A giant aircraft in Lisbon

WHILE AWAITING TAKE-OFF from Lisbon’s main airport, our aeroplane was ‘parked’ beside the largest aircraft I have ever seen. Operated by Maximus Air Cargo company, its nose was pointing upwards towards the sky. It was being loaded with freight through an enormous aperture at its front end. The aeroplane was so large that it dwarfed the numerous workers around it and the forklift trucks being used to load its cargo. Even the Airbus 320 craft standing nearby seemed tiny in comparison. As we had to wait for what seemed like ages before we taxied to the runway for take-off, I had plenty of time to stare at it and to take photographs through the window next to my seat. My curiosity increased when I observed that the ‘plane had its make written on the raised section of its nose: Antonov 124-100.

The Antonov aircraft were built mainly during the years that the Soviet Union was in existence. The company that built these freight carrying ‘planes is named after the aircraft designer Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov (1906-1984). Born in the Moscow region, he was the son of a civil engineer. From 1923 onwards, he was deeply involved in aircraft engineering and design. By 1938, he was the leading designer in the aircraft plant headed up by AS Yakovlev (www.antonov.com/en/biography). And in May 1946, he headed up his own aircraft design plant, based in Novosibirsk. By 1948, ‘planes designed by Antonov and his team were being manufactured in Kiev (Kyiv in what is now Ukraine). In 1952, Antonov and his design bureau moved to Kiev. Antonov’s team began designing the AN 124 heavy transport aircraft in the early 1970s. The AN 124’s maiden flight was in 1982, but the vehicle only became known to the world at large when it was exhibited at the Paris Air Show in 1985. The AN 124s were produced at two factories: one in Ulyanovsk (now in Russia) and the other at Kiev (now in Ukraine). One special feature of the AN 24’s design is that its landing gear with 24 wheels is designed both for landing on rough terrain and to enable the ‘plane to kneel down so that its front entrance can be lowered to make loading and unloading easier.  About 55 of the AN 124 craft were built between 1982 and 2004.  According the uk.flightaware.com website, the AN 124 (registration UR-ZYD), which we saw on the 17th of June 2022 had flown from Leipzig to Lisbon that day and was about to fly on to Cairo (Egypt). It flew to Kigali (Rwanda) from Cairo on the 18th of June. Another website ( www.planespotters.net/airframe/antonov-an-124-ur-zyd-maximus-air-cargo/ejn4jx) revealed that UR-ZYD was built just over 18 years ago, in about 2013/14, making it one of the last to be built.

Maximus Air Cargo, which operates the AN 124, which I saw, is an Abu Dhabi based company, which specialises in transporting larger than usual objects. The company owns one Antonov 124-100, about which its website (www.maximus-air.com/fleet/antonov-124-100) noted:

“The heaviest of the heavyweight cargo lifters. It has a unique self-contained multiple winch and overhead crane system capable of self loading / unloading 120 tonne from front or rear. Can carry 21x Toyota Land Cruisers or 4 x Mi 17 MTV Helicopters without breaking a sweat.”

The aircraft’s maximum range is 6710 nautical miles (‘nm’), but when it is carrying its maximal pay load (120,000 Kg), this reduces to 2420 nm.

I had heard of the Antonov aircraft before, but the example I saw in Lisbon is the first I have seen ‘in the flesh’. I found that seeing this giant was very exciting.

Black and white beneath your feet

WHEN WALKING IN central Funchal, it is worth looking down at the pavements. Like those in Lisbon and other towns in Portugal, their surfaces are covered with small black and white stones arranged to create pleasing patterns. I imagine that these compositions created using irregularly sized stones must be laid by hand rather than by using a machine.

Funchal

Often the stones are laid on the pavements as well as on large open spaces in such a way that fascinating optical effects are achieved. By making such lovely places on which to walk, the cities and towns become beautiful in whichever direction you look.

A museum in Madeira

HOUSED IN AN OLD palace, the Quinta das Cruzes museum (‘Quinta’ for short) contains a collection of exhibits of various kinds and its beautiful garden has a small collection of archaeological architectural fragments. In a way, the Quinta is Funchal’s version of London’s V & A, but much smaller.

