A Walk in Rosetta McClain Gardens after a Snowstorm

After the snowstorm ended, I bundled up in my warmest parka and Sorel snow boots, and went for the long walk from home to Rosetta McClain Gardens.

The side streets had not been cleared yet, and I stepped deeply into the snow, almost to my knees. I walked all the way stepping in and stepping out of the snow, and when I finally arrived at Rosetta, I felt warm all over from the invigorating walk.

Snow covered the entire garden in undisturbed soft mounds of white. I was glad to have the gardens to myself, to walk it alone, creating paths as I trudged through the snow.

The afternoon sun, mostly obscured by big clouds, tried to break through, and when it did, it cast metallic grey-blue light over the lake and sweeping lines of dark shadows over the snow.

By the time I reached the farthest end of the garden and turned back, the light, all of a sudden, started to fade fast, and the air became colder; I picked up my pace, and hurried back to the warmth of home.

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A Winter Storm in Toronto

Snow has fallen steadily in Toronto since yesterday, up to 22 centimeters or more overnight, and this morning, it’s chaos for drivers and commuters alike, so I see on TV news. Luckily, I can stay home and watch the winter magic from my house, but yesterday I managed to go for a walk downtown as well as a walk around my neighborhood to take some photographs just as the snow started to come down.

The city at Cumberland and Avenue Road area:

My neighbourhood:

From my house:

Dedico estas fotos aos meus amigos brasileiros que estão, com toda a certeza, a gozar um dia de verão!

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A Winter Minstrel’s Musical Interlude

I heard music and when I followed the chords I saw a minstrel serenading Lake Ontario from Harding Parkette, in Birch Cliff, Toronto. I did not want to intrude on this private communion between nature and the guitar player, but I couldn’t resist capturing the moment.

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The Ice Storm

This January’s weather in Toronto has been mostly full of either dry, dull, grey, or rainy days, with rare cameo appearances by the sun, reminding me of the Azores and England at this time of the year. There have only been a few days of light snow or gently falling flurries that start out with vigour but soon vanish and I am missing a winter’s good snowfall. Its absence, strangely enough, makes me think about the big ice storm of late-December, 2013. The destruction caused by that storm could still be seen on the trees around us well into spring when new foliage on the remaining limbs accentuated the loss of fallen branches: some trees were lopsided with half their branches gone; other’s survived intact; but most were wounded, maimed, victims of the ice storm. Five years later, it’s hard to see signs of the damage. Nature has a way of healing itself and restoring order – in time.

On the night of the storm, everything suddenly became eerily still and quiet as the hum of electrical power stopped and silent darkness filled the house. Outside, green flashes lit the dark sky as generators blew up; and the sound of branches falling during the night was unnerving. With no internet or phone service we were left without access to news to explain the phenomena we had just witnessed. It wasn’t until morning when we went outside for a walk that we began to understand how widespread and hard the ice storm had hit the city.

We had four days without electricity and our home was a cold tomb, except in the living room where my partner kept a roaring fire going day and night, the heat emanating from the fireplace unable to reach the bedrooms on the second floor, where I could see my breath floating in the cold air. We had to make trips to Tim Horton’s, to buy cartons of hot water and visits to shopping malls to keep warm for part of the day. We endured the cold days and the cold nights until electricity returned late on Christmas Eve, but it took a long time before our house felt warm again.

Yet, despite all the destruction, it was also a time of great beauty as ice encased shrub branches in the garden and all the trees in our neighbourhood, especially nearby Rosetta Gardens which became a magical landscape of fallen trees over the whitest mounts of snow and ice.



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Christmas Light/Luz de Natal

Here it is again. Christmas time. A time of joy, a time of sorrow. It all depends on what Christmas means to you. Do you even celebrate it? Do you wish it never came? Or do you look forward to it? Did you love it once, and now hate it?

The meaning of Christmas is so personal that it’s impossible to assume that our experience of it will be the same as someone else’s. If you live in a cold country, snow is the common trigger to Christmas happiness, or sadness; it all depends on how you feel about snow! If you live in a warm country, Christmas can be associated with heat, green trees and sunny days; it all depends on our geography. But it’s ultimately the geography of the mind that prevails, that has the last say, on how we feel about Christmas.

