Sunday, 25 March 2018

Jerusalem - the people in the street

Jerusalem is one of the most stimulating cities in the world.  Important to three major world religions, not only does it have an extremely diverse resident population but it also attracts visitors from all over the world. The city also has hundreds of cafes, busy markets, street musicians and artists and a unique architectural backdrop that make it perfect for people watching and candid photography. This post includes some of favourite images from my recent visit.

Strolling with the strollers, Ben-Yehuda Street
Ben Yehuda Street in the city centre is packed with souvenir shops but still attracts many Jerusalemites who go there to eat, to meet friends or just to pass though this pedestrian thoroughfare on the way to somewhere else. I noticed the two Orthodox Jewish women in the picture above when I was sitting listening to a young woman playing the public piano at the bottom of the street. I like the way the mother on the left and the child on the right are looking at the camera whilst the other two look in the opposite direction.

And speaking of music, musicians can be found almost everywhere in Jerusalem. Abilities vary tremendously but I especially enjoyed the accordion playing of a young Japanese woman who performed a series of chansons near the steaming chairs in Jaffa Street and an Haredi singer and guitar player in Mamilla who gave superb performances of the Eagles' Hotel California and Marianne Faithfuls's As Tears Go By. Good as these two were the star of the show was another singer and guitar player at Shuk (market) Mahaneh Yehuda. Srugim is one of my all time favourite TV series, partly because of the excellent theme song originally recorded by Erez Lev Avi. One evening when walking in the market I thought the song was being played at one of the stalls. Turning on to Jaffa Road I realised that it was being performed live by a young man with a superb voice. A very excited crowd had gathered around him and unusually, waited to hear more songs once he had finished.

Japanese chansonnier on Jaffa Street
Haredi man performing "Hotel California" at Mamilla
This superb vocalist was performing outside Shuk Mahaneh Yehuda
Mahaneh Yehuda is one of my favourite places for candid street photography. It is full of people whose faces tell a story, sometimes sad, even distressing but always interesting. It is also fascinating to notice the differing styles of dress of - not necessarily related to religion or ethnicity but to their personal tastes. The weather was a little chilly and  many people wore scarves as protection against the cold. I liked the scarf worn by the man in the picture below but was also taken by his face where it was still possible to see traces of his younger self despite his age. He is quite stylish in an understated way. The man singing the Srugim song was also decked out in a thick scarf of orange, brown and red, complementing his thick brown jacket. 

My third scarf wearer was an older man I noticed several times. Dressed in what had once been a good quality coat and trousers he was a striking figure, usually upright and purposive despite his begging in the street. He sat a long way apart from the other beggars and I was able to take some candid pictures of him. The depth of the sadness in his face is astonishing and a reminder of how hard the lives of some of the people here have been.

Doing the shopping, Mahaneh Yehuda
Sadness, Mahaneh Yehuda
The market is also a place where unexpected things can happen. One morning a group of young people were making a film which involved a song and dance routine. Spotting one of the elderly herb sellers near the main entrance they asked him to sit in front of them whilst they performed. Not only did he oblige them but he stood up from his chair and did his own version of the dance routine, clapping and singing along with them before sitting down as soon as the song concluded and returning to selling his herbs. A star is born.

A star is born, Shuk Mahaneh Yehuda
Yusuf waiting for customers, Arab shuk in the Old City
Indian tourists visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Ethiopian Orthodox Christian women on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I first spotted Yusuf a couple of years ago. An elderly man with a bright welcoming smile, he is a tailor working in the Old City's shuk. This time I took an item of clothing to him for a simple repair. We chatted a little whilst he worked and he told me that he had been a tailor working in the city for more than 50 years. We spoke in Hebrew as I have only a few words of Arabic and he does not speak English. I asked him if there was much work these days. He said that there is very little work and that today, people prefer to buy something new rather than repair things. Work has become so scarce that he is considering closing his tiny shop. I was to hear a similar story from other tailors and also from a cobbler I met in Tel Aviv. My picture shows Yusuf waiting patiently for another customer. It is sad that these old skills, passed from one generation to another are now disappearing.

