Hello again, dear readers and welcome to another missive in a series which is frankly not my finest hour. I do, however, hate leaving a job unfinished and so I shall soldier on until I eventually get on the Norwegian Airways ‘plane back to UK which will probably be at least as much of a relief to me as it is to you.
If you are an absolute glutton for punishment you know what to do, just click on the “read more” button below and all shall be revealed.
Day 9 – 09/12/2015.
You may (or may not) be glad to know that I actually did something on this day and even took a few of the images I had so singularly failed to do previously.
The day’s walk started off in a lovely square near where I was staying and don’t be alarmed as the “crush barriers”, so modern and ugly against the gorgeous, ancient structure of the Catedral, (the Portuguese spelling and again, surprisingly, not a typo) as are there for a very lovely reason. These were not for any fear of civil unrest or similar unpleasantness, they were there in preparation for the Christmas market or at least one of them, of which more in a further instalment.
Here is a better image of this lovely church / cathedral and I have to say I find the nomenclature of the Judeo-Christian mythology incomprehensible. I suspect a cathedral is where a bishop holds sway whereas a church is where a priest taxes the faithful. Obviously, the bishop takes his cut but it is all about taxing of the poor by the rich. Still, I suppose these lovely buildings have to be paid for some way.
I have long wondered about the concept of a wandering preacher who gave everything he had to the poor i.e. Jesus Christ, a complete mirror of the Buddhist ideal which predated him by centuries, having his teachings suborned by the idea of the Church rather than Christianity. I suspect he would be rather annoyed and possibly even reprised his role with the merchants, usurers et al in the precincts of the temple.
There is not so a vast difference between the concepts but it is not my place to determine what people believe, mostly due to paternal or maternal thinking. I wonder what percentage of the world’s population actually think for themselves in the 21st century, think beyond what they were taught in childhood or now with Alexa, Cortana and every other sort of machine to think for them. An interesting if slightly frightening thought and, yes, this blog is mine, it is a true refleection of what I think and, if it challenges or even slightly irks others along the way, so be it. I have no wish to be offensive but possibly thought provoking from time to time.
I remember fondly a very peaceful hour spent in a Roman Catholic cathedral in Rouen in Northern France many years ago, where I marvelled at the creation of such an edifice and specifically the outstanding stained glass which had remarkably survived two World wars and many other conflicts before. This very action should have been completely contrary to everything I believe but it wasn’t. I even lit a small candle for dead friends and felt no problem with doing so even though it is so alien to my thinking. Live and learn I hope.
No, I did not have a Damascene moment as Judeo-Christian myth would have it but I felt a deep sense of peace, similar to that I have felt often in Buddhist temples, mosques, hindi temples etc. etc. despite not being an adherent of any belief system.
It mattered not to me then, nor does it now, that I believe the Christian religion is based on historically proven falsehoods and man’s ultimate venal desire for power. I do not restrict this to the Judeo-Christian mythology (yes, Christianity is nothing more than a liberal Jewish sect) and I extend my distaste to all organised religions who between them have accounted for more millions of lives than any earthquake, volcanic eruption, plague, drought or famine wrought by Nature could ever have aspired to.
On a completely different tack, I am also aware that despite my best efforts earlier in this series to score a “hat-trick” of three posts published in three days it took some time for the last one. The best laid plans etc.
All I know about my current state is that the virus has mutated rather drastically as I predicted (and how I hate being right on that one) and a recent BBC report indicates that our very fine ambulance service is in danger of collapse due to the ridiculous workload. Hospitals are treating patients in corridors due to lack of beds, and the world as we knew it 12 months ago is ended, never to return, at least not in my lifetime. There is only so long they can sustain this as the poor, harried NHS staff are only human and they can only do so much before burning out.
On that not very happy note I shall begin the actual travelogue portion of this latest edition of this series. It was ill-advised at best and I do promise you that I have had a look and I do eventually get to see some interesting things including some stunning street art which was syndicated internationally (get me!) so if you want to know all about it the rest of Madeira then please read on.
Back to Funchal now so I can put you out of my misery (I promise there is better to come!) Funchal is an incredibly beautiful place and I am only sad that I did not do it any sort of justice. I really only did scratch the surface of it.
After managing to get an image of the Catedral which you can see above and which did not include public order equipment I took off to see what else I could discover and the notciceable thing was the amount of very lovely old buildings in this area.
One of my favourites is the Banco do Portugal, go on take a guess what that means, and I was surprised by it’s history when I came to research it just now a couple of days shy of the year 2021. This lovely structure is nowhere near as old as I thought it was, not by a long way. Here’s the story.
