Algarve, March 2009
It’s been a while since I walked along Praia do Porto de Mós in Lagos on a peaceful day.
Algarve, March 2009
It’s been a while since I walked along Praia do Porto de Mós in Lagos on a peaceful day.
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.
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
Toronto has over 1,600 parks, so I discovered on the web. They range from the very small to the very large and there is no way to ignore their presence throughout this vast city. It is no wonder that the logo on every Toronto park sign is “A City within a Park.”
I never really appreciated their distinctive place and importance until the pandemic forced me to look for places to travel closer to home. Since I don’t drive, I can rely on public transportation to get to almost any park but I stopped using TTC for almost two years, so my travel has been mostly limited to relying on my partner, Stephen, driving us to explore parks we haven’t been to before.
Thomson Memorial Park (and Scarborough Historical Museum) is about a 20-minute drive from home. I’m glad we went there this week just to get out in nature, even though it is so tempting just to stay indoors during the cold days of January. But even an hour of walking in nature can restore some sanity to a mind gone dormant with so much inclausura.
This park was an enjoyable walk along flat easy trails, with no arduous hills to climb, but interesting nonetheless.
Within the park is the Scarborough Historical Museum , a cluster of four heritage buildings, that remain closed for now but which looked interesting enough for a future visit.
Here’s some more photos of snow covered landscapes, the only kind I can show you during these winter months. I hope you enjoy them.
Rosetta McClain Gardens after snowfall
It should be of no surprise to anyone living in Canada to see big snowfalls but we always react to them as if they were an unexpected surprise; we never feel prepared for it! Shovelling becomes the ordeal of homeowners and the annoying sound of snow blowers fill the neighbourhood all day long. Later, it’s the even more annoying beeping of city trucks that come to clear the roads in the middle of the night.
A week ago, we had about 40 centimeters of beautiful snow in one day! All we could do was stay indoors in-between attempts to clear some of the accumulating snow from the driveway, with the rest just piled up in snowbanks on the street.
The next day the streets were still covered in snow but it was a sunny morning and despite the minus 21 temperature I ventured out with my heaviest winter coat and Sorel boots on a solitary walk to Rosetta McClain Gardens. To my delight, I was the only one there so it was a treat to have the place to myself. The snow was knee-deep and although some tracks were already made by hardier souls who ventured out even earlier that I did, it was a good workout as I made my way through the garden.
After a time I began to feel the cold on my face and so I made the return journey home, comforted by the visit to Rosetta on a snow filled day.
Enjoy these photographs of the the garden without having to put on winter attire!
The views of Lake Ontario along the fence are always breathtaking but especially in winter when the whiteness around me ends where the blue or steel grey of the lake takes over.
The sunlight, like a skilled painter, drew wonderful shadows on the snow.
A pleasant place to sit for a while on the way back home.Harding Parkette
All my trips to São Miguel include several days in Ponta Delgada. It’s not only the city where I was born and lived in for the first nine years of my life; it’s been a place to reconnect or get acquainted with family and friends on my mother’s side.
I still remember the long list of names she gave me the first time I went back for a visit. That was in 1984. Although she was not the one going back, the thought of me visiting her friends and family brought her happiness by proxy: her son, seeing all the people she missed and had not seen since she immigrated to Canada in 1968.
I was still a shy, young man at twenty-six, that first year back, but I made the effort to connect with everyone on her list. They all remembered me and my parents and I would sit in someone’s kitchen or living room for a while and listen to their stories or their reminiscence of those good old days when my family was living on the island and their lives intersected. “When will your parents come back to see us?” they would ask, and later, after my father had died, “When will your mother come visit?”
I didn’t visit the Azores again until the year 2000, and the people I had met before were now much older or, in some cases, already dead. During the last twenty years I have returned often, each time with a smaller list of names, but I always look forward to planning my Ponta Delgada days around these social visits. Without them, I would be simply a tourist walking around the old streets taking photographs of buildings and houses, including the house I grew up in which my parents sold. I never had the courage to knock on the door and ask the new owners if they’d let me have a look inside, for old times’ sake. Perhaps it’s been best this way, to let my memories of the house remain intact.