The old city is another great location for seeing people from many different backgrounds in close proximity to each other. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre receives visitors from all over the world. In the space of a few minutes it is not unusual to see groups of Russian, Ukrainian or Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, people from Latin America and Western Europe and possibly groups of Muslim tourists from India or Turkey. More recently there has been an increase in tourists from Asia and on this visit I saw several Chinese tour groups as well as Indonesians and Filipinos. In the late mornings, the courtyard in front of the church becomes full of people who enter through the narrow arch on one side or down a flight of steep relatively narrow steps opposite. It can become difficult to either enter or exit and also to get a clear shot or good pictures. Early morning is generally better whilst the quiet evening hours give the opportunity for low light photography.

During the time I spent in and around the courtyard, several Ethiopian groups visited. I noticed the mother and baby pictured below in the courtyard whilst the group of elegant more mature women were passing through the tourist shops that line the approach to the church. The group of Muslim tourists from India were striking due to the brightly coloured clothing of the women and the uniformly white suites worn by the men.

Cuddling up to mum, Church of the Holy Sepulchre
It takes ten minutes or less to walk from the Church to the Kotel in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Again people from all over the world and of all faiths come here for many different reasons. I was there twice during my recent stay, once early in the morning and again in the evening after Shabbat had "gone out". My evening visit was especially interesting since people were still dressed in their Shabbat best clothes. The four young men in the gold coloured kaftans were chatting after the conclusion of prayers and I was able to take a series of photos of them as they turned and changed expressions whilst each one spoke. The Kotel is the most sacred site in Judaism but this does not mean it is a quiet place, People talk, pray out loud and there is much movement which can make it hard to capture clear pictures.  I was especially please to capture the morning prayers image with the young man facing in the opposite direction to the others and the seated man poring over the sacred text.

After Shabbat, the Kotel
Morning prayers, the Kotel
Nowhere is very far from anywhere else in the Old City. The Damascus Gate in the Muslim quarter is a very short walk from the Kotel. This is one of the busiest parts of the shuk and the place where local people go to shop for food and household goods rather than the more tourist oriented businesses near the Church and the Jaffa Gate. I visited on Shabbat when the Jewish quarter is quiet and people flock to this part of the old city. The area close to the Gate is packed with small shops selling all kinds of provisions whilst there are also people who set out their goods on the ground, especially women selling various kinds of herbs and vegetables. The woman in the picture below is one such trader whilst the boy carrying the bread was making a delivery from nearby bakery.

Jerusalem, everywhere you look there is something interesting to see...and someone interesting too.

Selling herbs near the Damascus Gate
Bread delivery, Damascus Gate
Elderly man, Damascus Gate

You can see more pictures from Israel here

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A Lebanese pavilion...in Tel-Aviv.

Today's Expos are the successors to a series of World Fairs staged in the first half of the 20th century. The Paris Exposition of 1925 and New York's 1939 World's Fair are remembered as landmarks in the development of technology, design and commerce. A series of Fairs held in Tel-Aviv during the 1930's is less well known. Intended to showcase the achievement of the emerging state, the Fairs of 1934 and 1936 were held at a specially constructed site adjacent to the Port of Tel-Aviv. A number of leading architects were engaged to design the site which included several pavilions used to house the exhibits of more than 30 countries as well as goods produced by the "Hebrew worker" and a special Women's Pavilion. The Belgian pavilion was to prove the most popular, not for the architecture, but because visitors were given free chocolate.