In 1875 the Banco de Portugal, based in and very much centred upon the Portuguese capital Lisbon, decided they wished to expand to further distribute their banknotes which at that time were not standardised nationally. They proposed to open what were effectively three franchises in Faro in the South of mainland, Ponto Delgado in the Azores but, firstly in Funchal. The idea was that rich local businessmen would underwrite the banks business with their own private funds and be given a commission for their trouble. A simple idea and absolutely nothing new on the world of finance, it worked very well. Madeira was flourishing then, exporting fine embroidery, sugar cane, wine and many other commodities.
The first manager of the bank, João José Rodrigues Leitão, and his small staff initially worked out of an office nearby in the area of Sé but unfortunately things did not quite work out. A crisis in Portuguese politics slowed down the new young bank and although it had effectively become the national bank of Portugal, ratified by the Government, it had to re-organise considerably on Madeira. The original manager was replaced briefly by direct control and then by two gentlemen in another office nearby.
It was not until 1910 that the bank acquired two premises on the current site with a view to building a new headquarters but it just never happened despite a document being signed off in 1911. You may remember a previous entry here about the destruction of the lovely defensive gate in the harbour walls and subsequent re-constriction a century later. This is all part of the same municipal destruction of Funchal in the early 20th century. I dread to think how much more touristically attractive they had been if they had left them alone.
Most of the problems were caused by a local authority plan to completely re-design the road system in Funchal which would have probably caused the new building to have been demolished. It took them until 1937 to sort it out and a design by Edmundo Tavares was begun with the bank on the ground floor and accommodation for the agents on the upper floors.
Work was scheduled to take until 1940 and it was finished on the 30th November of that year (Portugal sensibly kept out of the Second World War and were building here when the rest of Europe was tearing itself apart). With minor internal alterations in the 1960’s and 70’s you see it today as it was. Very old it may not be but very attractive it most certainly is.
The beautifully tricked out building you can see above is a Government office just opposite the bank. I do not know if the banners were for the festive season or a regular thing but I thought they looked rather fine.
If you look at one of the images of the bank you can see a statue in the foreground and that is our next port of call. I mentioned in a previous entry that I was staying in the Zarco apartments, run by the Zarco Hotel and that both were named for João Gonçalves Zarco the man who settled Madeira (and other Atlantic islands in the area) between 1418 – 1420 after being driven off-course and ashore in a storm. Perhaps because of the statue here the road to the right of the Bank in the image above is named for him and one of those which caused such delay in the building works.
I have given you a potted history of this martial gentleman before so you’ll be glad to know I am not going to repeat them here. He is a hugely important and his statue was here before the bank work was eventually completed, being unveiled in 1927. It is to the design of Francisco Franco and I think he looks rather grand here.
My next point of interest was an absolute beauty, not cheap but worth it and with a brilliant back-story. I am in no way given to romantic fiction, either reading or writing it, but this one is a beauty and will undoubtedly appeal to any Mills and Boon readers amongst my readership although I am unsure how many they may number.
In the early 1900’s another storm, like the one of 1419 almost half a millennium before which had left Zarco high and dry and led to the founding of Madeira, stranded another voyager on Madeira’s welcoming shores.
This traveller was one Christian Ritz, a New York textile dealer doing business between the New World and the Old. With the storm still blowing hard offshore and no chance of onward passage he did what any right thinking traveller would do and set out to explore. He had heard that there was a beautiful place on the North coast called São Vicente where the cliffs and rock pools were stunning.
Mr. Ritz walked along the wild coastline until he came to a group of rockpools where a number of the local girls, complete with flowers in their hair (I told you it was proper Barbara Cartland) were drying salt in the rockpools. In the way of bashful romantic heroes since such literature began, he spied a particular beauty with long, black hair did not approach her. He returned the next day armed with a bunch of white roses (nice touch, mate) but she was nowhere to be seen. Who said chivalry was dead?
He approached a local fisherman who spoke little English but got the description and furnished the name Clara before taking him to meet a local barmaid who spoke some English. Yes, she knew Clara but in the way of the best such novels there was a problem as she was “given to another”, in this case an English engineer installing electric on the island. Poor old Christian had to continue his journey after that but at least met Clara that day and there was a little spark of something.
With the storm blown out our love-lorn suitor had to take ship then but he managed to return five months later to the news that the lovely Clara had become officially betrothed to the Englishman. Oh dear, unrequited love on the horizon perhaps? Not a bit of it. In the interim period, the entrepreneurial Mr. Ritz had opened a small café in Funchal with a friend. You might as well have another image here, there are few enough!
