The Azorean poet, Gabriela Silva, had come from the island of São Miguel to speak to the students of the Portuguese Culture Course at the University of Toronto. I was anxious to see her, a writer I did not know, but who I hoped would bring the humid sweet air of the green and wondrous island of my childhood; hidden as it is in the immensity of the Atlantic.
I assumed I would hear Silva speak in the local dialect of my place of birth. However, the poet spoke in English so that everyone could understand. I became sad, to hear her in translation; disappointed that no word of my maternal tongue fell from her lips. Still, I thanked her, whispering in her ear, “When you return, give the island an embrace for me.”
It was autumn in Toronto. The sky was clear like a blue marble. I was sitting in the silence of my garden, looking at the luminous yellow and red leaves on the trees, caressed by the wind, dancing and falling to the ground, with a gentle swirl. The cold wind penetrated my skin, from tip to toe. I breathed deeply, taking in the frigid air like a chocolate ice-cream bar on a hot summer’s day.
I remembered the words of Gabriela Silva when she spoke about the weather in the Azores: its primordial mists, rain and humidity which leaves people with a heavy spirit that is the nature of these islands.
I had forgotten about the weight of rain and of fog. When I arrived in Toronto on a cold February day, I encountered snow: the Canadian winter stole my memory of the heaviness, darkness and fog of the island I had just left behind.
I have lived more than four decades in Toronto, yet there always remains inside of me a vague remembering of the ocean waves that both suffocates and liberates.
Gabriela Silva wrote that, “Wherever there lives an Azorean, whether he speaks bad English or poor Portuguese, he will always be a different being, distinct from others. He feels with the soul, has ocean in his guts, fog in his dreams, and longing in his gaze.” *
In these words I encounter my Self. When I walk the shores of Lake Ontario, with its gentle lapping waves, I hear an echo of the Azorean Atlantic Ocean. It’s an inexplicable connection that reminds me that no matter how much time I have been away from the island, those fogs, that rain and mist, continue to call me from the shore where I stand.
I wrote this reflection at the end of a cruel winter, with snow still covering my garden, despite the calendar indicating that spring had arrived, and I wondered, “What’s the weather like, right now, in my far away island?” And on a whim, I googled the airline that could take me back, SATA International, and booked myself a flight. I’m going to Ponta Delgada, and the anticipation of that encounter already gladdens my soul. I will go back and, myself, embrace the Island!
* Quote from Dizer Adeus, in “Abraço de Mar.” My translation.
Embrace the Island for Me is my translation of the Portuguese text I wrote for Mundo Açoriano, Dá um abraço à ilha por mim, published in 2014.