The architects involved in the project included such luminaries as Aryeh Elhanani, Richard Kaufmann and Aryeh Sharon. Elhanani was also responsible for the logo of the Fairs, a Winged Camel. Explanations for the choice of such an unusual symbol include disbelief that Mandatory Palestine would be able to deliver a Fair of this scale. A sculpture was made of the camel but it has long since disappeared, probably destroyed although perhaps it sits quietly in someone's attic or warehouse. He also designed the constructivist style monument to the Hebrew Worker which was demolished at some point but rebuilt in 1989. Several of the pavilions remain today and are being used to house various businesses. Some have been lovingly cared for but sadly others have been lost or changed beyond recognition. Unbelievably the site of the Fairs was not originally included in the city's programs of protected locations but a number of architects, conservationists and historians have done excellent work in challenging this and making the site's importance more widely known.

One of the pavilions that has survived more or less intact is that of the Lebanon. It may come as a surprise to some people that there was a Lebanese presence, but it shouldn't. During the 1930's there was significant movement between cities such as Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Beirut, Cairo and even the Arabian peninsula. 




The building is extremely striking due to its gorgeous streamline design and fabulous curved protruding facade which bears a relief depicting the ancient Roman city of Baalbek. The facade also included this quote from the then Lebanese president, Emil Edde "From times long past Israel and Lebanon looked kindly on each other. Lebanon will not miss an opportunity and will make every effort to foster our traditional friendship and to embrace productive reciprocal relations between the two neighbours".  Evidence of this intention included a report in the Beirut An-Nahar newspaper that a Jewish woman had been appointed to manage the pavilion and that she was advertising summer resorts in Lebanon as part of her duties. So important was this part of her work that several Lebanese resorts petitioned Edde to add a second worker in order to expand the advertising campaign.
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The identity of the artist responsible for the relief was rediscovered when conservation work revealed the signature of Aharon Priver. Priver came to Eretz Israel from Poland in 1922 and went on to design the bronze memorial to the founders of Tel-Aviv on Rothschild Boulevard as well as the 1948 War Memorial at Tel Yosef. From the 1960's the pavilion was used as the reception area of a repair garage, the owner of which was both aware of and interested in the building's history. Despite his taking good care of it the humidity and salty environment took its toll over the years. Today the building stands empty awaiting a new use. I think tt looks like a good place to drink coffee and eat cake.


Friday, 9 March 2018

"I come from the city of flowers" the Golden Gays of Manila

Lola is the Tagalog (Filipino) word for "grandmother". In the Philippines it is also an affectionate term applied to older gay men. I recently stumbled upon an article about the Lolas of Manila when reading Shirin Bhandari's excellent blog. I was enthralled by her post about their lives and their home, established in 1975 by Justo Justo, a former Pasay City Councillor, accomplished playwright, columnist and AIDS campaigner. During my recent trip it was my privilege to meet some of the Lolas at their current home in a quiet Pasay side street.

Rikka
It is the third incarnation of the Home for the Golden Gays, the original location being in Justo's own house where care and shelter was provided for older gay men. Sadly, Justo died in 2012 and his family reclaimed the property, evicting everyone. Having secured further premises the Lolas then suffered a fire, losing their possessions including the precious gowns and costumes they use in their stage shows. Today they have a tiny, temporary shelter where they can meet and spend time together and where they keep the costumes that admirers have since donated to them. However, there is only space for a handful of people to sleep there.

One of the Lolas who lives here is Rikka, originally from Zamboanga, Mindanao's "City of Flowers". When he was in grade 5 or 6, his father became unwell and Rikka began working as a shoeshine, cleaning houses or delivering water in order to help support the family. He knew he felt different at an early age and would occasionally experiment secretly putting on lipstick before being caught and punished by his mother as well as suffering physical abuse from his father.