For some, it’s a special time spent with family, with those you love. For others, the word family conjures up dread, disappointment, even despair, and it can be a reminder of the lack of love, or the absence of someone you love. It’s an emotionally loaded time of the year and you either want to rush towards it with joy, or run away from it with fear. Which is it for you? Or are you somewhere in the middle, ambivalent, unimpressed either way, untouched by Christmas.

But I wonder if there is a common theme in the Christmas story that we can all share, one that won’t offend anyone, dismiss anyone, hurt anyone, and allow us to come together, the wounded and the healthy, the non-believers and the believers, the sad and the happy?

I find peace in lighting a candle at Christmas, and gazing into the flame, experiencing it as a symbol of this time of great light in the darkness, and no matter how faint or bright that light, it’s there for us whether we can see it or not.

The story of Jesus away in a manger, with no crib for his bed, reminds me, at the core, that it’s a story about human frailty and vulnerability. It’s about the outsider, the forgotten, the rejected, and the poor; of those who struggle with mind or body ailments, of the outcasts, of those in exile, and the lonely. This is why Christmas can hurt sometimes.

The newly born God-child lies naked in a bed a straw, at that moment of birth when every human being is still pure and open to life, without prejudice, without hatred or fear of the other, without knowing difference or social status, without a specific language or culture. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard sometimes to look at the image of this divine child; it shames us into recognizing that we, too, were like that once, before we were taught to be what we have become, and we secretly, intuitively wish we could return to that tabla rasa state of being and start life anew; this time choosing love in everything we do. But this often feels impossible, so we retreat into the darkness again.

Light a candle at Christmas and be with the light for a while. I hope it will bring you some comfort, joy and hope, and above all, shed some light into your darkness.

A Feliz Natal to you all.

Nathan Phillips Square

Nathan Phillips Square

Church Street

Village of Yorkville Park

Village of Yorkville Park

Wycliffe College facing Queen’s Park

Wycliffe College

Nathan Phillips Square

Nathan Phillips Square

Commerce Court at Bay and King

Village of Yorkville Park

The Gay Village on Church Street

Gardiner Ceramic Museum

Commerce Court at Bay and King

Nathan Phillips Square

BEC Place

Hudson’s Bay Window display

BCE Place Toronto

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At Seventeen

My 1970’s platform shoes


When I was seventeen, I fell in love for the first time.  Four decades later, the memory of that experience remains with me as an all-pervasive deep loss and persistent dull pain that keeps me forever wondering what would have happened if things had turned out differently. I remember the details of my life that year as a means to reassure myself of it, fleeting as it was.

I embodied the lyrics of the Janis Ian song, “At Seventeen,” which coincidentally came out the year I was seventeen. I was a shy, introverted loner whose only friends were the books I read. Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations; Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain; and the book that left a lifetime impression on me, A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

On Saturdays, I would explore the downtown streets of Toronto, buy records at Sam the Record Man or A&A records (the first 45 single I ever bought was a song called “Cousin Mary,” by the Canadian rock band Fludd); go to matinees to see double features at the Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street, just north of Queen Street , where once I saw Alan Parker’s dark Midnight Express, starring handsome Brad Davis, or the Imperial Six where I saw Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeve; but both these movies came out three years after I was seventeen.

After the movies, I would stop at the Big Slice, too self-conscious to actually go and sit down by myself at a Fran’s or Swiss Chalet, preferring instead to eat a pepperoni pizza slice while walking towards the streetcar that would take me home, where I lived with my parents.

And yet I was also daring enough to go to the House of Lords, the coolest hair cutting place in Toronto, where once I asked for the spiked Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie inspired haircut, all the rage then. And I wore five inch platform shoes bought at Master John’s, the hipster shoe place of the time, which my plaid red-tartan wool bell bottoms with a cuff covered at least 2.5 inches of the platform (or was it my bell bottoms blue jeans? I am sure the red-tartan pants fad had already gone out of style when I was seventeen).

