feast is celebrated in Canada (Toronto, Brampton, Montreal), and the United States of America (Fall River, Massachusetts).

The last procession I attended in Toronto was in 2019: REVISITING THE FESTA DO SENHOR SANTO CRISTO DOS MILAGRES IN TORONTO

I am sure that the devotees of Senhor Santo Cristo are eager to celebrate His feast again. It will offer them moments of healing, of outpouring of grief and longing, of prayer for cures and miracles, and the obtaining of strength and peace of soul to endure the losses incurred during these last challenging two years of pandemic living. It will be a time to restore what has been lost. Assim seja!

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My Garden’s Cautious Awakening

Tulips Waiting to Open Soon!

It’s springtime but still too chilly this early May and so my Toronto east-end garden is awakening with reluctance. The greening has started but the tulips have yet to open, understandably so. They wait for a warmer day. Meanwhile, the perennial plants return and fill the garden with a carpet of green. Soon, the blooming will follow!

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A Slow Spring Coming to Toronto

Scarborough Bluffs by Lake Ontario, Toronto

There’s a slow start of spring in Toronto but we can finally see the first signs of soft colour appear along the Scarborough Bluffs by Lake Ontario and the first flowers blooming at Rosetta McClain Gardens. It’s a welcome sight.

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Ponta Delgada: Observable Moments

Ponta Delgada at Dawn

Walking in the early morning is the best way to capture the details of a city before it fully wakens. Here are some photographs of observable moments taken while meandering in Ponta Delgada.

 

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Ponta Delgada: A City by the Edge of the Atlantic

Igreja de São Sebastião in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

I haven’t been in Ponta Delgada for a long time, but the city by the edge of the Atlantic surfaces in my memory almost daily. Who says that out of sight is out of mind! My experience is that “out of sight” keeps what I miss – in mind.

Here are a few random photos of good memories of walking in Ponta Delgada.

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Praia do Porto de Mós

Algarve, March 2009

It’s been a while since I walked along Praia do Porto de Mós in Lagos on a peaceful day.

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A Little Light

I came upon this circle of stones along the shore of Lake Ontario. Someone had made a fire and I could still feel its smoldering heat as I put my hands over the ashes for warmth. Someone left candles, burning and shining brightly over the stones. It was comforting to find a place to sit and be still and to desire peace in the world.

A little light for hope and peace in the world.

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Revisiting “A Passarada”

When I am in Ponta Delgada, I always revisit the landmarks of my childhood. There’s a sacredness to standing in front of a house or a building that was a part of my life and I take delight in seeing everything still there, despite my decades of absence.

My ritual walks around the city are mostly done in the morning only because I reserve the afternoons for visits to family and friends.

I’m like the pilgrim who makes stops at each shrine along the way, except that, unlike the pilgrim walking the Camino towards the final destination of Santiago de Compostela, I have no place of final destination; just a meandering walk from one end of the city to the other. Every stop is equally important to me: São Sebastião, the 16th century church where I was baptized and had my First Communion; São Pedro, where I remember the elaborate Nativity Presépios smelling of pine; São José, where every January my mother would take me on the feast days of Santo Antão e Santo Amaro to make a thanksgiving offer of “bolos de massa” shaped in the body part that had been healed in response to prayer; O Convento da Esperança to pray in front of the image of Senhor Santo Cristo. I never tire of revisiting these holy sites because they are the places that gave me my childhood’s Catholicism with its world of saints and feast days, processions and religious traditions.

But the secular places are just as important to my nostalgia for everything that was my world growing up: Museu Carlos Machado; Mercado da Graça; Campo de São Francisco; Teatro Micaelense; Forte de S. Brás; Coliseu Micaelense.

Above all these, I have a special fondness for the first school I ever attended, “A Passarada.” I was five years old when I started there on October 7, 1963. I wore a school uniform by the name of “bata” that my mother had made for me and I still remember the smell of my new leather briefcase full of cadernos and a wooden pencil case.

The memories of my one-year at the school left a lasting impression on me: the classroom; the dark hallways; the wooden doors; the scent of plasticine and inkwells; the voices of the teachers echoing clearly in the air; and the shouting of students in the playground during recess.

During my walks on Rua do Contador, I always wished I could have seen the school from the inside again. Yet it never occurred to me to walk in and just ask someone to show me, a bona fide old student who lives in Canada, around. I had to be satisfied with standing in front of the building, taking photos like a tourist.

And then, in 2012, while visiting an old cousin, she said it was time for her to pick up her little granddaughter from school and rather than send me away, she asked me to join her. Little Marta Julia, she said, would be delighted to meet “o primo.” How could I say no? Well, I’m glad I went because, to my surprise, she parked her car in front of my old school. I, too, had been at “A Passarada,” I told her, excited about the fortuitous opportunity of finally going inside again. She was as pleased about the coincidence and, just as excited as I was, relayed the information to one of the teachers, who welcomed me warmly as a former student and showed me around.  The astounding thing is that, despite the passage of time, my old classroom was, indeed, very much the same as when I had been there as a student.

During a later visit, this time in 2016, when I, once again, walked by the school, I was saddened to see a “Vende” sign on the wall. The school was being sold but I was grateful that I had had the opportunity of seeing it inside four years earlier.

It’s remarkable what emotions the sight of one’s old school can still evoke in adulthood, especially if the experience there had been a positive one. In my case, luckily it had, and so, although the physical school is now no longer there, I can keep on revisiting “A Passarada” not only with the memories of childhood, but with the new memories of ten years ago.

My first day of school, October 7, 1963

Still in school! October 26, 2012

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