Goa long ago

The much remodelled building housing the museum was initially built for João Gonçalves Zarco (c 1390 – 1471), who was the ‘discoverer’ and first Captain (i.e., governor) of Madeira. I am not sure how much of what Zarco would have seen in his time can be seen today. Nevertheless, it is an attractive edifice.

Several exhibits particularly interested me in the museum. One was a retable, a triptych, carved intricately in ivory. To our surprise, we discovered that this was an English production, created in the 19th century.

There were several fine paintings of Madeirans and their island painted by English artists including Eliza Eleanor Murray, Charles Scott-Murray, and Thomas Butterworth. The paintings by Murray and Scott-Murray were late 18th century. These pictures hung in rooms alongside English furniture including pieces by Chippendale and Sheraton.

Another exhibit that attracted me was a fine embroidery on which wild animals are depicted. This was produced in Portuguese Macau for a Christian religious order: the Carmelites.

Another former Portuguese colony, Goa on the west coast of India, is represented in the museum by three attractive paintings showing people and scenery in Goa in the 18th or 19th century.

These exhibits from what is now China and India remind us of Portugal’s pioneering and extensive colonisation of the world beyond Europe. The artefacts from the UK and by British artists recollect the importance of Madeira in the history of British trade and tourism.

I have outlined a few of the exhibits that are on view in the museum, but there is plenty more to enjoy including a grest collection of fine silverware (including models of serving women with black faces) and a very elegant modern refreshment area. It overlooks a fine panorama of part of Funchal.

Along with the Museum of Sacred Art, the Quinta is one of the cultural highlights of Funchal.

Roof ornaments in Funchal, Madeira

MANY ROOFS IN FUNCHAL are covered with terracotta tiles. Quite a few of these roofs have small sculptures on their corners. Many of them depict heads, birds, and scrolls ( leaves?) I have no idea why these things are added to the roofs.

Someone suggested that these ornaments are supposed to deter mice, squirrels, and birds. Maybe, they are for that purpose. In India ornaments depicting ogre’s faces (‘rakshasa’) are atteched to roofs to ward off the Evil Eye. Possibly, this is a finction of the ornaments I have seen in Funchal. Another possible function of these roof ornaments (finials) might be to distinguish one house from another. However, I am not sure about this here in Funchal because there is little variety in the firms used.

I would love to know more about them: their purpose and history.

Diverting water in Madeira

A damming plate hanging on a wall beside a stream in Funchal

WHEN WE WERE IN the Western Cape of South Africa,  I  noticed streams running alongside roads in rural farming areas. Occasional small channels led off from them and into the fields of farms. At each junction of the main stream and a side channel, there were small plates that could be used  to temporarily dam the main stream to divert water into the channel leading to the fields.  

We are staying in Funchal, Madeira. Our guesthouse is high above the city centre and the seafront on a road that leads down an extremely steep hill.  On one side of the road there is a fast flowing stream. Every now and then, there are metal plates that can be inserted into slots on both sides of this stream to divert water into the property beside the water. This is just like what I saw in rural South Africa. Perhaps I should not be surprised by the similarity of the damming system, but I cannot recall having noticed it anywhere else I have visited.

Born in Portugal, hanging in the Tate

THE TATE BRITAIN is currently hosting a wonderful exhibition of the works of Paula Rego, born 1935 in Lisbon, Portugal during the fascist dictatorship of Antonio Salazar (1889-1970), who was in office from 1932 to 1968.  Her father was anti-fascist and anglophile. He sent Paula to a finishing school in Kent (UK) when she was 16. Later, she enrolled to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, part of London’s University College. While she was studying there (from 1952 until 1956), she met her future husband, the painter Victor Willing (1928-1988). They married in 1959, following Victor’s divorce from his first wife. Paula and Victor lived between Portugal and the UK, finally settling in the latter in 1972.

Distributed within eleven rooms of the Tate Britain, Rego’s works are well displayed, some of them with informative panels placed beside them. Her paintings express her political (anti-fascist) and social consciousness, some of which is concerned with the ill-treatment of, and the indignities inflicted on, women, especially in the country where she was born.