He later moved to Manila where he had two sisters, one of whom worked in the famous American Club. Whilst studying he made his first gay friends, one in the same year as him and one a year older. Rikka was extremely shy but the new friends encouraged him not to attend classes and instead to walk the city streets together, having fun. He remembers "walking all the way to Lunetta so we could look at handsome men".  On one occasion the older boy suggested they go to the cinema. Rikka readily agreed but had not realised that it was to see an x-rated film and described his shock at seeing naked bodies on the screen. It was during this time that he stopped attending classes altogether and unbeknown to him the school contacted his family. This resulted in his mother making a surprise visit to the city. Thrilled to see her he was to be disappointed as she rejected him and told him to leave the sisters' home. 

There followed several years of homelessness, living in the streets and being the recipient of occasional help from kind hearted vendors. For some time he lived in an informal camp around the construction site of Manila's Cultural Centre together with many other homeless people. He described being very scared, often hungry but amazingly naive. He made friends with a group of people who slept in the same place as him. Every morning they went out into the city, returning in the afternoon with food, clothes and other objects. Never questioning where these things came from it was only later that he realised they had been stolen. His time at the Cultural Centre came to an end when the police arrived one night to destroy the settlement and drive the people off. This was not his first experience of losing his sleeping place and such clearances were common during that period. 

Things changed for the better for Rikka the day he met Justo Justo in the street. He remembers being called "bakla" (the Tagalog word for gay, sometimes pejorative) by a well dressed, good looking man in the street who told him to come with him. This was Justo. Arriving at the gate of a house, this man called out to the keeper "open the gate the Queen is here". On entering Rikka could not believe what he found. Not only was there was a place to sleep and food to eat but many gay men were living there. After a short time Justo called him to the office and asked him his name. Receiving the reply "Rico", Justo told him "from now on you will be Rikka". In the more difficult days he had won several dancing competitions with cash prizes that he used to buy food, now he learned how to apply make-up and was able to indulge his love of music, singing, dancing through taking part in pageants and beauty contests.

Rikka speaks expressively mixing English, a little Tagalog and the occasional expression in the Spanish Creole of his home city. His story is emotional in the telling. His eyes light up when he talks about Justo saving him from the streets and his own self-discovery. He covers them when talking about his family's rejection and there is a deep sadness when he remembers the date of Justo's death. There are times when he is clearly not in the room with us, but reliving the past.

Ramon, Rikka and Rey
I also met Ramon who co-ordinates the group's activities and Rey who does a Beyonce tribute act as well as working part time as a hairdresser in order to earn a little more. Together they explained that many of the other members of the group like to go out during the day, meet their friends or just wander. Others have work outside, such as Noelito who works as a vendor. When asked if there are any female members, Ramon says that there are a few who come along but they prefer not to attract attention and are extremely shy of outsiders. When asked if it is easier to be a gay man than to be a lesbian in the Philippines, Rey says perhaps it is but that bringing money to the family earns respect and tolerance if not necessarily acceptance. It is not unknown for older gays to be turned out of their home once their ability to earn is gone.

As well as being a refuge, the home for the Golden Gays is the place where their theatrical performances are planned, where they prepare themselves for shows and from where they often walk in their gowns, wigs and full make-up to a nearby restaurant which they use as a regular venue. Ramon recounts how before a footbridge was built over the busy main road, they would regularly bring the traffic to a standstill as they crossed the road carrying all of their props. People would get out of their cars to stare at them in astonishment and the Lolas would blow kisses to the waiting traffic. Ramon joked that the city council constructed the bridge to prevent further traffic hold-ups and refers to it as The Golden Gays Bridge. Pun fully intended. Much to my disappointment their next performance was to take place after my return to London.

The Golden Gays urgently need better premises and would like to deliver improved services to the community. The group's priorities include education to enable the community to better support themselves, accommodation for elders who become homeless and most importantly, outreach work in relation to AIDS and HIV. The Philippines has the highest infection growth rates in  the Asia Pacific region.  The organisation seeks donations to help with these matters and contact details can be found here on their website.