I was working full-time, at seventeen. I have always remembered the number and the street name where the T. Eaton Co. warehouse stood: 40 Louisa Street, a street that hasn’t existed in Toronto since around the time of the building of the Eaton Centre in the late 1970’s. I remember it as a tall brown-stoned square building with silent, empty, mysterious-looking wide wooden-floored corridors that led to working rooms behind closed doors.

Every morning, I would take a big freight elevator from the 4th, or was it the 5th floor, while talking to the operator about who was better, David Bowie or Elton John? Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd? He would fill me in on all the concerts coming up at Maple Leaf Gardens, trying to sell me tickets if I wanted any. But the only artist I wanted to see live was Bowie, which I did, for the first time, at seventeen.  But there were groups I had been listening to since the age of fifteen that I didn’t mention to the short, buffed, blond elevator guy: The New York Dolls, a glam-rock band from New York, whose black and white photo album cover, showing the five band members in full drag, was enough to make me buy the album even before I had heard their music; Slade, from the UK, with cathartic teenage angst songs like “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” and, “Cum on Feel the Noize.” I would play these records very loudly, shocking my parents and, I’m sure, annoying our Portuguese neighbours who lived on the other side of our semi-detached house. I would also play The Moody Blues, especially their “Nights in White Satin,” and Nico’s The End, an album so dark and depressing that it must have worried my parents about my mental state.

When the elevator reached the basement floor, the operator would lift up the heavy wooden-slatted door and I would exit towards a long dark tunnel that connected to the Eaton’s Annex store on Albert Street, on the way to the big Eaton’s store on Queen Street, where I would deliver merchandise to several departments. All day long we, the delivery boys, pushed our wagons back and forth, greeting each other with nods as we passed each other on the path. It was a fun job, I thought, and even though I never became friends with anyone after working hours, during the day I enjoyed a comradery that was enough to sustain my, otherwise, solitary life.

I liked to watch shoppers at the lively Annex store as they browsed through bins for deals not available on the fancy main store. I remember that I also passed a row of small shops that sold everything from decorative coloured glass balls to scented candles to psychedelic wallpaper in black and red geometric designs that I once bought to plaster my room with, making it dark and gloomy, much to the disappointment of my parents who, to their credit, indulged me in my weirdness by not saying anything.

Later, I went to work for the Fur Storage Department. Part of my job was to pick up fur coats, fur stoles, and fur jackets from the store and bring them back to our department on Louisa Street for repairs and cleaning, and then return the fixed and cleaned items back to the store. The Fur Salon was luxuriously upscale and I was deeply conscious of how inferior I looked in jeans and casual shirts while the staff there wore pristine suits and ties.

But I looked forward to going to the Salon every day so that I could interact with a young man, 28 years old, I would later learn, who had to sign my ledger book after he inspected the condition of the furs I returned. I don’t remember what we ever spoke about during the few minutes of our daily transaction, but I do remember his smile, his dark wavy hair, his tight polyester plaid pants, his blue blazer, his tie, the stone ring on his finger (or was it a wedding band), the hair on his knuckles, and how beautifully he signed his name on the ledger.

He was kind of shy, too, but he spoke to me effortlessly and easily, with that smile that I couldn’t get out of my mind, and one day I determined that we just had to become, if nothing else, friends. So, after wishing him a good weekend one Friday, I promised myself that I was going to be brave the following Monday and ask him out for a coffee-break.

The anticipation of the week ahead filled my mind like, well, someone in love for the first time. That Saturday, I went out shopping for new clothes. I bought a pair of tight brown bell bottom pants and a brown-white checkered shirt with matching knit vest. I am sure I even got a haircut.

Monday morning came and, wearing my new outfit, I went to the store, ready to ask him out. But when I arrived, he wasn’t there. When I asked about his whereabouts his co-worker simply said, in the plainest truth possible, that he was dead.

His car had collided with a tractor trailer on Lake Shore Blvd, opposite Ontario Place. He had died four hours later at St. Michael’s hospital.

