Monday, 21 July 2014

Nahum Gutman and a newspaper for children

One of my favourite Jerusalem experiences is browsing in a tiny book shop called Trionfo in Dorot Rishonim Street. Located just off the busy pedestrianised Ben Yehuda Street, Dorot Rishonim is also home to a great new hotel - the Arthur, a good new kosher humous restaurant - Abu YoYo and a small bar called Birman that has either live music or dancing every night. I discovered Birman on my most recent visit when I heard music floating up from the street to my room in the Arthur before going along to enjoy a local quartet play some very cool versions of jazz standards the next night before watching some great swing dancers the night after. All for free!

The music (and the humous) were both great but back to Trionfo. Thanks to owner Abraham Madeisker, I have become the proud possessor of works by various Bezalel artists including Zev Raban's illustrated books and playing cards and books illustrated by another early giant of the Israeli art scene - E. M. Lilien. This time was no exception and I came away with two copies of the children's supplement from the former Davar newspaper, Davar l'yeledim (דבר לילדים) - or Davar for children.

Enormously popular with Israeli children at the time, it was filled with stories, quizzes, crosswords and articles on many different subjects. The copies I purchased include pieces on the Gilboa region, summer in the desert and a regular item called "letter from the camps" with news about the activities of children living in Ma'abarot refugee camps set up to absorb Jews forced out of North Africa and the Arab Middle East in the 1950's. In some parts the text is dense and the technology at the time was very different to that available for modern magazine production but the illustrations are charming and it is easy to see why this publication would have engaged so many children.

Davar was the official newspaper of the Histadrut or Labour federation. Founded in 1925 by Berl Katznelson, it was the most important newspaper of the labour movement.  Katznelson wanted Davar (which means "word") to be informative and educational and to "quench the worker's thirst for knowledge and thought". Despite Katznelson's initial hopes that the newspaper would be free of control by any political party, it became the organ of Mapai, the ruling party throughout the 1940's, 50's and 60's whilst two of its editors rose to the very pinnacle of politics, Moshe Sharrett and Zalman Shazar eventually becoming Prime Minister and President respectively.  Despite its early popularity, it struggled from the 1970s onwards, amalgamating with a other newspaper in 1971, changing its name to Davar Rishon in 1995 and finally closing in 1996.

Most of the illustrations in Davar l'yeledim were the work of famed Israeli artist Nahum Gutman. Born in 1898 in Teleneshty, Bessarabia (in today's Moldova), his family moved to Odessa in 1903 before making aliya to Eretz Israel in 1905. Gutman's family were amongst the first residents of Tel Aviv having initially lived in the Neve Shalom neighbourhood. He studied art at the Bezalel and in the 1920's spent some time working and exhibiting in Paris and Berlin. Returning to Eretz Israel in 1931, his work was inspired by the country's landscapes and people and included mosaics, stage sets and sculpture as well as painting and book illustration. Many of his works can be seen at Beit Gutman in Tel Aviv's Neveh Tzedek which acts as a museum to his life and work.

Gutman had an affinity with young people, writing and illustrating several children's books, but it was his work for Davar l'yeledim that endeared him to more than one generation of Israeli children. In a Beit Gutman publication, his son, Hemi remembers the weekly delivery of what was referred to as "the stuff" to their home - an envelope containing manuscripts for the next edition of the newspaper and for which the artist had three days to prepare the illustrations for stories and poems. He remembers feeling privileged that he knew what happened in each serial an entire week before everyone else! He also remembers that his father would "…address each child in a genuine, friendly way, whether it was on the street, on the bus, or in a crowd of a hundred kids who regarded him as a walking wonder". He also remembers feeling jealous of this affection saying that "during those encounters, all the empathy, the jokes and the witticisms that had always been mine alone were generously and profusely handed out to all the children…"

In today's technological age where the opportunities for interaction are endless but much less personal, Gutman's approach and Davar l'yeledim may seem quaint but together they instilled many children with a love of reading, many of whom retain fond memories of the weekly episode of their favourite serials. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Architectural treasure in Haifa's Hadar HaCarmel

Tel Aviv is known for its wonderful Bauhaus architecture which won it World Heritage site status in 2003. It is also becoming more well known for its eclectic style buildings from the preceding period. Haifa, Israel's third city can also boast architectural treasure in both styles, but outside of the city, very few people realise this.