But it’s been a gift to be able to step inside the houses of these old relatives and friends and for a while feel like I am one of them again and not the outsider that I really am, coming all the way from Canada.
The list of people include mostly women. Beautiful women who are excited to see me, who wait in expectation of my punctual visit, for my mother got into the habit of calling them ahead and booking my timed visits. When I am in Ponta Delgada, I just show up at the agreed upon time. This schedule of visitations means that I have less time to explore the city on my own, but a stay in the city without these human connections would only be a cold and impersonal touristic experience.
The women smile for my camera as I always take a photograph of each one, “Uma lembrança para a minha mãe,” a souvenir for my mother, I tell them, but in reality, I take their picture for me, for my own remembrance of them. It’s now close to four years since my last trip to the Azores and I hope that I will have another chance to see the same women before they’re eventually gone. But, if I am not given this chance, I will be content with my memory of people who always greeted me with a warmth and love I have rarely experienced elsewhere.
They are Ponta Delgada to me. The city’s cobblestone streets, the architecture, the churches, the market, the gardens, everything, will be nothing more than a geographical space of interest to me and no longer a living memory without the delight of hearing “Olá, querido Emanuel!” as a door opens and I am greeted with a smiling face and extended arms.
These are photos taken during my 1984 visit of people who, with the exception of two, are now gone but who I still remember fondly.
It’s been four years since the last time I stood with the Atlantic on one side of me and Azorean earth on the other but the smile of contentment still lingers.
I have stayed in Achada several times over the last two decades. Lately, my memory takes me back to this village in the district of Nordeste on the island of São Miguel at a time when travel has become complicated.
My father and his family were born and made their lives there until they moved to the city of Ponta Delgada for a while before later leaving for Canada. But there are still primas and primos who live in the village, some who had immigrated to Canada and then returned, and others who have never left the island.
My first few visits to Achada elicited an overwhelming emotional longing for a connection with my family’s past as I walked the streets and meandered down from the cliffs above to the beach coves below. I have explored the village and its surrounding countryside until its geography has become so familiar that I can anticipate what there is to see around the bend of a winding road. Eventually, by the last couple of visits, it has felt like a coming home.
Strange that I would feel this way about a place that I had limited contact with as a child. I was born in Ponta Delgada, a city that was more than a two-hour car ride in the days before the new highway opened around ten years ago. It’s now a thirty-to-forty minute drive into the city, which means that it’s possible to go down to see a movie or go shopping, attend a festa, and return to Achada without having to go in and out of the villages along the way.
My childhood visits to Achada stopped when my father came to Canada. But I know that I was coroado, crowned during the Festas do Espirito Santo when I was five years old. I have a photograph to prove it. Here I am, standing on my grandparents’ front door, my grandmother behind me and a small cousin next to me as I held the crown on my head, looking so worried, perhaps afraid that I might drop it.
I can honestly say that I remember little about those early years of childhood when my father, who already had a car, would drive us for weekend visits. Whatever knowledge I have is mostly informed by stories my mother tells me about the picnics we had in the shelter of a quinta full of fruit trees and grapevines, of the murmúrio do mar – the hush lullaby sound of the ocean waves, as I slept next to my parents while they sat on a blanket under a breeze-whispering tree.
The Achada I have come to love is more than a place of remote family history; it’s a place of continued living experience where I stay in my grandparents’ house and sit by a loft window to watch the waves in the distance between house and ocean, the green undulating landscape, the few cows in pastures before me, and the sound of people on the street as they go about their lives.
A direct flight from Toronto to São Miguel takes me back to be with people who I’ve come to know over time. They are generous with me. They feed me. They take me on trips throughout the island. With them I can speak Portuguese without the cumbersome intervention of translation, which would feel like a pull back to my English-speaking life. So, when I am there, I can immerse myself in whatever ‘Portuguesness’ I still have left in me after a lifetime of living in Canada.
My other cherished moments are when I am on my own for hours on end, walking the trails and the village streets, sitting by the ocean, and generally taking in the feel and life there. But it’s the people, above all, who give me a sense of home in Achada.
