Friday 31 March 2017

Porto Art Deco

Porto is best known for its long seafaring tradition, beautiful bridges and production of port wine.  There also also other treasures, not least a collection of fabulous art deco buildings, which can be found throughout the city. My recent visited was marked by several days of rain but the skies brightened long enough for me to search out and admire some of Porto's best examples of art deco and modernism. 

Estacao de serviço Passos Manuel
Estacao de serviço Passos Manuel
Coliseu do Porto
Rua de Passos Manuel in the city centre is home to two stunning deco buildings. The Coliseu do Porto theatre and the Estacao de servico Passos Manuel look at each other from opposite sides of the street. Whilst many cities have art deco theatres, fewer have garages built in this style. The Estacao opened in 1939 with three parking levels and shops on the ground floor. The facade is delightful, boasting speed stripes, a glazed stairwell, portholes, a flag pole and a neon map of Portugal. As if this isn't enough there are also a couple of "elephant trunks" fins and changing depths with recessed upper levels.  Designed by architect Mario de Abreu, the garage continues to be used for its original purpose but also houses Maus Habitos, a cultural organisation with a gallery, bar, restaurant and panoramic views of the city. I tried to sneak a look at the neon map from inside the building but found it screened off, I assume as protection against damage.

Coliseu do Porto
Coliseu do Porto
Abreu was also involved in designing the Coliseu do Porto, directly opposite the Estacao de Servico, working with two other stellar Portuguese architects - Cassiano Branco and Julio Jose de Brito. Occupying a larger footprint than the garage, the Coliseu really does have it all. It is a deco dream with portholes, columns, recessed elements, fins, stylised lettering and my favourite feature - those eight purely decorative discs at the summit of the partially glazed tower. Fabulous.

Originally commissioned to a group of Portuguese and Dutch architects, Branco assumed overall responsibility for the design in 1939, managing it to completion in 1941. Long one of the city's premier cultural buildings, the Coliseu was almost sold to a Brazilian evangelical church in 1995. However, several thousand people took to the streets to protest the sale, resulting in Government and Mayoral intervention to halt the sale and pass the building to community management where it remains today.

A fire in 1996 caused internal damage and the Coliseu did not re-open until 1998. Since then it has staged many concerts including appearances by Omara Portuondo of Buena Vista Social Club fame, Fado singer Ana Moura, jazz vocalist Anthony Strong and Brazilian musicians Joao So and Gal Costa. The main auditorium has a seating capacity of 2955 with space for 3500 standing.

Teatro Rivoli
Cinema Batalha
The Coliseu is not the only art deco style theatre in the city centre. The Teatro Rivoli in Rua do Bonjardim opened in 1913 and was remodelled in the 1920's in the art deco style under the direction of architect Julio Jose de Brito.  In addition to theatre and cinema the remodelled Rivoli offered opera, dance and music. de Brito came from an artistic family and was the son of painter Jose de Brito.  He trained at the School of Fine Arts of Porto, enrolling in 1910 before continuing his studies at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto.

The Cinema Batalha comes from a later period. Designed by Arturo Andrade and completed in 1947 in streamline moderne style, it is arranged over four storeys of a trapezoid shaped structure. The facade has exquisite windows that run the full length of the upper floors along the two points facing a public square, meeting in a superb curved corner. It also has a raised marble relief, the work of sculptor Americo Braga. The cinema reached its heyday in the 1960's but by the 1980's, like cinemas around the world it suffered from falling audiences, eventually closing in 2003 before re-opening as a music and events venue in 2003. At the time of my visit the Batalha looked neglected and possibly abandoned with rubbish on the steps and rough sleepers on one corner. A Portuguese language blog refers to parties being organised in the building and the risk of damage but I have been unable to find more details. It is to be hoped that this beautiful building can be properly cared for and retained for public use.

Cinema Batalha
Club Fluvial Portuense
Another stunning deco building lies a short distance from the city centre on the opposite side of the River Douro. The Vila Nova de Gaia district is home to many of the producers of Port including Sandeman, whose building has an outline of the famous caped man who features in their marketing material and reminds me of the brand's TV adverts from the 1960's. The Club Fluvial Portuense is a short step from Sandemans. Founded in 1876 it is the city's oldest sports club and one of the oldest in Portugal. The club now operates from a modern site outside of the central zone but the old building is another art deco beauty with a gorgeous green and white facade complete with portholes, balconies , flagpole and tiny discs flanking the central tower. The upper level also carries the club's name in stylised lettering. There is a restaurant on the first floor and if you step into the ground floor lobby there are art deco tiles with aquatic scenes.