I recently spent two full days in the Hadar Hacarmel district, strolling (and sweating in the extreme humidity!) with my camera and enjoying Haifa's much undervalued built heritage. The Hadar neighbourhood was established in the 1920's as the city's first planned Jewish area. Architect Richard Kaufmann planned the district as a garden city based on Tel Aviv. It is far from being a garden city today but there are still some patches of green and many fine buildings, so here, in no particular order, are a few of my favourites from the Haifa's Hadar.

Former Orah Cinema, Herzl Street
Herzl Street is one of the main thoroughfares on the Hadar. It is also home to the former Orah Cinema, built from 1935-1937 and designed by Oskar Kaufmann who also designed the original Habima, the national theatre in Tel Aviv. Long abandoned as a cinema it had 1092 seats and was one of several elegant and much loved picture houses in this part of the city. The foyer was unusually located beneath the balcony whilst there was also a small bar the walls of which were covered in multi-coloured tiles. The cinema suffered fire damage in 1946 and underwent part reconstruction by architect Eugen Stolzer, a former partner of Kaufmann. Stolzer added a new marquee running the length of the building and whilst the original was almost certainly not painted the pink we see today, there are still some nice features that give passers-by a glimpse of its former glory. The ground floor now houses shops whilst the remainder of the building appears to be vacant. 

The Central Synagogue stands a little further along Herzl Street. Building work commenced in 1926 and although the dedication was made in 1927, construction was not completed until 1935. The work was completed in phases due to a lack of finance and was dependant on levies from local residents. A stellar cast of architects are associated with this building. The original plans were drawn up by Alexander Baerwald whilst the later stages were the work of Al Mansfeld and Munio Weintraub (Gitai).  The facade of the synagogue includes an image of Elijah the prophet, signs of the twelve tribes of Israel and a menorah. The land was donated by the PICA company, a charitable organisation established by  Baron Maurice de Hirsch in 1891 with the intention of supporting the development of Jewish communities in Eretz Israel and the Americas as well as a small community in Turkey. 
The Great Synagogue, Herzl Street 
The Technion building (originally known as the Technikum) is one of the city's iconic buildings. Designed by our friend Alexander Baerwald at the request of the Ezra organisation, it was the first university in the country where it was intended to teach technology through the medium of German. What became known as the language war ensued with supporters of German and Hebrew competing with each other - Hebrew finally winning out as the language of instruction. Einstein was one of the supporters of the project and when visiting Haifa in 1923, he planted a palm tree in front of the Technion. The tree is still there today. Einstein has an unusual link with Baerwald - they once played together in a string quartet.

The cornerstone was laid in 1912 and the building served not only as an educational establishment, being used by the German army in 1917-18 and later as a hospital for the Turkish army. Studies were held in the building until 1924 when the Technion moved to its Neve Sha'anan campus and since 1985 it has served as the National Science, Technology and Space Museum. The building is imposing with an elongated facade, featuring local, European and wider Middle Eastern styles. The main entrance with its huge archway, decorative Magen David and clean brick construction is especially impressive, especially against the clear blue sky of a Haifa summer's day and the deep green of the adjacent trees.

The new Technion is one of the most important scientific and technological academic institutions in the world, having produced a number of Nobel Prize winners, originated a new anti-Parkinson's disease drug and produced a web programming language installed on 80% of web servers worldwide.

The original Technion, now the National Science, Technology and Space Museum
Nordau Street, just across the road from the Technion was once a busy shopping street and a magnet for Haifa's middle classes. Citizens were drawn by its many cafes including the Nordau, Ritz, Sternheim and Jordan as well as the high quality shops selling jewellery and fabrics and travel agents. It was also home to the legendary Maskit store established by Ruth Dayan, wife of Moshe. Maskit sold the traditional crafts of Israel's many ethnic groups, as well as ready to wear clothing, from the 1950's until closure in 1994. 