Rego’s paintings are dramatic, colourful, powerful, and not lacking in a sense of humour. They are sometimes almost abstract, but the element of figurativeness is never completely absent.  Her paintings often lean towards surrealism.  Whether they are expressing subversion, or love, or depression, or pure fantasy, they are visually intriguing and cannot fail to engage the viewer. Throughout her works, which span several decades, the influence of her native land can be discerned, sometimes without difficulty, other times with the assistance of the informative labels by their side.

The exhibition, which opened on the 7th of July 2021, will continue until the 24th of October 2021. So, there is plenty of time for you to enjoy this superb exhibition of the fabulous works of this fascinating artist. It is an exhibition that once again demonstrates that great art is often created as a reaction to an oppressive regime.

Hotel Oslo

A BAR OF SOAP reminded me of our first visit to Portugal. I am looking at a small, round piece of soap sealed in a transparent package labelled “Hotel Oslo”, which we would never have acquired had I not been a victim of pick pocketers on a tram in Lisbon. We had only been in Portugal for about four hours when we took a ride on a picturesque old-fashioned tram (route 28) in the Portuguese capital. I was on the point of taking a picture of a sign that told passengers to beware of pick pocket thieves when I became one of their victims. Amongst the valuables that were stolen from me was my driving licence.

Losing the licence was a disaster as we were planning to hire a car to visit several country places in Portugal. Without the licence, the car hire company was unwilling and unable to lend me a vehicle, but it was good about refunding the money we had paid. We decided that we would attempt to carry out our plans using public transport.   

The first place on our itinerary was to have been a farmhouse in small rural place, whose name I do not remember, east of Coimbra. We travelled by train from Lisbon to Coimbra, which has two railway stations in the centre of the city. We discovered that there was a railway line from Coimbra to a spot near our planned destination. When I say “near”, it was really about half an hour’s taxi drive from where we were to stay. After lugging our baggage through the rain about 1000 yards from the station, where the Lisbon train arrived, to the other station from which we were about to depart, we ‘phoned the accommodation to which we were heading. They told us that they did not provide food, not even breakfast, and that the nearest restaurant was about half an hour’s drive from them. As we had no car and were planning to spend three days there, we began to worry how we would survive so far away from any supply of food.

Our next train was not due to depart for another two hours. I decided to walk back to the centre of Coimbra to see whether there was a hotel where we could stay instead of heading out into the ‘wild’. I rushed through the rain and found the Hotel Oslo, which had space for us and did not seem unreasonably priced. After reserving a room, I dashed back through the rain to the rest of the family, who were waiting on the platform. These were the days before we had more than one mobile ‘phone in the family, so I had to reach them to tell them about the Oslo instead of phoning them. Using our one ‘phone, we rang the rural accommodation and explained our plight. They were helpful in that they cancelled our booking gracefully and without cost.

Although not a de-luxe hotel, the Hotel Oslo was solidly built and extremely comfortable. It was located close to most of the sights in Coimbra, a place that had not been on our original itinerary. We spent four pleasant days in this delightful university city, and we were fortunate that, by chance, we were in the city at the time when the university students were starting a new academic year. By day and by night, we encountered groups of boisterous, happy students wandering about the city dressed in traditional  capes.

Had my driving licence not been stolen, I know that we would never have stayed in Coimbra and that we would have missed seeing one of the loveliest places that we have so far visited in Portugal.  As people say, every cloud has a silver lining. Although I was deprived of a lot of cash, I gained the pleasure of spending time in a wonderful place and witnessing some age-old traditions that added to our fondness of a country that we have grown to love.

The Hotel Oslo was, when we visited it, an old-fashioned style of hotel even though the 20th century building that housed it did not look archaic. Some years after staying there, we spent a couple of nights in the Hotel Mandovi in Panjim, Goa (India). This hotel had been built in 1952 by the Portuguese while they ruled Goa as a colony. It was built to coincide with the Pope’s visit to the Tenth Exposition of the relics of St Francis Xavier, which are kept in Goa. They are ceremoniously displayed once every ten years, subject to the discretion of the authorities who keep them in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. Although the Mandovi looks much older than the Oslo, they both have high standards of service and comfort that are old-fashioned in the best sense of the term. I am not sure whether we have kept any soap from the Mandovi as a souvenir, but you never know, one day we might find we have one lurking about somewhere in our home.