It has been difficult to find firm details about the date of construction but the building commenced operating in 1948 - rebuilt after an earlier building was damaged or destroyed in 1932.  Anyone with further information or who knows who the architect was is encouraged to add the details in the comments section below!

Back on the other side of the river but even further away from the centre of town the Hotel Vincci Porto is housed in yet another terrific deco building. Now a stylish hotel it started life as a large fish market - surely the most stylish one ever to be built? Transformed into a hotel in 2005, it has retained the external deco features including fins, a clock tower, neon lighting units and sculpted panels. The hotel also has a good restaurant with design references to the deco style and a modern bar  at raised level in the enormous lobby. Both are open to non-guests and are worth a visit if you go to admire the architecture. And in case you are wondering there's not even a whiff of fish now.

Designed by Januario Godhino de Almeida the building was completed in 1934 it was declared a national monument in 1977. de Almeida was another graduate of the Porto School of Fine Arts and went on to design many other buildings here and in other Portuguese cities, including residential, commercial and civic structures. The conversion to an hotel was carried out by Portuguese architect Jose Carlos Cruz.

Hotel Vincci
Hotel Vincci
And so to my favourite Porto art deco building. Armazens Cunhas is a department store in Praca de Gomes Teixeira. A striking building in its own right it stands in sharp contrast to the neighbouring monumental structures such as the Carmo church, the exterior of which is partially covered in beautiful blue and white azulejos. The footprint of Armazens Cunhas encompasses three 19th century buildings joined together and given a deco facade. The work took from 1933-36 and was a collaboration between three architects - Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes and Coelho Freitas. Marques is perhaps the best known of the three. A bit of a child prodigy, he enrolled at our favourite school - the Porto Fine Arts Academy in 1902 at the age of just 12, continuing his education in Paris after the First World War. On his return to Portugal he worked with a variety of architects including Julio Jose de Brito, author of the Teatro Rivoli as well as serving on the city council's aesthetics committee.  

Armazens (which means warehouses) looks great at any time but when the sun comes out it is truly stunning with the deco style lettering, vertical light boxes, a pair of balconies running the full length of the building and of course, its crowning glory, the green peacock. Fabulous. 

Armazenas Cunhas
Armazenas Cunhas
Porto has many other art deco and modernist buildings - too many to fit into a very short visit, which of course means I will have to return and seek them out. In the meantime I will leave you with this modernist building which I came across by chance and that would not look out of place amongst Tel Aviv's many buildings in this style. It is in Rua do Guerra Junqueiro, built in 1934 and designed by Jorge Manuel Viana. 

Private home, Rua do Guerra Junqueiro

Monday 27 March 2017

Picture Post 61 - The Great Plaza at Tikal

Tikal is quite possibly the most spectacular of all Maya sites. Located in a huge protected area known as the Parque Nacional Tikal, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site , a Guatemalan icon and a real symbol of the country.

Temple 1, Great Plaza, Tikal.
Although a settlement was established here in about 900 BC, another 650 years or so would pass before any significant building took place. Work on the Great Plaza began about 2000 years ago. As with other major Maya sites, Tikal became a centre for the development of art, science and religion as well as for trade with other cities. 

It reached its zenith during the eight century when there were at least 100,000 citizens and the city   was successful in overcoming its enemies. During this period the central acropolis and a series of causeways were developed. It must have been quite a site as it is known that the temples and other public buildings were painted bright red, green, yellow and other colours. Unfortunately none of this colour remains.

One Tax Ehb'Xok (First Step Shark) established a royal dynasty in about 90 AD and was followed by at least 33 more monarchs before the line ceased at the end of the ninth century, coinciding with a major crisis across the whole Maya region. The nature of this crisis is not known but it may have been climate related, with drought and resultant civil disorder causing the city to be abandoned and the dynasty to come to an end.

