Category Archives: Transitions in Space

Summer Weekend Epic

Enthused by the prospect of the great outdoors
And encouraged by an encouraging forecast
A magic bus and a man-powered vehicle
Set out headed west
A four-wheeled chariot joined their fleet

But Zeus, god of thunder, put his own twist
On the forecast they received from the oracle
And as they approached the edge of the cliff
He sent down heavy bolts of lightening
Summer showers were the only showers they had.

Settlers tried in vain to settle in Catan
Taboo ruled in those times of darkness
Energy, once abundant,
By this time needed renewal

With toil and by chance, fire was finally discovered
Making way for an abundant feast
Of lasagna and cake

Then darkness came over the earth once again
And those to whom fate had assigned
An early departure in the four-wheeled chariot
Departed into the darkness

Those who stayed sang and drank
Around the fire, to their hearts’ content
And when misty sleep was poured over their eyes
They retired to their rows
Of bunk beds and mattresses

But some of them kept watch all night
(out of necessity, not debauchery)
And when rosy-fingered dawn appeared
In the horizon, they put on their equipment,
And ventured into the woods

Alas, rosy-fingered dawn proved to be not so rosy
Rain and cloud chased our watch back
From escarpment to encampment

And then slowly and gradually,
Helped by false alarms
The fleet got on their feet
And there was French toast with heavenly syrup
And there was coffee

By then the time to embark
The magic bus was nigh
And with the grace and dilligence of busy bees
They broke camp

And then, only then
As they sat in wait for the magic bus
Congratulating each other
On the fantastic time they’d had
The sun came out. Fun had been had.
Their mission had been accomplished.
They were going home.


Sevens and fourteens

In the last ten days, the number of groups of Brazilians I’ve run into — at Queen’s Park, Bloor Street, Younge Street, restaurants, libraries, coffee shops, various places on campus — must have surpassed 20. I say groups, because if I were to count individuals, the number would probably be close to a hundred.  Some are families with kids, some are young people college age, and some look like they can’t be older than 15, and go around in groups of 10-15, with name tags hanging from their necks.

Reason? It’s July. That’s when Brazilians get their winter break from school. Brazilian economy is doing well — as mentioned by the New York Times on Monday, and on Yahoo! main page on Tuesday. And earlier today Yahoo! Brazil presented a little note on why “studying abroad rules.”

Now, when I first when saw these 15-year-old Brazilian boys and girls walking around St. Michael’s College last week, I thought to myself — “ah, July. School break. But gosh, these kids look awfully young to be here all by themselves!” But I then immediately censured myself: “Ester, what are you talking about? You really have turned into a regular grown-up, with all this but-they’re-too-young-for-that talk. When you first left Brazil, you were 14 years old yourself, you were completely alone, and you did not think it was a big deal at all.”

That was in July 1994. I left Brazil on the very same day they introduced the current currency, “Real”, and a period of unprecedented financial stability started. I had been studying English for about a year, and 30 days in England did wonders to it. The family I stayed with was absolutely fantastic, and we’re still friends to this day. If that experience hadn’t been so positive, maybe I would have never made the decision to go abroad for university — and stay abroad for as long as I have.

An awful lot of things happened in those thirty days, and I can still remember the sequence of events, as if it had been last year. My learning curve back them was simply unbelievable. And this thought then gave rise to the following realization:

In July 1994, I was 14 years old. This was 14 years ago. I am now 28. So that trip marks the current mid-point of my life. Now, if we further break this span of 28 years into 4 times 7 years, we find the following:

  • 0-7 years old: tons of things happened in my life. I arrived in the world. Learned to walk, to talk, to read, and many other fantastic things. The world went from the 1970’s into the 1980’s. Esterical learning curve: extremely steep.
  • 7-14 years old: tons of things happened again. The whole passage from childhood to puberty to adolescence. First boyfriends. Starting to learn a foreign language. Going abroad for the first time. Starting to learn how to play the guitar. The 1990’s. Learning curve still quite steep.
  • 14-21: again, tons of things. At 14 I hadn’t even started high school; seven years later I had already graduated from undergrad. Travelled some more. Learned some more languages. Moved to a different country. Started graduate school. Into the new millenium. Learning curve: still steep.
  • 21-28: not much has happened. No new decade, no new millenium. I was in a PhD program at 21; I am still in a PhD program at 28, albeit not the same one. Living in North America then, still living in North America now. Sure, I’ve moved around a bit. Sure I’ve changed programs. But what baffles me is that for the past seven years — that is, most of my adult life and 25% of my entire life –I have been introducing myself as an international doctoral student. That’s a long time. Time to stop either being international or being a student, maybe both. Learning curve: seems to have gone completely flat.