Nordau is today a shadow of its former self, badly affected by the opening of out of town malls in the 1990's, the flight of middle class residents to the Carmel quarter and pedestrianisation which was not popular with local businesses. An article in Haaretz in 2013 gave some grounds for hope, identifying a campaign to bring life back to Nordau Street, but resources are scarce, the challenge is great and progress slow. Strolling along its length, it is best to look up to be able to appreciate how grand this street  once was. There are a significant amount of Bauhaus buildings, with balconies, glazed stairwells and the occasion curve, a style so valued in Tel Aviv but unacknowledged here. I hope the movement to rescue Nordau is successful as so much is in danger of being lost.

Bauhaus on Nordau Street
Bauhaus on Nordau Street
Glass stairwell on Nordau Street
A little further up the Hadar on Arlozoroff Street there is an example of what can be achieved with Haifa's built heritage when benefactors can be found. The Herman Struck Museum, the latest branch of Haifa's excellent collection of city museums opened last year in the artist's former home. The museum displays a selection of Struck's works - primarily etchings depicting his beloved Haifa and Eretz Israel, whilst the building itself is a jewel. Yet another work of Baerwald, the three storey house was built between 1924 and 1926, combining European and Middle Eastern styles with arched windows, painted floors and stone exterior. Renovated and restored in 2013, the museum integrates Struck's furniture, books and other personal items into the exhibition. The restoration was funded by benefactors and members of the Struck family and must now be one of Haifa's star attractions. Struck would have approved. A member of the HaMizrahi movement, he served on the Hadar committee and welcomed many artists, writers and other visitors to his home.

Herman Struck Museum on Arlozoroff Street
Eliyahu and Sarah Mizrahi House on Jerusalem Street
Haifa has a a great collection of buildings in the Bauhaus, Eclectic and other styles. The condition of much of it is heartbreaking but there is hope. There are some signs of revival in the port area and like Struck's former home some buildings appear to be being rescued. The Eliyahu and Sarah Mizrahi house in Jerusalem Street is currently being restored. One of the first houses in the Hadar in 1922, it was built in the eclectic style. As well as being home to the Mizrahis (Eliyahu was an agriculturalist, teacher and builder), artist Tzvi Meirowitz and Israel prize winning writer Judith Hendel also lived there. The opening of a new boutique hotel - The Bay Club on Hassan Shukri in an adapted Turkish period building is another sign of renewal for the Hadar. I stayed there during my trip, enjoyed my stay and felt much more comfortable than in some of the more expensive but less personal hotels on the Carmel.

In addition to this, the City Museum will be launching a series of guided walks focusing on Haifa's built heritage. I am also told that there are some very early plans for a new book about Haifa's Bauhaus and modernist architecture later this year - something I am very much looking forward to. Perhaps there is hope yet. In the meantime forgive my indulgence in including some more pictures!

Wonderful scooped building at the junction of Lev Shabtai and Herzl streets
Unusual combination of styles in Jerusalem Street
Renovated Bauhaus building on Arlozoroff Street

Bauhaus apartment building on Arlozoroff Street

The Clock House office building, built 1934-36. Architect - Gideon Kaminka.

You might also like A postcard from Haifa and Change in Haifa

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Picture Post 31 - former Alhambra Cinema, Jerusalem Boulevard, Tel-Aviv-Yafo

Sderot (Boulevard) Jerusalem is the main road running through Jaffa (Yafo) in Tel-Aviv. The boulevard has seen better days but one outstanding building gives passers-by some idea of its former glory. The former Alhambra Cinema stands in its restored art deco glory, white from head to foot and featuring a fin, stepped towers and the legend "Alhambra" in both English and Hebrew giving a much needed lift to this busy thoroughfare. Other deco features include the side entrances having representations of film strip as ladders on the doors and several examples of the "rule of three". 

The cinema was designed by Lebanese architect Elias Al-Mor and built by Arab entrepreneur Faik Shukri Cna'aan. It opened in 1937 with 1,100 seats and was one of a number of cinemas on the boulevard that included the Nabil, the Apollo and the Rashid. Its strong deco features gave it an exciting touch of modernity that helped to attract audiences whilst in addition to screenings, the Alhambra became a focus for Arab cultural activity in the 1930's and performers such as Umm Kulthum and Farid Al-Atrash appeared there. During the 1930's the boulevard was extremely grand and as well as the cinemas, there were religious and government buildings, residential properties and of course, many coffee houses. These ranged from the sumptuous Bristol Abu Shakush coffee house which served the affluent residents to El Mau'wani's frequented by workers on their way to the orange groves in the early hours of the morning. 

