ACEDIA

WHILE TRAVELLING during the month of September I made a conscious decision not to read emails, blog posts, text messages or news. In that time, I experienced a heightened level of disconnection from all methods of communication and that suited me just fine. It was only upon my return home in October that I faced countless emails and the blogs to which I subscribe. Seeing all these notifications cascade down my screen, waiting to be opened and read, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. My first impulse was to simply press the delete button and pretend that September never happened.

As freeing as that act of erasure would be, instead I spent the month of October going through each email and blog post. I lie. Most of these posts are saved and waiting for a day when I can read them. The trouble is that I came back home with a virus I did not know I had. It’s a soul virus the ancient monastics called Acedia; when nothing speaks life into the soul and everything is like a dry desert. In the simplest terms it means to stop caring for anything, finding boredom in all things one used to enjoy. It’s a strong word, full of complex meanings and perhaps I exaggerate or misuse the word as it might apply to my current state of soul. (I highly recommend the book Acedia & me by Kathleen Norris for a modern soul’s journey of living with acedia.)

I suspect Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the popular 19th Century Roman Catholic Saint, knew all too well, the state of acedia – in so far as reading was concerned.  In her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Thérèse wrote how she could only read the gospels and the 15th century classic by Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, for spiritual nourishment. Everything else left her dry.

As much as I try (and want) to find nourishment and solace in books, each one I pick up and start to read, I soon abandon. I am left cold and arid, the words fading from the page, leaving me bored and uninterested. I am not connecting to or finding joy in reading – even my favourite authors. I am not despairing of this state of mind as I know it will eventually pass.

In the meantime, I know my situation is not totally bleak because, like Thérèse, I am still able to find comfort in, at least, one writer. I pay him homage by spelling his name in the lower-case (as he has recently taken to spelling his name): p. r. cunha writes in Portuguese with elegant, thoughtful, meditations on life, literature, philosophy. He blogs from Brazil and his words come to my in-box almost daily. During the months of September and October alone he posted thirty-seven reflections! I have been opening them, one at a time, chronologically, with anticipation, as an antidote to my current state of mind and soul.

I read cunha while on long subway rides into the city. Sitting around me in crowded trains, people chatter away in loud voices. It’s a cacophony of languages – a soundtrack of Chinese, Urdu, English among other languages heard daily in the public spaces of Toronto – all distracting me from the Portuguese words I read on my phone’s screen. I try to block off the languages around me and concentrate on p. r. cunha’s words. His writing is all I can digest, for now.

 

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Back to My Garden

It’s October and there are days when the sun still shines warmly on my body as I return to sit in my garden after a month’s absence.

Since my last post, when I wrote about the joy of staying in my garden forever and never uttering another word, I actually left it to go travelling.  Such is the fickleness of my restless heart – claiming one thing yet seeking another.

The garden has done very well without me. It took care of itself and is as beautiful and full of life as the day I left it – a humbling realization that the garden doesn’t really need me to thrive. Perhaps I also don’t need it as much I claim.

One month of travel and not one thought given to my garden. I was fully distracted by places I had never been to before as I immersed myself in the discovery of the new.

I travelled with my partner on a two-week cruise of the Baltic Sea on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.  The ports of call gave me a very small glimpse and entry-point to wonderful countries: Germany, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, and Sweden!

I can’t claim that I have truly visited these countries. I merely had a taste, an “amuse- bouche” of these beautiful places. However, the little I saw and sampled, like items observed from a long buffet table, whet my appetite to further explore these countries another time.

The cruise followed two weeks spent in parts of England and Wales I had never been to before: Bath, Torquay, St. Ives in England; as well as Tintern, Cardiff, Tenby, and St. David’s Head in Wales.

Although I was not looking for the Portuguese in any of these places, I was surprised and delighted to find Pastéis de Nata in Bath, close to the cathedral, at the Cornish Bakery, flown in from Lisbon, according to the server. I found them also in Guildford, where they were on display at the Saturday market; and in Cardiff where there’s a chain of three Nata & Co Portuguese bakeries!)

At the Holburne Museum gift shop in Bath, I recognized the voice of Portuguese singer, Ana Moura. I told the woman at the cash register that I was delighted to hear Fado there, of all places. The clerk, it turns out, had learned Portuguese forty years ago and still liked to listen to Portuguese music.  I asked her if there were many Portuguese living in the area and she told me that, yes, there were many, and over at the nearby village of Straub, the Portuguese bring their Pastéis de Nata to sell at the Saturday market.

Walking in the English seaside town of Torquay, I came across a now-closed Portuguese restaurant: O Pescador! Too bad. But we were lucky enough to have dinner at a beautiful restaurant in Cardiff, Tŷ Madeira, where the Portuguese food was delicious and the people lively and joyful.