For several centuries Tikal lay abandoned. It was spotted in 1695 by a lost priest - Father Avendano who reported seeing "a variety of old buildings" but appears to have been untouched until 1848 when a government expedition led by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut visited. Until 1951 the ruins were only accessible on horseback. Excavation began in 1956 and continued until 1984 although many buildings remain hidden by vegetation and rubble.

View from Temple 2, Great Plaza, Tikal.

Temple 2, Great Plaza, Tikal

The Great Plaza is the heart of Tikal and for a millennium it was the focus of ceremonial and religious activity here. The two great temples that stand facing each other were built in the 8th century but were preceded by the Northern Acropolis to the side of the plaza. Temple 1 rises to a height of 44 metres and is known as the jaguar temple because a carving of a jaguar once lay above the main entrance. Sadly you won't be able to see it unless you go to Switzerland where it now sits in a museum. The temple was built as a burial chamber for Hasaw Chan K'awil, one of Tikal's greatest rulers who revitalised the city in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, as well as defeating the rival state of Calakmul. When Tikal was rediscovered, his remains were found in the temple together with jade, pearls and ornaments made from sea shells and bones as well as other precious items. Temple 2 opposite is known as the temple of masks. This is because of two gargoyle like masks that flank each side of the structure but which have been weathered away over the centuries.

Despite being unwell, my time at Tikal's Great Plaza was one of the highlights of my recent Guatemalan trip. Visitors are allowed to scale Temple 2. It is a steep climb and it was a hot day when I visited but the view of the entire plaza and surrounding jungle is worth the effort. Tikal remains an important spiritual site for the Maya people and it is possible to see families visiting to carry out various rituals.

At certain times of day it is also possible to hear the resident howler monkeys whose loud calls or "howls" can travel for up to three miles through dense jungle. Many people make a day trip from nearby Flores where there are several places to stay but there are also chalets on site that have comfortable beds, ceiling fans and hot water but only restricted access to electricity. There is also an onsite restaurant and small shop.

Acropolis, Great Plaza, Tikal.

Acropolis, Great Plaza, Tikal
You can see more pictures of Guatemala here

Sunday 12 March 2017

A Postcard from Guatemala - 3 - Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan

The journey from Antigua, Guatemala's former capital, to Lake Atitlan in the north, takes about three hours by road. My journey took a little longer as I made three stops along the way. Two of these were scheduled in order to visit markets. The other stop, to which we will return, was due to one of those chance encounters that can make travel such a rich experience.

A smile at Chichicastenango
Shamans on the road to Chichi
Perhaps one hour outside of Antigua, we came to Chupol, a small town with a weekly market. Chupol receives few visitors and as the only non-local I attracted a fair amount of attention, mostly surprised looks, a number of greetings and one or two questions about where I had come from. The market is geared exclusively towards local people, selling just about everything including fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, flowers, electrical goods and second hand clothes. The stalls are arranged on each side of an extremely busy dual carriageway with people crossing backwards and forwards, dodging the heavy traffic to shop, bargain and swap news with friends and relatives. I spent a little money here. A small boy noticed my scuffed footwear and gave me the best shoe shine I have ever had whilst I attempted to use my few words of Spanish with an elderly lady whose husband was waiting his turn for a shine. I also allowed myself to be tempted by a peanut seller carrying his produce in a wheelbarrow and weighing them in one of two plastic basins suspended on a pole before succumbing to the charms of a persistent orange seller who provided me with healthy citrus sustenance for the rest of the journey.

Back on the road and my guide noticed a colourful gathering of local people as we passed through another village. It was a small group of shamans, gathered around their leader who was about to perform a ceremony before setting off for their church. The vast majority of Guatemalans are at least nominally Catholics and church attendance rates are very high. However, as in Mexico, many of the indigenous people continue to keep the old religions and beliefs, combining them with aspects of Christianity. This includes belief in Maximon, a "bad saint" and enemy of the church whose origins are unsure. He is associated with a number of vices including drinking and smoking and one story places him as a Franciscan friar who chased local women. Representations of him are used during rituals including at a special Maximon house in Santiago Atitlan.

Back to our group of shamans. After a short prayer, the group of about 10 men dressed in brightly coloured shirts and jackets together began their march to the church, accompanied by the villagers  as they carried a statue of Maximon and waved to us as they went on their way.