The Alhambra continued as a cinema until 1963 when it was converted to a theatre and later came to be used as a bank. It was acquired by the Church of Scientology in 2010 and after two years of renovation it reopened as a major Middle East centre for the church. Architect Eyal Ziv and interior designer Yair Matalon were commissioned to restore the building's exterior and to make changes to the interior that would accommodate the needs of the scientologists. Ziv has a good track record in Jaffa having worked with Tel-Aviv's city government to restore the Clock Tower square. He also has his office in Jaffa's flea market which is the heart of this part of the city.

Whilst the Alhambra may no longer be showing films or bringing entertainment to Jaffa's residents it perhaps brings some hope that the boulevard may begin to return to something like its former glory.  The revitalisation of the nearby Fleamarket which will have a boutique hotel within in the next few months - also in a restored building - could bode well for the rest of Jaffa. There are still several beautiful buildings along its length although many of them are in poor condition, it would be good to see more of them restored and life to come back to this part of the city.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Picture Post 30 - 56 Mazeh Street Tel Aviv, Bauhaus beauty

I have visited Tel Aviv many times but last week was the first time I walked the length of Mazeh Street  all the way from Allenby to Menachem Begin to admire what has probably become my favourite modernist building in my favourite city. 56 Mazeh Street was built as a home for the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper in 1934, according to the designs of father and son architects Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin.

Mazeh Street is mostly residential and would have been completely so at the time the print works were built so it is surprising that permission was granted for an industrial purpose, but happily (for me) it was and although the newspaper left some time ago, the current owners have preserved the original facade. It also looks as if it has recently been re-painted and was glowing white on the day of my stroll. A large and reasonably sympathetic residential development was built to the rear of the former print works at the end of the last century and although it dwarfs my new favourite, it certainly doesn't overpower it, the colour of the new block enhancing the Berlins' white building.

The facade has very strong features with gratuitous use of steel framed glass, rounded balconies and balustrades and a cantilevered roof. However, the highlight for me is the corner stairwell window that gives views in to the zig zag staircase and adds drama to the design. This squared and straight corner contrasts nicely with the already mentioned curved balconies and balustrades. Some writers compare the building to the early works of Walter Gropius and Erich Mendelsohn. Whilst seeing their point I feel that this building is all "Berlin" with Joseph developing his approach to architecture after being responsible for some wonderful eclectic style Tel Aviv buildings in the 1920's before moving on to take account of the modernism of the 1930's. 

Tel Aviv in June is very hot, very hot. And humid too. But it was certainly worth the long slow walk to 56 Mazeh to admire this lovely building.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Picture post 29 Gropius in London - modernism in the city

Walter Gropius, father of the Bauhaus movement during Germany's short lived Weimar Republic period fled to London in 1934 following the 1933 German election and Hitler's rise to power. Gropius' time in the UK was very short - leaving in 1936 for the States. During his time in London he worked with Maxwell Fry and the city still has at least two buildings that he had a hand in designing. The house at 66 Old Church Street in Chelsea, built in 1935-36 and designed for politician and playwright Ben Levy is fairly well known. However, I only recently learned that he also remodelled the facade of 115 Cannon Street in 1936. 