As well as hearing Rikka's personal story, I learned a little about gay history in the Philippines. Amongst his other accomplishments, Justo was the first writer to be published in swardspeak a kind of gay language using words from Tagalog, English and Spanish as well as celebrity names and trademark brands, which are given different meanings. It reminded me of palari, a similar codification of English used by gay men and others prior to the 1970's when it began to seriously decline. Palari had its peak of popular attention in the 1960's BBC radio series Round The Horne

When asked what their favourite songs were, Rikka said he likes to sing in Spanish whilst Ramon prefers to sing nostalgic songs in Tagalog. Ramon gave us a few lines from Tillie Moreno's Saan Ako Nagkamali (Where did I go wrong) whilst, encouraged by Rey, Rikka treated us to his version of Besame Mucho. Wonderful. Finishing with a flourish he announced "I come from the city of flowers. I can't help it. I was born beautiful". He was indeed. He still is.

You can see a short documentary about the Golden Gays here and read more about them here.

You might also like Picture Post 66 - Faces of the Philippines

You can see more pictures of the Philippines here and here.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Picture Post 66 - Faces of the Philippines

I was always nervous of photographing people. Should I take a sneaky shot or ask their permission? What do I do if they refuse and how exactly do I ask them for a picture? It was all a bit too risky for me and so I preferred to stick to architectural scenes (which I also love) and the odd street scene, ensuring I didn't focus on an individual. 

Flora
However I like to try new things and about 18 months ago I decided it was time to face my fears of  photographing humans. I read various articles about photographing people in different countries and cultures, articles which were often contradictory and which left me still unsure. I had planned to visit Guatemala in early 2017 and when doing research for my trip found a website for Antigua Photo Walks, run by Rudy Giron, a local photographer. Rudy provides opportunities for different kinds of photography in and around Antigua and advises on technique. The walk I took with him changed everything for me as we met many Mayan people who were happy to be photographed despite the cultural issues I had read about. Of course it wasn't just a case of walking up to someone and snapping them, I learned the need to engage a little first, greet them and show interest in what they are doing in order to put them at ease. I liked my results.

A little later on during one of my many visits to Israel I did a similar walk with Laurie Cohen of Israel Photography Tours We spent several hours in the Old City of Jerusalem, a great location for photography but also potentially an ultra-sensitive one given the importance of the various religious sites and the tensions related to them. Laurie reinforced the things I had learned with Rudi and gave me some more technical tips. Again, I was happy with my results. Towards the end of the year I had a third experience of this kind in Kolkata where with Manjit Singh of Calcutta Photo Tours I spent three early morning hours in the wholesale markets taking my best pictures so far and frankly experiencing the "joy of photography!". In India I also printed a few of the better pictures I had taken and returned to give a copy to the delighted subjects.

I still take pictures of architecture, including very detailed ones of art deco buildings, which is one of my passions, but now no trip is complete without my taking pictures of interesting people. It is not just the images that I get out of it. The engagement with individuals often produces some surprising stories when they begin to talk about their lives, work and families in what may be a relatively short but very rich exchange. And of course, the stories are also in the faces where every line, expression and angle can tell a story. 

My recent time in the Philippines provided me with many opportunities to photograph people. Filipinos are generally very open to being photographed, sometimes a little shy at first but always happy to see the results. In some cases, as in India, when people see someone being photographed, they come forward and ask for their picture too and several times I was joined by large groups of children demanding "one more picture sir". I never take pictures of children without first securing the permission of a parent or older adult. This post features a small selection of the many portraits I took in the wonderful Philippines.

I noticed Flora (at the top of this post) in the Dangwa Flower Market in Manila. I was struck by the elegant, upright way that she held herself whilst working on the flowers that she was preparing for sale. She told me that she is 81 years of age and divides her time between Masbate, where she still works in the fields and Manila where she comes to sell the flowers. She likes working and said that her grandmother worked until the age of 120 and was never ill but decided that she had lived long enough and died on her birthday!