Illinois Central

A TRAM RIDE IN the northern Portuguese city of Porto (Oporto), home of the drink ‘port’, evoked memories of Chicago in Illinois.

In Porto, we travelled along the riverbank towards the seaside in a very old tram. Most of its seats had reversible backrests so that a passenger was able to choose to sit facing the direction of travel or face the opposite direction. These seats had a mechanism beneath each of them that allowed the seat backs to be shifted manually. On close examination I noticed that the mechanisms had been manufactured in the USA.

Seeing these seats in 2010 reminded me of Chicago in autumn 1963. My father had been invited to spend three months at the University of Chicago. We sailed across the Atlantic in the then almost new SS France (launched 1962). Sadly, this wonderful ship no longer exists. It was sold to be turned into scrap metal by shipbreakers at Alang in Saurashtra (Gujarat, India) a few years ago in 2008.

We had high hopes of Chicago, naively expecting to be put up in ‘swish’ accommodation. The first floor (American 2nd floor) flat we were lent was far from swish. There was nothing wrong with it, but we were expecting something more up to date and in harmony with our preconceptions about America being at the ‘cutting edge’ of living standards. 5608 South Blackstone Avenue was a dowdy two storey house with a highly dubious looking wooden fire escape, which would have been the first thing to go up in flames had the house caught fire. I have recently learnt that our temporary home and its neighbours have been replaced by newer buildings.

At night, the air was filled with the sound of police car sirens almost continuousl and the occasional lengthy rumble of long freight trains passing close by on the railway that followed the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

This railway line near our home was used not only used by freight trains but also by passenger trains, both inter-city and local.

Our nearest station, a few minute walk from our flat was named ‘55th-56th-57th Streets’ and was both close to a superb Science Museum and served by the suburban trains of the Illinois Central Railroad. These rather antiquated trains carried us to the then terminus, Van Buren Street in downtown Chicago. The trains were electrically powered receiving current from overhead wires.
Often whilst waiting on the platform at our local station, trains heading towards or from Indiana, operated by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, would hurtle past us.

What interested me then, aged 11 years old, were the backs of the seats in the train carriages. They were reversible just like those on the trams in Porto, which I was to see about 37 years later in Porto.

It is curious the way that seeing one thing can trigger old memories to come to the forefront of one’s mind.

Picture of reversible tram seats in Porto from TripAdvisor

Espresso and extraction

lisb

 

Back in about 1995, I decided to leave the dental practice where I was working. I went to one or two job interviews, but did not feel that I would have been happy working in them had I been offered a job in any of them.

Then, I visited a dental practice next to the Portuguese Lisboa Patisserie in Golborne Road (near London’s famous Portobello Road). The owner of the practice, who has long since retired, knew me, but I could not remember him even though we had studied at the same dental school. 

The interview began well after my future boss had gone next door to get each of us an espresso coffee from the Lisboa. It was one of the best espresso coffees I had ever tasted in London. We got on well, speaking for hours, for so long that I was late for a pre-arranged dinner engagement. 

I took the job and worked in the practice for five interesting years, fixing and/or extracting many of the local’s teeth. I do not believe it was only the espresso coffee that persuaded me to join the practice, but it certainly helped. 

I have long since retired from that practice in Golborne Road and also from dentistry, but still visit the Lisboa Patisserie regularly. The quality of the coffee and Portuguese snacks, both sweet and savoury, has not faltered over the years, and some of the staff are those who were there back in the late 1990s.

I can strongly recommend a visit to Lisboa and its coffee, which was so perfect that it helped direct my career pathway.

 