Just two minutes from Monument Station on the District Line and currently occupied by Sushi chain Ni-haw, 115 Cannon Street was previously home to shirt retailers T. M. Lewin. Echoing the former Daily Express building at 133 Fleet Street with its black vitrolite and lovely glass bricks it stands out on this busy thoroughfare and I understand was only recently restored with some missing elements being sympathetically replaced. The glass bricks serve a function as well as being attractive as they allow natural light into the basement whilst maintaining privacy and perhaps acting as a "modesty" control to protect the dignity of passing ladies. The clean, fresh look of the building belies its age and is further evidence of the enduring "modernity" of this architectural style. Vitrolite fans might also like the former  umbrella and walking stick store - T. Fox and Co at 118 London Walk, just a short distance from Cannon Street.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Picture post 28 - Middlesbrough Empire, Palace of Varieties

I was brought up in the north east of England and between the ages of 13 and 18, I went to school in Middlesbrough. One of my delights was to visit the town centre every Saturday to scour Alan Fearnley's record shop, buying up imported American jazz-funk albums and 12" singles (remember those) before meeting friends to go and eat burger ands chips in the Wimpy Bar and sometimes sneaking into the Masham or Lord Raglan pubs for a sneaky pint of scotch - that's bitter beer in the north-east, not whisky. I recently returned after many years and discovered most of these old haunts (and several others) gone or being used as a sweet shop in the case of the Masham. That's for another post but it was good to see Middlesbrough's glorious Empire Theatre still standing. Amazingly I had somehow managed to forget about the theatre. 

Standing proud on Corporation Road in the centre of the town, and originally called the Empire Palace of Varieties, this imposing pile had its foundation stone laid in 1897 and opened two years later. Designed by architect Ernest Runtz in what has been described as the Spanish Renaissance style  it had seating for 450 people in the stalls, 150 in the grand circle and a whopping great 750 in the gallery. Not only was the theatre impressive in size and style it also attracted top notch performers. Singer and friend of royalty Lily Langtry and comedienne Kitty Beresford were amongst the 17 acts who took part in the opening night's programme as well as contortionists, acrobats, musicians, dancers and singers. In later years Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Harry Houdini all appeared at the Empire!

The stage was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War and later, like many theatres, the Empire came on hard times. From the late 1980's it was used as a bingo hall before becoming a nightclub and live music venue in 1991. The Empire is a grade two listed building. I particularly like the red exterior and the colours from the stained glass signs hanging from the canopy which carry the original "Theatre of Varieties" name. Its good to see the Empire still standing and still in use. It would be great to see theatre, dance and other music forms showcased here, complementing the current nightclub use and widening Middlesbrough's cultural offer. 

You can read more about the theatre on the Empire website.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Polly Gibbons Quartet - Jazz at JW3

Polly Gibbons played two excellent sets earlier this evening at JW3 on London's Finchley Road. Elegant with hair up, hooped earrings, sophisticated black and white stripes and impossibly high healed silver shoes her deep, slightly rough edged voice was ideally suited to this intimate venue. 

Her choice of material for the evening included straight forward jazz standards as well as more bluesy numbers. Scorching hot on the blues, she treated us to (I'd rather drink) Muddy Waters and Basin Street Blues interspersed with extremely cool renditions of Almost Like Being In Love, Comes LoveBye Bye Blackbird (brilliant bass from Mark Lewandowski) and the jazz standard ballad  For All We Know.  Not only can Ms Gibbons sing, she also recognises the best versions of these standards - citing Aretha Franklin's classic version of Muddy Waters and Ella's recording of Basin Street Blues as her favourites. Amen.  The talented Ms Barber also writes and performed a couple of her own compositions - My Own Company and Midnight Prayer co-penned with tonight's pianist and Ronnie Scott's musical director - James Pearson. Both songs feature on her album My Own Company which is now in my possession!

This rising star of British jazz was accompanied by some tight playing from the afore mentioned James Pearson on piano, Mark Lewandowski on bass and Ian Thomas on drums. The trio opened each set before being joined on stage by Polly - Falling in Love With Love for the first set and Lullaby of Birdland for the second - giving both pieces good long workouts showcasing each of the musicians.

Polly Gibbons is a rising star of British jazz, has been nominated for a British jazz award and performed several times with the much loved Ian Shaw. She cites Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone as influences, reinforcing that bluesy feel to her singing. A great evening and a performer I'd very much like to hear again.