Butcher, Libertad Market, Manila
I heard the man above before I saw him, shouting and singing as he vigorously cleaned his chopping board in the Libertad Market, Manila. I indicated that I would like to take his picture and he began to assume an upright pose. That was not what I wanted at all. He seemed to realise this, resuming his noisy cleaning of the board whilst I shot a burst resulting in a great action sequence. 

Paul is a boatman. He works at Panglao, Bohol, transporting tourists between the various islands. I saw him whilst taking a 6 a.m. stroll along the beach having woken up very early. We exchanged greetings and I asked for a picture. He was a little shy and reluctant at first and asked that I photograph him with his "boss" which I did. He then relented and allowed me to take this portrait.

Paul
This man is a member of the Tabudlong family that has a small business in Dau Market at Tagbilaran, Bohol. He grinds and grates coconut, cacao, coffee, peanuts, rice and ube. I noticed him preparing chocolate discs and we fell into conversation.  He invited me behind the counter to see how the chocolate is prepared and was very amused when I asked to take his picture.

Grate and grinder, Dau Market, Tagbilaran
Jose sells shoes from a stall in the Baclayon Market, Bohol. He has been selling shoes with his wife for more than 50 years. I noticed him when I entered the market building and was keen to take a portrait. He was surprised that anyone should want to photograph him and his wife was moved to laughter. I managed to get a several interesting images as he went about his business. Like Flora, I am sure there are many stories in this gentle face.

Jose
A few kilometres outside of Iloilo City I noticed a group of fishermen sitting on the beach, repairing their nets and re-painting their boat. This man was sitting aside from the rest of the group, re-sewing the nets, deep in thought. I took this when he looked up for a second, still pre-occupied but with a hint of a smile.

Fisherman, Iloilo province
Roderigo is three years old. His father is a fisherman living in Iloilo City. I saw them sitting at the end of a pier, chatting with a group of other fishermen. I was struck by the obvious pride and affection of the father who was kissing the boy's head when I first approached.

Roderigo and his father
This woman makes and sells suman, a delicious dessert made from glutinous rice and coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf. She has a street stall in Manila's San Antonio district. She looked directly at the camera and allowed me to take a series of pictures before laughing and turning her head to one side resulting in the shot below. 

Suman seller, San Antonio, Manila
I met this serious looking little girl in Quiapo, Manila. Her father was sitting outside a shop talking to a friend whilst she played on the pavement. Securing his permission to take her picture she maintained a dour expression, guarding her packet of sweets - candies shaped like little ice creams.

Don't touch my sweets, Quaipo, Manila
This butcher works at the Baclayon market in Bohol. I liked his smile, sparkly eyes and pink floral apron perhaps indicating his self-confidence.

Butcher, Baclayon Market
Lionila has a tiny kiosk outside the Public Market in Iloilo. She has been selling cigarettes and other small items for many years. I saw her a couple of times before I asked to photograph her. Each time she had smiled and wished me good afternoon so I was fairly sure she would be amenable. She is in her 70's, has no doubt had to work very hard but retains an almost regal way of holding herself. Her smile seems full of optimism.

Lionila
This woman has a small business in the Dau Market in Tagbilaran. She sells different kinds of chillies. Born in the city, she worked in Manila for many years but returned to her home town where she said life is easier, less rushed, less noisy and the people more friendly. 

Chilli seller, Dau Market, Tagbilaran
You might also like Fun, food and fortune telling - Manila, the people in the street or A Postcard from India 6 - Kolkata, the people in the street

You can see more pictures of the Philippines here and here.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Art Deco, a marvellous market and delicious desserts: Iloilo Part One..

Iloilo is a provincial capital on the island of Panay in the Western Visayas. It is known for its colourful Dinagyang festival in January but has so much more to offer. I recently spent two days there, attracted by its collection of art deco buildings. The art deco did not disappoint me but I was charmed by the markets, the streets and most of all the people of a city working hard to improve itself for the benefit of its residents.