The coincidences do not end here.  July is the 7th month of the year. I was born on the 14th day of the month. It took me 3.5 years to do my undergraduate: half of the time I’ve already spent in graduate school. I think I really need to graduate before I turn 29 and disturb this lovely pattern. But will I be able to? I wish I could tell…

What baffles me that in the same period of seven years people who did even think of existing have managed not only to make their ways into existence, but also to walk and to read. And some others have gone from childhood through puberty through adolescence, and have started to learn a foreign language, and play the guitar and travel abroad; they have had their first kiss or their first child (or second, or third); they have got married and divorced; they have started and finished high school; they have started and finished university. As a matter of fact, someone I met in my first year as a graduate student at Massey College has gone from being a high school student to being a fellow graduate student at Massey College. And I’m still here! Esterical learning curve: completely stagnant. 

So maybe I am growing old after all, displaying all that kind of begrudging envy that adults often display towards the younger generation. I have crossed the line from trying to act older than my age, to trying to act younger than my age. I wonder how old I’ll have to become to learn to be wise and patient? Obviously, I still have a long way to go before reaching that age yet. And part of me says “yeay!” to that, while the other part goes “bummer!.” Interesting creatures human beings are.

A new approach to deja vu

Back in Toronto. Again. Living in the same place as this time last year. Same job as last year too. Dissertation? A bit different, but still seems at the same stage. You’re back again? But were you not in Brazil? Changed your mind? Yes, yes, and no. This was the plan. Just not sure it was the best plan ever.

I plan too much, and analyse the past too much too. Which means there’s very little energy to live in the present a little. New resolution: to live in the present for a change. To accept the moment, instead of always rushing to the next stage. In this, I’m copycatting a friend of mine who has planned that, from now on, she will be more spontaneous. Deliberate spontaneity. Paradoxical? Will have to do for now.

In my eight years in North America, I never felt homesick, except for the last winter, when I was counting the days to go back home. So back home I went and having spent the last few months there, it took me less than a week back in Toronto to feel homesicker than I’ve ever been ever. Funny. But here’s where the whole live in the moment thing helps.

I saw my boss yesterday for the first time since I’ve been back. He says to me out of the blue: “Ester, I don’t know whether you’re happy to be back, but we’re sure happy that you’re back!” I hadn’t even been complaining or anything. He just said that out of nowhere. “Glad someone at least is happy,” was my first thought. But then I suddenly realized that people seemed generally pleased to see me again. Not over-the-moon happy, but still not at all unhappy. Even the owner of a restaurant I used to go to frequently said that he had noticed my absence. If restaurant owners said they noticed your absence, that meant that you couldn’t have been completely invisible. A little eccentric maybe, but invisible no. And if your boss said he’s happy to see you again, then you weren’t completely useless. A little off there somewhere, but still capable of making a difference. And that felt good. Dissertation writing is not always as flattering. 

Yesterday I got an email turning down a paper I submitted for publication last year. It was surreal to see that the reviewer’s comments were almost identical to what my committee members’ comments on the same piece of work. It felt like a deja vu, but, oddly enough, it also had a surprisingly reassuring effect on me. By this I mean the same kind of reassurance one might feel when a second medical opinion confirms an unfavourable diagnosis. But still, that’s something.

Still on the deja vu theme, today was my first class back in Tai Chi. Same instructor as last summer, same introductory class as last summer. His didactic skills are not the most remarkable, and standing like a scarecrow still makes three minutes feel like three hours, but hey, that’s really good for keeping my tendinitis away. And to think that this time last year I didn’t even know what tendinitis was. So something have actually changed in the last year. Good. I think I’ll stop keeping tabs now. Seize the day, they say. As long as the tendinitis be kept away, the day shall be seized. Now back to work. 

Month IV

In “About a Boy,” Hugh Grant´s character has so much time in his hands that he decides to divide it in units of 30 minutes. Shower, 1 unit. Hair cut, 2 units. Playing pool, 5 units.

I suspect that my unit of time is 4 months. Not to repeat what I said about this last year, let us have a look at 2008.

We now begin the fourth month of the current year. I spent the first of these four months in Brasília. The second I spent in Canada, and now it´s been a month already since I returned to Brasília. At the end of this month, I go to Canada again, this time to spend a bit longer there. Did you guess how long? Four months.

My year of 2008 will therefore be neatly divided into three units of four months: the first unit going to and fro, the second to, and the third, fro.  Curious, isn´t it? Or is it that I too have too much time on my hands?


Montreal is cool. Even when the temperature is minus 40, there’s something in the city that always warms my heart. When I was 19 I went there to spend four months. I ended up staying two years, and was really sad I could no longer stay. I ended up moving to Toronto, thinking that it would be just as cool. But it wasn’t. It’s hard for a city to be as cool as Montreal.

When I lived in Montreal, people would often tell me that they’d seen me walking all by myself with a big smile on my face. I was much grumpier in Toronto. I don’t know whether the difference was in the actual place, or in my life circumstances; whether the external or internal landscape.  But there’s something about Montreal that makes me at easy within minutes of my arrival, no matter how stressed I am on my way there.