Jazz at JW3 on the first Sunday of every month is becoming a bit of a must for London jazz fans. The new Jewish community centre for London on Finchley Road is a great venue with a programme that includes theatre, cinema, classes in a range of subjects, activities for children and families and of course music! No kidding, the programme is so interesting, this is a venue I check alongside the South Bank and the Barbican when looking for somewhere to go. Although the main audience for JW3 is London's Jewish community - everyone is welcome and the crowd is often surprisingly diverse. Just to add to the experience, JW3 also has a great cafe and restaurant - Zest where you can dine before or after performances - but be careful to book for the restaurant wing - it's very popular. Oh and by the way Zest, the sweet potato gnocchi was spot on!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Picture Post 27 - The Genesis, best cinema in the East End!

The Genesis Cinema on Mile End Road has recently had an extensive external refurbishment including a sleek charcoal frontage and new lettering carrying the cinema's name. This Stepney Green stretch of Mile End Road is seeing a new lease of life with a branch of Foxcroft and Ginger as well as Soho House restaurant Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger complementing the Genesis redevelopment. 

Whilst its great to see new businesses succeeding in this part of East London, the cinema has a long history here, going back to 1939 when the Empire Cinema opened as part of the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain. However, this was not the first place of entertainment on the site as the Paragon Theatre of Varieties (renamed the Mile End Empire in 1912) which was demolished to make way for the cinema was built in 1885 and had a seating capacity of 2000. The Empire was designed in the art deco style by architect William Riddell Glen who was responsible for a number of cinemas in the ABC chain. Some of the interior deco features have been retained including the symmetrical staircases leading to the main screen and inverted steps with scalloped edges in the main auditorium's ceiling.

The first films were shown in the cinema on 12th June 1939 and were Burn 'em Up O'Connor starring Dennis O'Keefe and Persons in Hiding with Lynne Overman and Patricia Morrison. The Empire showed its first Cinemascope film in 1954, six years before changing its name to the ABC Mile End in 1960. 1963 saw one of the cinema's golden moments when it hosted the Royal Premier of Sparrers Can't Sing, a story of ordinary east enders filmed in nearby Limehouse. Directed by Joan Littlewood, one of the all time greats of British theatre, the cast included amongst others, Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear, Queenie Watts, Arthur Mullard and George Sewell. The premier was also attended by Miriam Karlin, Charlie Drake, Sylvia Sims and Arthur Askey - theatrical royalty which made up for Princess Margaret not being able to attend due to ill health, although Lord Snowden made it.

The 1980's saw many cinemas fall into decline. This one changed hands and name twice in 1986 being purchased first by Cannon (and renamed Cannon) before Coronet purchased the cinema and renamed it - the Coronet. The Coronet lasted for three years before closing in 1989 and the building fell into disrepair. Vandals and pigeons took over until in the late 1990's Tyrone Walker-Hebbon, a local entrepreneur bought the building, put three million pounds into restoration and reopened it in May 1999 as a five screen cinema. Clint Eastwood's True Crime was the first film shown in the new cinema.

Today the Genesis is a much loved, well-used local cinema that boasts a cafe bar and a wide range of screenings. It regularly participates in the East End and other film festivals and makes a major contribution to culture and entertainment in this corner of the east end. And it looks lovely!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Picture post 26 - Akko's Tunisian synagogue

Akko in northern Israel attracts many visitors who come to see the museums, mosques, ancient synagogue, fortress and sea walls in the old city. Fewer people know about the Or Torah synagogue in Kaplan Street in the modern part of the city. Also known as the Tunisian synagogue it is a work of art with every interior surface (and much of the exterior too) being covered with beautiful mosaics.

Spread across four floors and having taken 54 years to complete, the synagogue walls feature images from the history of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, from the Bible to more recent times, as well as native flora and fauna. The lower floor depicts birds and animals as well as menorahs, shofars and harps. The musical theme is continued on the exterior with metal representations of various instruments. The main prayer hall has seven torah arks, a dome decorated with symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel and zodiac signs copied from the floors of ancient synagogues. The women's gallery is illustrated with scenes from the lives of the matriarchs and other women from the Bible. The mosaics are made of coloured stone collected the length and breadth of Israel from the Golan to Eilat.  There are also 140 stained glass windows in the building.

The mosaics were made at Kibbutz Eilon, just one mile from the border with Lebanon. Mosaic production is a speciality of the kibbutz which also practices agriculture and hosts a world famous violin school every year for 50 young musicians from around the world.