57 Golborne Rd, London W10 5NR

EUROPEAN HAUNTS ON THE HOOGHLY RIVER: Former European trading posts

PLEASE TAKE TIME TO READ INDIGO SEXY”, so announces a sweet female voice over the public address system in the passenger cabins of aeroplanes flown by Indigo Airlines. Actually, this voice is encouraging flyers to read Indigo’s in house magazine “Indigo 6E”. The November 2029 issue of this well produced monthly had an article about places that I have long wanted to visit: the places on the banks of the River Hooghly that were once occupied as trading posts by Europeans from various parts of that continent.
I knew that, apart from Britain, at various times the following nations had had tiny colonies on the banks of the River Hooghly (north of Calcutta): Holland, France and Denmark. Until I read an article in “Indigo 6E”, I was only barely aware that Portugal also claimed a parcel of land. That was at Bandel.
One day, we rented a car with driver to explore the former haunts of the nations listed above. We commenced at Bandel. To reach this place we drive pat endless numbers of heavy trucks north along the National Highway that links Calcutta with Delhi until we reached a road to Bandel.
To our grumpy driver’s indignation the road to the centre of Bandel was amazingly congested with cycles, tricycle rickshaws, autorickshaws, pedestrians, a variety of motorised three wheelers, dogs, trucks, buses, and so on.

Eventually, we reached the imposing church of the Miracle of Our Lady of Bandel that is separated from the Hooghly by a large garden. The church, which was built on a piece of land gifted to the Portuguese in exchange for military assistance given to a local ruler, was built at the very end of the 16th century.

The original church, one of the oldest in Bengal, still stands but has been heavily restored. It has been buried beneath shiny tiling, both outside and inside. The only original feature visible is an altar piece that looks as if it was created many centuries ago. The church was part of an Augustinian monastery, and is now part of a Salesian institution. The cloisters, like the church, are lined with tiling.

We drove south, following the Hooghly, to Chinsura, which the Dutch had occupied from 1656 to 1825. Apparently, there are several Dutch buildings in the town, but we did not find them. Instead, we managed to see the exterior of the town’s Armenian church, which is the second oldest church on Bengal. It is surrounded by a high wall surmounted by fierce looking spikes. A local informed us it wasonly opened up once a year, and we were not in Chinsura on that day! Later, we learnt that it is open for masses one Sunday in three.

Between Bandel and Chinsura, we came across an elegant house standing next to but high above the Hooghly. It was the place that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-94) lived for several years. Some say it was the place where he composed the patriotic poem “Vande Mataram” in the 1870s. It was set to music by Rabindranath Tagore. The British imperialist authorities made it a punishable offence to sing in the esrly part of the 20th century.

We drove south along congested roads that more or less followed the Hooghly until we arrived at Chandernagore, which was a French enclave until 1947.

The Institut de Chandanagor, a fine colonial building that could do with a little restoration, was once Dupleix House the former residence of the French governor. It now houses a museum that has many exhibits that recall the history of European trading settlements along the Hooghly. It stands in gardens, where once stood a fortress built by the French. The museum faces a lovely riverside promenade that includes a late 19th century pavilion built with French funding. This edifice is adorned with sculptures depicting elephant heads. At the southern end of the promenade, there stands a house, which Rabindranath Tagore has mentioned several times in his writings. When the river rises, its lower storey fills with water, by design.

The church of Sacre Coeur stands about 100 metres back from the promenade. It was built in the late 19th century, but was first established in 1691. Its interior has recently been redecorated with garish colour paint.

It was a long drive to Serampore on the Hooghly. We drove there along through narrow winding lanes and a stretch of the Grand Trunk Road. The Grand Trunk runs from Chittagong, now in Bangladesh, to Kabul in Afghanistan, passing through Calcutta and Delhi. It has existed for at least 2500 years and is one of the longest roads in Asia (almost 3000 miles).

Between 1755 and 1845, Serampore was under Danish control. The Danes knew it as Frederiknagore. We visited the church of St Olave, whose design resembles that of St Martins in the Fields in London. The internal walls of it plain but elegant interior bear memorials to several Danes who worked either for the Danes or for the British, who inherited Serampore from the Danes, or fir both. Serampore is also the home of Serampore College, which was founded in 1818 by Joshua Marsham and William Carey (1761-1834). Carey was born in Paulerspury in Northamptonshire. This village is the home of friends of ours. It was following a visit to them that we were first alerted to the existence of the former Danish colony on the Hooghly.

Before returning to Calcutta, we had coffee at the recently restored Denmark Tavern that overlooks a lovely stretch of the Hooghly. The tavern was first opened in 1786 and appears in a painting by Peter Anker dated 1790. The original building has been beautifully restored and is still serving its original purpose.

Although we only saw a few of the haunts of the former non-British European settlements on the bank of the Hooghly, our visit has made us want to revisit them in the future.