The prolific Azorean literary critic and essayist Vamberto Freitas wrote, “Our geographies are now interior and no longer have anything to do with physical distance, longing and absences.”* (My translation from the original Portuguese text.)
His observation on the immigrant’s state of being describes my own sense of place in the world, as defined by geographical locations and in the land of memory. For most of my life I could not reconcile or make peace with the longing I had for the place where I lived as a young boy and the place where I have come to live for the greater part of my life. It was always a matter of feeling that I had to choose one or the other, but never of being at home with both at the same time.
I am finally able to experience Toronto and the Azores, in my mind and imagination, in an interchangeable and fluid awareness that allows me to be simultaneously in these two places I love without having to be physically present in one or the other, or to feel the necessity to choose one over the other.
The trees suddenly shed summer’s deep green and put on yellow and red and brown, all flooded by the sun’s intensely brighter light; all the colours are filtered through vivid gold, better than any Instagram. It’s all breathtakingly spectacular. The air is crisp and cool, even when warm days still come. This year I felt the need to be home, here in Toronto, “the city within a park,” as the hundreds of park signs across the city remind us.
And yet, at the same time, I also miss an autumn visit to the Azores. I have been going there so often over the last decade, preferring the month of October over others, but at the price of missing out on my Toronto autumns. On the island of São Miguel, the days are still hot, and the fields are blanketed in lush green; the ocean is still a deep summer’s blue. I love the walks along the countryside; the descent down to the ocean by meandering trails that start high up on the cliffs, covered in lush moss and cane leaves and trees that whisper in the wind. The warm breeze is still full of humidity, making me sweat before I arrive at beach level, where I get cooled off by the ocean breeze. When I am on the island, I forget the crisp coolness of Toronto days, but when I am in Toronto my body senses something missing. It’s that time of year again when I wish I could be in two places at the same time.
This year I decided to stay in Toronto for autumn and I’m glad that I did; but a gnawing thought nags at my mind – I am wondering why I didn’t make the trip to the Azores. But it’s alright because while I sit in my backyard in the coolness of the afternoon, with the sun shining brightly on a pale blue sky, I can picture myself at my grandparents’ house, sitting in the courtyard under a canopy of grape vines with the last of the season’s dark blue grapes, looking out into the ocean below, and then I am home without leaving home.
*“[A]s nossas geografias são internas e nada já têm a ver com distâncias terrestres, saudades e ausênsias.” Vamberto Freitas, “Carta a João Brum: Daqui e do outro lado do mar” in Jornalismo e Cidadania: Dos Açores à Califórnia, edições Salamandra, 2001
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