Obviously the lovely Clara was not one to rush into things and wanted to consider her options so she said she would like to know Ritz for “four seasons” (there is a band name in that) and then she would make her decision. Well, a happy ending demands what history records. Clara married Christian and they started a family in due course. In 1910 they moved the café to this wonderful location because it overlooked Clara’s favourite garden in the town.
Christian and Clara eventually had to leave their beloved Funchal to go to the USA and attend to family business whereupon the café went through a rather chequered career including a spell as a car showroom (how awful for such a lovely building) and then in 2007, absolute disaster struck when a fire burned the roof off but, fortunately, left most of the interior intact. The roof was restored in 2011 and the premises was bought over by an international company who were maintaining it in fine style when I was there. This is easily the place to see and be seen in Madeira.
I only had a coffee and a pastry at one of the pavement tables for fear of risking a second mortgage but it’s position on the Avenida Arriaga is one of the prime people watching positions in town. You have to go inside for a look and examine the very typical blue and white tiles which are superb, as is the whole place. They go in for the whole upmarket experience with cabaret shows, live music and fine dining in normal times, you would need to check now due to the virus. I told you Clara and Christian was a good story, sadly ruined for the moment by reasons I am not going to re-rehearse here.
Lovely as it was I was in the mood and thought I would walk a bit further, back down towards the sea. I had seen a pleasant looking park at the far end of the esplanade beyond the cruise ship dock and I thought I would go and check that out.
Ignoring the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum (a footballer / soccer player if you do not know who is actually Madeiran) in which I had zero interest, a walk up a slight hill had me at the gates of the Parque de Santa Catarina. At almost 400,000 sq. ft. it is a very decent size and has plenty to see including some fine views over the cruise ship dock and back along the entire length of the Avenido do Mar (the esplanade). They have imported some odd flora from all over the world, one example of which you can see above. I have no idea what it is but it was absolutely huge. I hope it never adopts triffid habits and starts moving about, it would be terrifying.
I have to say that as some of the pictures show, the weather wasn’t great. It was not particularly cloudy and it did not rain but it just seemed to be generally overcast the whole day and much of the time I was there. As a travel tip, never go out without a light jumper and or lightweight rain top. Always wear a top after dark, it can get chilly later on, even in some bars etc. and is an absolute essential if you want to eat outside.
After the pleasure of the Parque there came the purgatory of the shopping centre (mall). I hate these places with a passion that probably borders on the clinically certifiable and I did not want to go here but I had to and I may have just stumbled on one of the reasons why I have singularly failed to take many images to accompany this series.
Looking at this place now I remembered that I had to go to a camera shop to get something or another which may or may not be pertinent to this. I really cannot remember after all this time and I certainly do not offer it as any kind of excuse.
I found the camera shop easily enough (again ignoring the blandishments of various establishments to buy a Ronaldo shirt, boots, aftershave (now that would have been ridiculous in my case), underwear, earring or whatever. He really is a big deal in Madeira and rightly so. For a nation of about a quarter of a million people to produce a player of that quality is some deal.
Once in the camera shop, it was quite a bit of the old Marcel Marceau which has served me so well over the years. A lot of miming and pointing was called for and duly produced. I realise entirely that it is my own fault for not learning at least the rudiments of other languages but that’s the way it is and I have survived thus far.
I have to say that I get hugely embarrassed in the Netherlands specifically where everyone seems to speak three languages fluently, if not four. We British seem to be terribly insular about it but I think, and hope, that the situation is changing.
So there I was, all loaded up with whatever camera kit I needed and I am going to finish this one here as I have rattled on far too long. I keep saying the next one is going to be the last but I am not going to say that any more in this series. From just about no material I seem to be rambling on like a maniac.
I shall leave you with this funky little image which I could not resist outside an optician’s in the shopping centre but, almost inevitably with me, it makes a point. Look at the business name on the bright red cow which is obviously in need of a milking! Ergovisão.
Think logically. I know that words like ergonomics derive from the Greek and effectively refer to the process of designing items to increase human productivity, comfort etc. Visão you could guess from the English vord vision, the idea of the word – designed vision or something along those lines. I can vaguely function with nouns, it is all the rest of it that baffles me but I thought you might like the red cow which for some mad reason made me think or “La vache qui rit” or the laughing cow, that French processed cheese I am so fond of!
Anyway, if you can stand any more of my nonsense, I shall not confine myself to a timetable again but do stay tuned and spread the word.