I wrote a non-fiction essay which, to my delight, has been included for publication in the latest online issue of Gávea-Brown: A Bilingual Journal of Portuguese-American Letters and Studies.
“I waited alone in the small room that promised the comfort one might expect from someone’s living room. There were a few bookshelves crammed with paperbacks frayed at the edges, perhaps left behind to be read over and over by strangers who maybe just found it helpful to flip through the pages while their minds worried over the reasons that had brought them there to wait. I sat on a sagging yet strangely comfortable sofa, looked out the window onto a barren winter garden, and for a moment tricked myself into believing I was still at home on that dull Sunday morning.”
I hope you enjoy reading the text in full: Tia Catarina
Many thanks and gratitude to the editorial committee of Gávea-Brown for giving my short memoir story a home in their 44th issue.
I am grateful to Susan K. Riggs for her generous review of “Tia Catarina.”
In his latest work, Emanuel Melo paints a vibrant picture of—Tia Catarina– for whom life literally sings off the page, aquiver with colour, music, and a personality unafraid to burst the bars of polite society and express an irrepressible kindness for her family, friends, her beautiful Portugal and humanity in general.
Melo’s “Aunt Cathy”, the aunt of the narrator’s partner, oozes engagement with life, embracing its love and warmth and all the wonders of nature. A force of nature herself, she seamlessly blends into the blazing setting of a Portuguese sun, merging, for example, with the music of nature, emitting “a musical shriek of laughter” into the “whispering wind”, “a laughter so piercing and high-pitched that it float[s] far off in the air into the neighbouring hills”, a sound reminiscent of “a strange foreign bird.”
Tia Catarina is one of Melo’s finest portrayals, for she embodies humanity at its best, and her bombastic approach to life pummels its way through a stream of optimism clear through to the far shore of her death.
On this latter note, Melo deftly records the passing of Aunt Cathy in a kind of “bookended” fashion, her impending demise appearing solely at the beginning and end of the story. Thus here, death is a mere preface and epilogue—lost in the deep and pervasive “weeds” of Aunt Cathy’s extraordinary spirit as she bubbles through life, the technicality of her dying recorded by an introverted and proper narrator, a foil to Aunt Cathy. (Indeed, the narrator seems caught between a rock of awe for Aunt Cathy and the hard place of his more inhibited nature.)
Overall, there are echoes of John Donne’s “Death, be not Proud” in the life story of Tia Catarina: the ultimate destroyer is itself destroyed within this repository of never-to-be-forgotten memories that, in the final analysis, triumph through the image of petals of a violet in a pot in the hospice…….a flower that survives, bathed (we imagine) in the expansive energy of Aunt Cathy, who lives on before and after “death” to crash and splash against the ever-moving shoreline of a life well-lived.
Susan K. Riggs/2022
Susan K. Riggs
A writer by profession, Susan has published in both print and electronic media and in 2009 was appointed adjunct scholar to the James Madison Public Policy Institute in Florida. Along with newspaper and journal articles, her background includes writing drama for CBC radio and speeches for senior representatives in the academic, government and business communities. Her “America” series of articles has been published throughout the United States.
The day I went to Hendrie Valley was the first time in eighteen months that I had taken public transit! I had hesitated to use buses and the subway during the pandemic and, although the virus is still with us, I am slowly returning to my former ways of living in the world beyond the inclausura of home.
Hendrie Valley, situated across from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, is a place I had never been to before but it was well worth the long trip from Toronto by GO train followed by a bus that took my friend and me near the entrance of the nature trail. There we walked along boardwalks and lookouts with beautiful views of marshes and deciduous forest.
It was a day well spent in the good company of both a friend and nature.
A Golden falling at Rosetta Gardens
The month of October at Rosetta McClain is a time to put everything to rest for the winter months ahead. The garden’s staff empty flower beds, pots and other containers of summer plants while nature does its part by changing the colours of leaves on trees to an assorted shade of reds and yellows. Some trees shed their leaves fast, covering the ground with a carpet of golden yellow while others hang on a bit longer until the cold days arrive. It’s still pleasant to walk through the garden and see all these changes and be grateful for the lingering memory of the summer and autumn of 2021.
Until next spring…