Iloilo Public Market
After checking in to my hotel I took a taxi to the Public Market in the downtown area with the intention of exploring the neighbourhood. The market building has a an imposing art deco design. The main entrance dominates a busy corner due to its tall yellow tower, decorated with blue fins and deco motifs at the summit. It carries the market's name in stylised lettering and is flanked by simple blue blocks. Built in the 1930's, details of the architect are not known. The colours, smells and sounds of the market quickly diverted me from my architectural focus and I found myself strolling its lanes looking at the produce and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

Making sausages 
Casa Nova, jewellery and watch repair shop
As I expected, the market is filled with stalls selling meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, rice and spices but many of the old traditional businesses can also be seen. In one of the lanes, a family business has been producing sausages for almost thirty years. Within a few metres shoppers can see the whole production process from mixing the meat by hand, to feeding it through a machine into the skins and then cutting the sausages into different lengths using razor sharp thread. There are also a number of traders producing the wraps for the popular lumpia snack, better known in some places as spring rolls. A young man was mixing the batter by hand in a huge vat. His arm entire arm disappeared into the mixture in a back-breaking action designed to ensure the appropriate consistency before it is shaped and rolled by other workers and then laid out to dry and sell.

Preparing the lumpia wrap
Seamstress and daughter
The shoe repairer
Stalls also line the exterior of the market. These are populated by brush sellers, jewellery and watch repairers, tailors, seamstresses and several shops selling household goods. It was here that I met a delightful lady called Leonila. In her 70's she has a tiny kiosk selling cigarettes  and other small items. She said that she had worked here for many years, starting before her marriage and continuing until today. I could not resist asking her for a photograph, charmed by her kind face and confident, almost regal way of sitting. Around the corner from Leonila, I noticed a man sitting in a shady alley repairing shoes. Without speaking he indicated that he was happy to be photographed. Unlike Leonila, he seemed subdued but introverted I was still rewarded with a smile when I showed him the picture. The shoe repairer may have been a man of few words but he was not typical of the market people who although sometimes initially shy, were generally friendly, happy to chat about their work, curious about where I was from and why I was in the city. And there is a certain charm about being greeted with "Good afternoon sir" as you wander, remembering to reply with the same "or "good afternoon ma'am" when addressing women.

Still in the market I spotted a barbers' shop, open to the street. I like to have my little bit of hair cut when traveling and I decided to go in. Gerry cut my hair and gave me a head and neck massage to the slight amusement of some of the other customers, surprised to see a foreigner in the shop. Their interest in me quickly waned when an important basketball game came on the wall mounted TV in the corner of the room. Basketball is akin to religion for many Filipinos. Gerry charged me the very reasonable sum of 40 pesos for his service - that's less than 70 pence.

Leonila, stall holder
Gerry, the barber
Cantonese Club building, 1931.
Back to the art deco. The city can boast at least a couple of buildings designed by two of the Philippines' most prestigious architects who deserve to be better known outside the country. Juan Arellano who designed Manila's Metropolitan Theatre was responsible for the Pablo Dulalia building on Calle Iznart. Built in 1932, the bas-reliefs on the facade include geometric shapes, zigzags and floral patterns. As with several buildings in the downtown area it carries the building name and year of construction at the top of the facade. At the time of my visit some of these features were covered with a couple of frankly unattractive advertising hoardings, but these can be removed and the building is now protected by ordinance.

Dulalia Building, 1932.
S. Villanueva Building.
Tiampo Building, 1934.
There may be a second Arellano building in Iloilo. There is some support for the idea that he designed the S. Villanueva building on the corner of Calle J.M. Basa and Calle Arenal. Whilst not classically deco it is still striking due to the upper part of the facade being decorated with a lace like filigree. The Villanueva family is one of the city's most successful and prominent dynasties and owns many properties. including the Tiampo building on Calle Aldeguer. Built in 1934 it has been restored in recent years and its white and green facade, central tower and discrete deco motifs make it one of the downtown area's most attractive buildings. The former Cantonese Club is just a few doors away. Built in 1931 it is another example of how grand this neighbourhood must have been before the Second World War.