This unique building was a labour of love, completed  by Zion Badash, a Holocaust survivor from Tunisia. It is not widely known that the Holocaust was also played out in the former French colonies of North Africa. The German occupiers and collaborationist French administrations implemented anti-Jewish legislation often with the enthusiastic support of many in the local population. This included establishing labour camps locally as well transporting Jews to death camps in Europe.

In 1948 there were approximately 105,000 Jews in Tunisia. Following Tunisian independence in 1956, many left either for Israel or France, pushed by new anti-Jewish policies. 1967 saw a number of anti-Semitic attacks on the community which accelerated emigration and today about 1,000 - 1,500 Jews remain, mainly on the island of Djerba with a smaller number in Tunis. Martin Gilbert's book In Ishmael's House examines the experience of the Jews in North Africa in detail. 

You might also like A Day in Akko

Friday, 16 May 2014

A few hours in Macau

I recently visited Australia and had a brief stopover in Hong Kong on the way back. Whilst there I was able to spend a few hours in Macau, visiting the old, historical part of the city, exploring a place that I have long been fascinated with. 

Livraria Portuguesa.
I reached Macau by taking the ferry from the City Harbour terminal on Kowloon's Canton Road. The ticket office is huge, noisy (very noisy) and full of hundreds of people wanting to travel to Macau and to other destinations from a bewildering range of ferry companies. I decided to buy a ticket from the company whose ferry would be next to leave and boarded with several hundred other people for the one hour crossing. The experience was similar to boarding an aeroplane with passport checks, a departure lounge and numbered seats allocated to passengers. The crossing was comfortable and involved passing many small islands in the bay that give an idea of just how peaceful this place must have been before a century or more of development changed it forever. 

Sixty minutes later, I disembarked, went through a passport check with Macau immigration and emerged into a busy city to wait for the number three bus to take me to Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, which runs through the heart of the old city. This former Portuguese enclave was handed back to China in 1999 after more than 400 years of Portuguese control, having been leased from the Ming court in 1557 and the Portuguese influence can be seen everywhere in the old city, but more of that later.

The short bus ride from the ferry terminal to the centre took me past some amazing sites - and to be honest some amazingly ugly sites. Macau is known as a place to gamble, rivalling Las Vegas and since changes in legislation in 2001 opened up casino licensing, many new hotels and casinos have sprung up, vying with each other to be bigger, bolder and brasher in an attempt to win over gamblers. I just hope they don't get to encroach further on the old city and ruin this unique place.

Sam Kai Vui Kun Taoist temple
Normally I plan a route for my exploration but on the day I visited Macau I felt like wandering and seeing what I could find. The old centre was extremely hot - so hot that I could feel the skin on my arms burning and more worryingly, my hairless head. Not wanting to arrive back in Hong Kong looking like a tomato, I scouted around for a cap, finally asking in a t-shirt shop if they sold caps. The assistant smiled very nicely and said "no sorry" before I turned around to see a wall display of maybe 50 caps. Mmm. OK, my Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Patau are doubtless worse than her English. I got my cap and proceeded. 

My first stop was at the Taoist Sam Kai Vui Kun temple in Rua Sui do Mercado de Sao Domingos. At the moment there is a building site next door, but stepping through the door of the temple made negotiating the mess around the entrance worthwhile. The name means "a community hall for three streets" and once acted as a meeting place for merchants and then an adjudication court until 1912. Dedicated to Kwan Yu, the god of war and justice, the temple is filled with smoke coming from the joss sticks being burned to honour him and to offer prayers for a range of favours. Guests are welcome and I was able to wander freely, but respectfully, with my camera. The interior of the temple is alive with colours - reds, golds and greens with discs and spirals suspended from the ceiling and spectacularly colourful scenes painted on the interior of the main doors. The temple is a great place to spend a little quiet time in this crowded, busy city.  

Sam Kai Vui Kun Taoist temple - detail from door.
Just a short step from the Sam Kai Vui Kun temple and I was in the Lago do Senado standing in front of the yellow facade of the Church of Saint Dominic. Built in the 17th century, this baroque church is light and cool and has a beautiful altar and a timber roof. The green shutters on the facade add additional character to this landmark building. The church is surrounded by colourful buildings showing both Portuguese and Chinese influences whilst the Lago is covered in cream and black tiles…and hundreds of shoppers and sight seers. There is a museum within the building - the Treasury of Sacred Art containing religious themed paintings and objects. 