I lived in Toronto for much longer, and made more friends there. But Montreal always made me feel more at home. I wonder whether I would have decided to return to Brazil if I’d stayed there. There’s no way to know.

The closest friends I had when I lived in Montreal actually lived in Campinas, Brazil. Even though they were so far away, they were the people with whom I shared all my adventures and new experiences in Canada.

It’s then an interesting coincidence that about the time last year that I decided to return to Brazil, independently of one another they both ended up moving to Montreal. I must have said good things about the place. 

I wonder what it would have been like if we had manage to live in Montreal all at the same time. This was all that I wanted when I lived there. But who knows: maybe we needed to go separately, so that each could get most out of the experience.

Impossible to know. But I was happy to spend a few days in Montreal in this winter visit to Canada. Montreal always makes me nostalgic, and now that my friends from back when are living there, the feeling of nostalgia was even more intense. There’s no way of knowing what would have happened if what actually happened hadn’t happened. Subjunctives are merely subjunctives, and the variables are many. But to see people who knew me back at a time when I walked down streets with a broad smile on my face and to walk those smile-inducing streets did me a lot of good. And I mean it not in the subjunctive. I mean real, actual, tangible good. Which is one of the best kinds of good.

Back in Toronto

Six months are up: time to go back to Toronto see my thesis committee.  Anxiety marked the days — maybe weeks — leading up to this trip. People asked me whether I was excited; I searched and searched within me, but no, that was not what I was feeling. Maybe preemptive exhaustion: I already felt tired just to think of the trip. Truth was, I didn’t really want to go.

I arrived in Toronto on an extradinarily windy Wednesday. The trip itself was uneventful (unlike the one six months before). The seven-minute walk from the subway station to the place where I am staying almost killed me. I wasn’t appropriately dressed, having left all of my winter clothes in Canada. Sure, I had a horrible blue jacket on, which, though extradinarily ugly, is extraodinarily warm (its ugliness struck me a couple of winters ago, when I decided to stop wearing. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that I had worn it for so many winters — I could scarcely believe why I bought it in the first place. Maybe because it was super warm, but still… I think my taste for clothing has changed in recent winters).

Beneath the warm’n’ugly blue jacket, a couple of layers which were definitely not warm enough. Sweaters were also stored in my friend’s garage. I didn’t think it would be so cold, and this wasn´t just me: everyone I met said that was the coldest day they had had in a while.

The 7-minute-walk took forever: I had to stop twice to hide from the cold wind, and give my body time to recover.

My face suffered the most: for three months I had been taking some acne medication, which removes all the oil from the skin. This is good in the sense that without the natural oil all the acne-producing bacteria die. But it is bad because without the natural oil the skin loses all its protection against the elements. In Brazil, I didn’t go anywhere without sunscreen. But this morning as I arrived in Canada after travelling for some twenty hours, I had forgotten it. And the tan produced by this seven-minute walk was quite remarkable.

After braving the wind, I got to my friend’s house.  She left me the keys and a note she’d be home in the evening. As I took my clothes off to take a shower, I found out that my whole body — arms, legs, belly — were as red as if I had spent the whole day on a nude beach. Without sunscreen. 

It’s 9am. I need to go buy good body lotion, and I need to go get my winter clothes from my friend’s house. And I need a nap.

Nap won.

While my guitar gently weeps (Final episode)

WmGgW Complete Season:

Part 1: Preparations

Part 2: Pearson International Airport

Part 3: Interlude

Part 4: Poker Face

Part 5: Duty Free

Part 6: Boarding

Part 7: Flying High

Part 8: Hitting home 

Telepathy didn’t work this time, and all I could do was wait until we landed in Sao Paulo. After another couple of hours flying, then landing, immigration and baggage claim, there I once again, in the check-in line up, getting ready for a new confrontation.


“Can I have a piece of ID, please? Where are you going today?

I decided to launch a full-fledged attack.

“Let me tell you what my situation is. I am moving from Canada to Brasília. Because it’s an international move, I know that it’s going to go over the 23kg limit” (for domestic flights, the limit is 23kg – approximately 50lb – for all pieces of luggage combined) “but could you perhaps give me a discount?”

“Yes, of course! Let me weigh your bags to see what I can do. How many do you have?”


“And do you have any carry-on?”

“There it comes again…” “Yes, I do. Two.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you are allowed only one piece.”

“Ready. Set. Fire!” “You mean that I cannot board with a guitar and a backpack?!?” I said firmly, straightening my back so it was not so obvious that the backpack weighed way over the 10-pound allowance.  

“Ah, I’m sorry, ma´am, never mind. Guitars do not actually count towards your allowance. You can take it aboard with you in addition to your backpack. No problem whatsoever…”

And this was how I learned that, be it in Canada or in Brazil, guitars are not considered carry-on luggage. All that was left for me and my guitar to do was to gently weep for joy as we made our way home safe, sound and together.