The other famous architect to have a building here is Fernando Ocampo. Ocampo designed several buildings in Manila's Escolta Street as well as a number of religious, educational and residential properties across the Philippines. The Lopez Boathouse, built for Don Eugene Lopez in the 1930's may well be his masterpiece. A private home maintained in superb condition it is a stunning example of streamline art deco complete with speed lines, a tower and portholes giving it the nautical appearance that led to its name. It has similarities to Bauhaus design and would not look out of place in Tel-Aviv or Miami. I love those orange fins! The house is not open to the public and stands behind a high wall. I had to perch on the step of a minibus and reach up to get the shot below but it gives at least some idea of the building's beauty.

Lopez House, 1930's.
In recent years, the local administration has taken steps to protect the city's built heritage, making use of the slogan "Iloilo, where the past is always present". This attitude is carried over into some amazing work that has been undertaken to transform the city's environment. For many years the Iloilo river was horribly polluted and flanked by hundreds of what are referred to locally as "informal structures" without water, sewage or official power supplies. Having little other option the people living there dumped their rubbish in the river making swimming, fishing and other uses impossible. Today the squatted structures are gone, their former inhabitants housed in better conditions, the river cleaned of pollutants and an esplanade established on its banks. Early in the morning and in the evening towards sunset, people gather there to jog, stroll, fish and meet their friends. Now that the fish are back there is an ambition for its residents to be able to swim in the river again. The environmental improvements here are a real success story, something to be proud of and could act as a model for other cities around the world.

Madge Cafe, serving good coffee since 1938
Regular readers will know of my passion (weakness?) for art deco, jazz, coffee and cake. I didn't find any jazz this time (although I did see some salsa!) but I found some great coffee and delicious desserts. The Lapaz market is home to the original branch of the Madge Cafe where they have been serving coffee and snacks since 1938. Madge passed away some time ago but the third generation of the family maintain her traditions and high standards and like to say they were here long before Starbucks. Indeed they were and their coffee is better too. Cafes are great social venues, designed for people to spend time with friends, debating, discussing and gossiping. They are also great places for chance encounters. I happened to be enjoying Madge's coffee at the same time as Ilonggo reggae star Raffy Buenavides. I was introduced to him and we chatted briefly about the Beatles (he is a fan) and about Raffy's own projects.

Raffy the reggae star
There are also some very good modern cafes in the new part of the city. Cafe Panay at Festive Walk in the Business Park serves a great selection of local desserts including Halo Halo made from shaved ice, jellied fruits and ice cream which you mix together before eating (Halo means mix); Suman, glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fresh mango on a banana leaf and Turon which consists of plantain and sometimes other fruits dipped in sugar and wrapped in a lumpia (spring roll). All of them delicious. 

Being a vegetarian can be a bit of a challenge on the Philippines but Farm to Table also at the Business Park offers a selection of vegetarian dishes made from super fresh ingredients and served in modern, very comfortable surroundings. They were also happy to amend items from the menu in order to make them suitable for vegetarians whilst craft beers are available for those who like something a bit stronger than coffee or juice. The service here was especially good. I stayed in the Seda Atria Hotel which also has a good restaurant, Misto,  which offers a selection of vegetarian dishes and some good desserts. There is also a second branch of Madge behind the hotel.

I came to Iloilo because of its art deco architecture but found a lot more to admire and enjoy. It is a city of friendly, welcoming people working hard to improve the environment, to protect its heritage and at the same time to modernise and develop. It is a city to which I would like to return.

Look out for another post on Iloilo, coming soon. 


Thanks are due to Araceli Longno Naces for helping me discover the city and for making sure I got to see some great architecture and meet some good hearted people.


You can see more pictures from the Philippines here and here