The peaceful atmosphere inside the church belies its sometimes tempestuous history. In 1644 it was the scene of the murder of a Spanish officer opposed to the colony's relationship with Portugal. Having entered the church to seek refuge from an angry mob he was killed at the foot of the altar whilst mass was being said. In 1707 soldiers were sent to the church to uphold a papal liturgical ruling to find that not only had the Dominican friars had closed the church, they also threw rocks at them! 

Church of Saint Dominic
The Lou Kau Mansion in Travesa de Se was built in 1889, commissioned by local merchant Lou Wa Sio, also known as Lou Kau. Lou was born in Guangdong and arrived in Macau in 1857. He originally worked in banking but introduced the Chinese lottery to Macau and became known as the city's first king of gambling. The Mansion was one of the highlights of my very short time in Macau. Built in Cantonese style but with clear Mediterranean elements, the simple grey facade conceals  a number of open and semi-enclosed rooms and courtyards, integrating inside and outside areas. The decorative motifs in the building show both Chinese and European influences and I particularly liked the wooden and stained glass screen dividing the reception area from the first courtyard. Free guided tours are available at weekends from the very friendly and welcoming staff.

Lou Kau Mansion
Lou Kau Mansion
Regular readers will be very familiar with my love of art deco architecture. I did not expect to see very much of this style during my few hours in Macau. I was then, very surprised that the first building I saw when getting off the bus on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro was the former Apollo Theatre built in 1935. It occupies a prominent spot opposite the Lado do Senado and has a green and white painted exterior, a glazed facade including curved glass and vertical lettering on the corner. A lovely example of style moderne it no longer operates as a theatre and the ground floor has been given over to retail. Its a bit of a showstopper - what a shame that part of the facade is covered with an enormous advert for Esprit. I understand that there are more modernist and art deco buildings elsewhere on Macau  and hope to track them down should I return. However, I did see the Macau Methodist Church which has some deco features on its exterior with its glazed stairwell, curved canopy over the entrance and decorative internal doors.

Former Apollo Theatre
Macau Methodist Church
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, the Portuguese influence can be seen everywhere. There are still a number of restaurants selling Portuguese food and the delicious Portuguese tart - the pasteis de nata - can be seen in many places. And of course, I sampled them! Azulejos - the traditional Portuguese ceramic tile can be seen everywhere, in the courtyards and on the walls of buildings and also on the walls around the outside of small squares where the locals sit to talk and relax. 

The Leal Senado building back on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro was built in 1784 in a style that had been popular in Portugal during the 14th and 15th centuries. Built as Macau's first municipal chamber, it retains that function today but is open to visitors who are able to walk through the inner courtyard and rest in the garden at the rear of the building. The stunning blue and white azulejos are complemented by the yellow flowers, emphasising the Mediterranean feel of some parts of Macau. The name of the building comes from a title bestowed on Macau by Portugal's King Joao lV, exiled to Brazil during the 1580-1640 Spanish domination of Portugal. Macau remained loyal to Joao, who in return gave the city the title "City of our name of God Macau, there is none more loyal" - leal being the Portuguese for loyal.

Carrying on the Portuguese theme, one of my favourite buildings is the Livraria Portuguesa (Portuguese book shop on Rua do Sao Domingos. The shop occupies the ground floor of a corner high rise building  which stands out due to its beautiful balconies decorated with blue and yellow ceramics. The Livraria is well worth a visit too. It stocks books in Portuguese and English, including fiction, travel and photographic books, many of them about Macau, as well as postcards and small souvenirs.

The Leal Senado
I had just three hours in Macau from getting off the ferry to getting back on the bus to the return terminal. The old centre is very compact and it was easy to see a lot in this short time and even to have a short coffee and ice cream break too! However there is a lot more to see and visit here - much of it listed in the UNESCO World Heritage listing. 

A few more pictures from Macau...