I only mention all this Portugueseness because I found it “au hasard.”  I had gone travelling to find new places, not to be reminded of what I already know. But such is the power of the familiar – there as a reminder that no matter how far from home I go, I can’t really escape or totally ignore my cultural roots.

Soon I won’t be able to sit out in the garden as much. The days ahead will start to turn rainy and cold. I will close up the garden before the snow will eventually come and cover everything until spring. In the months ahead I will look out into the garden from my window and remember, not only the garden of summer, but my travel through England, Wales and seven Baltic countries. I need time to savour and ponder the memories I have gathered, sort them out, before I can translate the emotions I feel into words.

Guildford, England

          

         
Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff, Wales

Torquay, England

Astoria, with Portuguese flag, docking next to Queen Elizabeth in St. Petersburg, Russia

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Lay it Down

Dragonflies resting in my garden

Lay down my camera,                                                                                                                                  Lay down my sketchbook,                                                                                                                          Lay down my notepad,                                                                                                                                 Lay down my words.

Listen to the falling rain,                                                                                                                            Watch the rainbow,                                                                                                                                        Look at the raindrops resting on leaves.

Listen to the Robin’s song,                                                                                                                          Watch the squirrels run across the fence,                                                                                                  Look at the fleeting hummingbird appear and be gone in a flash.

Listen to the whisper of the wind, shaking the trees into sound,                                                      Watch the sky as it darkens before the rain comes,                                                                                 Look at the 18 shades of green in my garden.

I want to stay in my garden and never                                                                                                     Speak another word,                                                                                                                                      Write another word,                                                                                                                                     Think another word…

Lay down my struggle to find the words to lay down my thoughts.

Iron Dragonfly over green glass ball

Hoje foi um dia de silêncio profundo. Apenas o chilrear dos melrinhos e o som do vento soprando as folhas das árvores, acalmando a minha alma. Quero ficar no meu jardim para sempre e nunca mais proferir nem uma palavra.

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August Light no meu Jardim

August light covers my garden like a sheet of yellow cellophane. It then fades in fleeting moments, only to return again, in a game of peek-a-boo between sky and earth. And then, perhaps bored by the game, the light goes away as quickly as it came. An impermanent light that returns the next day.

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Photographing My Summer Garden

I was born in Sr. Borge’s house, on rua da Arquinha, in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Açores. I lived there until the age of two, so it’s not probable that I remember its orchard of banana trees (bananeiras), figs trees (figueiras) and araçaleiros; nonas, and groselhas. It’s also not probable that I remember the garden’s rose bushes (roseiras) and daisies (malmequeres), among the many other flowers that filled the garden. And yet I still recall that garden of childhood whenever I walk through my flower garden.

MAY

JUNE

JULY

AUGUST

 

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Drawing My Summer Garden

My Summer Garden © Emanuel Melo

In summer, I like to fill my sketchbook with pastel pencil drawings of my garden.

I have kept a child-like quality to my drawings. It’s as if, when I move the pencil on the page, I am still that little boy back in the Azores who loved to draw on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Welcome to MY ART

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Looking for Azulejos in Toronto’s West End

The house where I lived in Ponta Delgada, showing an azulejo of Senhor Santo Cristo

I meander up and down the streets of Toronto’s west-end neighbourhoods, where many Portuguese came to settle decades ago, and I look for signs that show me a Portuguese family might still live there. It’s not guaranteed that every house will have the religious azulejo glued to the front facade, but many houses still do, although fewer and fewer, as Portuguese families leave the city for the suburbs. Newcomers to the area are gentrifying the houses by removing these ceramic tiles; the azulejo has no resonance or meaning except for the Portuguese Catholics who put them up as a way to remember a tradition from back home.

When I come upon a house that still has the azulejo, I stop; and like a reverential pilgrim, I take a photograph as a souvenir of these religious signs. Most azulejos depict the image of Senhor Santo Cristo (identifying the house as Azorean-Portuguese), but there’s also many Our Lady of Fátimas, Holy Families, Guardian Angels, and a variety of saints, the most popular being St. Anthony of Lisbon (better known to the rest of the world as St. Anthony of Padua).

There’s something comforting to still see this colourful sign that assures me of the Portuguese presence in Toronto; but I can’t help feel sadness, too, knowing that one day they will all disappear.

In 2015, Phillip Mendonça-Vieira did an important study of the azulejo in his photo-essay, “The Saints of Little Portugal,” and I urge you to read his remarkably thorough documentation of the history of this Portuguese tradition, for now, still present in Toronto’s Little Portugal.

These are just a few of the houses in Toronto that still display the azulejo:

Lansdowne Avenue:

Dufferin Street (the triple azulejo):

Markham Street:

this house on Markham does not need an azulejo to be Portuguese:

Euclid Avenue:

Palmerston Blvd:

Robert Street:

Bathurst Street: after a recent house fire, the azulejo remains:

And I could not resist to include this photograph, taken in Montreal:

Gone:

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