Peanut seller at Chupol
Shaman on the road to Chichi
Little drummer girl at Chichi
A couple of hours later we arrived in Chichicastanago, known locally as Chichi, to find the famous twice weekly market in full swing. It attracts vendors and shoppers from a wide area, some of whom walk for as much as four hours to bring their goods here. In recent years the market has also begun to attract many tourists but despite this it is still an authentic Guatemalan experience. Outsiders come to see the avalanche of colour made up of the local's clothing, the brightly coloured produce and the spectacular textiles being sold almost everywhere in the town. The market is a photographer's paradise but be warned, some traders may ask for payment before having their picture taken. My preference is to buy something from them rather than paying to take a picture. Making conversation with people also helps to ease the way.

I have already mentioned the combination of Catholicism with traditional beliefs and further evidence of this can be seen in Chichi in the church of Santo Tomas in the main plaza. Francisco Ximenez, the parish priest from 1701 to 1703 was particularly sympathetic to the Maya, even reading their holy book the Popol Vuh and allowing the installation of Mayan altars in the church. Visitors can still see representations of both Catholic and Mayan saints inside the building. Please note, it is strictly forbidden to take photographs inside the church.

Before entering, locals make offerings in a fire on the church steps. This is followed by performing a ritual inside. I saw several people lighting candles, sprinkling petals and alcohol on the floor and chanting in one of the Mayan languages, appealing for help with some family issue, business or other matter. Special respect is paid to the souls of the dead, both in Santo Tomas and in the town's amazingly colourful cemetery. The tombs are painted in bright colours and are set out in an arrangement resembling a small town. The more affluent the deceased, the larger and more ornate the tomb is. As I left the cemetery I noticed a hint of humour as the shop nearest to the cemetery is called Tienda El Ultimo Adios, which in English means the shop of the last goodbye. Mmm.

On the steps of Santo Tomas
Fruit seller, Chichi
Making tortillas, Chichi
Colourful tombs, Chichi cemetery
In the late afternoon we arrived at Panajachel. The town sits on the banks of Lake Atitlan, which is itself surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Unfortunately, the mountains are often obscured by mists and this was the case at the time of my visit. Panajachel has a busy main street, Santanader which is lined with cafes, restaurants and tourist oriented shops, all offering pretty much the same craft items. There is an excellent book shop, Libros del Lago which stocks a good range of books about Guatemala as well as Latin American fiction in both English and Spanish. I spent just one night in the town and chose to eat at Deli Llama de Fuego, a great little place that offers a range of tasty local dishes, many of them vegetarian and although it may sound strange my curried banana soup was delicious as was my side dish of fried plantain. Ok, so I like bananas. There is also a great coffee shop - Cafe Loco, a Korean owned business where they make the coffee according to your taste. It was a bit crowded with backpackers early in the evening but I managed to find a space at the bar later on. Great coffee.

Ritual with Maximon, Santiago Atitlan
Traditional headdress, Santiago Atitlan 
There are several villages around the lake. Santiago Atitlan is the largest and has a strong Maya identity with many of the people still wearing traditional clothing. The women's clothes include purple striped skirts and blouses embroidered with brightly coloured birds and flowers whilst many of the men wear striped and embroidered trousers. 

The church of Sant Iago Apostle is the focus of religious life here, again combining Catholicism with traditional Mayan beliefs and practices. As well as figures of the Catholic saints, there are carvings of figures from Mayan traditions, albeit hidden behind the main altar. This includes a representation of Maximon, although it was obscured by a large flower display when I visited. I was to come across him again in Santiago Atitlan - at a ceremony in a small house on the hillside. A family had come to consult a shaman and received advice in the presence of a lifelike Maximon model.

The town also has a colourful market, many crafts people and is home to several good artists who paint in the naive style. I was lucky enough to be shown how the local women put on their head dresses which consist of a bright red, belt-like piece of cloth wrapped round and round the head to give the appearance of a hat. The material is at least 7 metres in length and often longer.