But I didn’t hear any of these details. I walked into the back room and threw racks around with force, so full of anger, and then I almost fainted and was taken to the company’s medical office where I stayed for a while before being released back to work.

I don’t remember how I managed the rest of the day, but after work, already dark at five, I went to nearby St. Michael’s Cathedral. Why? Why? This was the only word I repeated as I wailed my complaint to God, hiding inside His golden tabernacle. Why had He taken him away, the first man I fell in love with and, more significantly, who I had convinced myself, would fall in love with me. The possibility had been there, in his smile, I was so sure of it.

I was too full of pain to go home, and went to High Park instead, where I walked aimlessly in the cold darkness, with the only light shining from lampposts that showed the dense snowflakes falling softly, wetting my face, on that first day of December, 1975. The dull ache and emptiness I felt then still surfaces every time I see a snowfall. And strange that it’s not the music I listened to at seventeen that brings this memory back to me, but rather certain Arvo Pärt haunting pieces I began to listen to decades later.

I went to the funeral home and everyone assumed that we had been close friends based on my tears and devastation. They were touched by my grief and couldn’t believe that I   hadn’t know him beyond those casual interactions at work.

On the day of the funeral, through some confusion, I was left behind while everyone left for the cemetery. A staff member from the funeral home kindly drove me there but, by the time we arrived, the gravediggers were already getting ready to put earth over his coffin.

I approach the grave and I can still remember being aware of one of the men gesturing the others to stop their work, so that I could have a few silent minutes alone. After a reasonable time of stillness, the men continued with their job of closing the gravesite. By then the driver had gone and I was left to leave the cemetery alone. At least that’s how I remember it. Perhaps he had driven me back, I don’t know. It’s a detail I can’t recall clearly, but I do remember that I  continued to feel numb for a long time, and on Christmas day, while my family celebrated with joy and laughter at my grandparents’ house, I slipped out, unnoticed, to sit alone in the snow.

His death changed my life forever but I had no one to tell of my loss. Besides, who would have understood? Who can ever understand the first love of a seventeen year old!

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William Vitória’s MAR

The short film, Mar (2017), by the young Portuguese-Canadian filmmaker, William Vitória, is a brilliant and complex meditation on the meaning of love and the dark, monstrous primitive emotions we are all capable of acting upon.

Mar opens with a stunning view of the ocean and rocks along the coast of Portugal.  Gorgeously filmed, the short film packs in so many layers of meaning through sparse but revealing dialogue, and brief vignettes that entice us to follow the story of a couple, Xavier and Eduardo, who go on vacation to visit a childhood friend, living with his mother, in the coastal town of Peniche.

This short film (24 minutes and 34 seconds) is long in ideas, and leaves us wondering, shot after shot, what is the mystery or the secret that we can only suspect through hints or clues, such as the scene where Cristovão, the handsome host who is also the monster in the story, slides an octopus into a jar and seals it, adding it to his collection of other jars filled with captured marine life. In another scene, he cries to his mother pleading he doesn’t want to be a monster, yet she, who knows his secret, powerfully keeps him under control through her words and watchful eyes, or does she?

And we are never really sure why he is a monster: we suspect; we are taken, like voyeurs, inside the dark cave where the disturbing secret possibly hides; but the director insists viewers discover their own interpretations and meanings. As with everything else in this dense and carefully-crafted film, it’s possible to have multiple interpretations of the layers of meaning carefully veiled in suggestion, nuance, symbolism, suspense, a gaze, a carefully chosen piece of music, a word in the dialogue, a notebook of drawings, a cave. All these provide us with clues, and even when we think we have solved the mystery, can we really be sure that this is all there is to the secret?

Mar left me wanting to see more. The ending came abruptly, but the director had shown enough to leave me unsettled in my thinking, and wanting to backtrack to see the film again, just to make sure that I had understood. But the monster is within each of us, and so it’s up to each viewer to define the mystery.

I am looking forward to future films by this very talented young director who already delivers the promise of mature film-making at its best in Mar.

Photos by Emanuel Melo: Atlantic Ocean, Azores

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