The small villages of San Antonio Palopo and Santa Caterina Palopo are also worth a visit. Traditional crafts are important to both villages and in San Antonio Palopo I was invited into the house of a family of weavers. The house consisted of two rooms, the first of which was completely taken up by two large manually operated looms where a married couple worked producing exquisite scarves, blouses, skirts and other items. The second room was for living in and was shared with two of their three children, the third one having left the village to study. In neighbouring Santa Caterina I enjoyed bargaining with two elderly ladies who may well have been sisters and who drove a very hard bargain before breaking into big smiles once the scale was agreed. And then it was back to Antigua for one more night.

Weaver, San Antonio Palopo
Sisters, Santa Caterina Palopo

You can see more pictures of Guatemala here.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

A Postcard from Guatemala 2 - The People In The Street

Saturday afternoon
During my recent stay in Guatemala, I took a five hours photo walk through three villages in the company of professional photographer Rudy Giron. Rudy not only helped create opportunities for me to take pictures of many of the local people but also gave me some great technical advice. I chose to go on one of his walks after reading about sensitivities relating to photography in Guatemala, particularly amongst the Maya, the indigenous people who make up perhaps 50% of the population. Anxious not to offend anyone but wanting to come home with some great pictures, I thought that he could perhaps give some guidance. I thought correctly and through talking to and generally showing interest in the local people he made it possible for me to capture the best shots of my trip and to feel confident about taking them.

Introvert and extrovert
Playing up for the camera
Are they taking our picture?
The three villages we walked through, are just a ten minutes drive from Antigua, Guatemala's former capital city and major tourist attraction. Despite the short distance, life has changed little in the last 100 years. The pace is slower, few tourists come and there is still a very strong sense of community. Many of the residents are Maya.

At first glance it seems that nothing is happening there but taking a closer look, there are many things to surprise and delight those who venture to visit. There is the constant "flamenco" of the women preparing tortillas for sale three times a day, patting the corn flour between their hands in preparation for cooking. There is the communal washing facility or lavanderia, an open air wash house with several stone units arranged in a square so that the women stand beside and opposite each other whilst working. I am certain the designer's intent was to facilitate the exchange of news and enable gossip without the evidence trail of Facebook. Then there is the industry of the tiny tailoring shop with three men squeezed into a dark, tiny room, working on aged but lovingly maintained machines and each with a tape measure draped around their necks. When entering the shop and greeting them with  "buenos dias como estas?" one of them looked up, replied and then proudly said in clear English "I am a tailor".
Time for a chat (that's Rudy with the camera)
All dressed up with somewhere to go
Pretending to be shy
And we came across the absurd - a family gathered around a huge rabbit - as well as a man looking and laughing at us from behind a barred window. Some opportunities arrive by chance. As we descended a steep, narrow street, a door opened and out came three young women, dressed in their best clothes and about to go to a wedding. On show you might say. All real life and all inviting the attention of the camera.

The people we met generally fell into two types - those who were shy of the camera and those that loved it. Introverts and extroverts. You can see both in the pictures on this post. Towards the end of the afternoon, we came upon a family selling bread. The father, a teenage son and a little girl stood outside their shop and as Rudy chatted with the father we began to take pictures. The teenager became shy and turned away, putting his head down on the counter. But after a few seconds, a younger boy pushed his way through to see what was happening and became very animated, smiling, raising his arms and laughing. Then another, much younger child joined us, holding up his toy car for us to see whilst also looking beyond us to the activity in the street.

I am a tailor
Tortillas, three times a day
I can take pictures too
Some people need a little encouragement. We came across a Mayan family at one of the lavanderia and although friendly they were a little reticent about being photographed. We met them again later on and they were very different - all smiles and giggles as they posed happily, the youngest child pretending to be shy and peeping from behind her sister before emerging to look directly at the camera and demand her picture be taken. One little girl turned the tables on us. Whilst we photographed her mother making tortillas, she picked up a mobile phone and started taking pictures of us. An Eve Arnold in the making.

I have picked a handful of my favourites from the five hours photo walk based on the quality of the pictures and in some cases, being me, because of the story behind them. No portraits were taken without the permission of the subject and no pictures were taken of children without the permission and co-operation of the parents.  A big thanks to Rudy for his time and advice. You can see his website and book a photo walk here. Thanks also to the people of San Pedro Las Huertas,  Santa Catarina Bobadil and San Gaspar Vivar. You can see more photographs from Guatemala here.

At the lavanderia
Through my window
Team shot
In case you didn't believe me about the rabbit...