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Sunday, 15 October 2017

DAVID HOCKNEY IN BRADFORD




The renowned contemporary artist David Hockney was born in Bradford (West Yorkshire) in 1937. In the suburbs of Bradford, there is an art gallery, Cartwright Hall, which Hockney used to visit in his youth. He said of this place: “I used to love going to Cartwright Hall as a kid, it was the only place in Bradford I could see real paintings.” He used to visit it as a schoolboy and young student during the 1940s and ‘50s. In July 2017, the establishment opened a new gallery dedicated to Hockney’s works. It was to see this that we set off by bus (a ten minute ride) from Bradford to Lister Park in which the Hall is located. What we found exceeded our expectations.

The building of Cartwright Hall (as a purpose-built art gallery) was financed by Samuel Cunliffe Lister (1815-1906), the son of a Bradford textile mill owner. Lister became wealthy through the development of new and improved textile mill technology. The house was named after Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823), an inventor of various textile processing machines including one for wool combing, which contributed greatly to Lister’s financial success. Modestly, Lister named the Hall after the inventor rather than himself.

Lister Park is extensive. It includes a fantastic feature, The Mughal Garden. If it had not been for the miserable grey sky and the absence of the Taj Mahal, with a little bit of imagination one might mistakenly believe that this garden was a replica of the water features that the Mughals delighted in creating in what became (in 1947) India and Pakistan. Opened in 2001, this garden, designed in conformity with Mughal gardening convention, reflects the cultural affinities of Bradford’s large South Asian community. This exotic-looking place, set within a conventional British municipal park, is in harmony with the multicultural range of exhibits within the Gallery.

The neo-classical Cartwright Hall was designed by the architects JW Simpson and EJ Milner Allen, both from London. Its interior is spacious, not in the least bit stuffy or airless (as for example is the National Gallery in Edinburgh).


Stained-glass by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


We began by looking at some of the works that Hockney might have examined during his youthful visits. These include paintings by well-known artists such as: Romney, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Vasari, Reni, and many of the Pre-Raphaelites. Mingling with these, there are paintings by some of Hockney’s predecessors from Bradford. One of these was Richard Eurich (1903-1992), the son of Dr Frederick William Eurich (1867-1945). Dr Eurich, who arrived in Bradford from Chemnitz (in Germany) aged seven, pioneered a method of cleaning wool so that it became free of the deadly anthrax spores that had taken the lives of many wool workers in Bradford. His son Richard studied at Bradford School for Arts and Crafts, where Hockney also studied later.

Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) attended Bradford Grammar School, where both Richard Eurich and, later, David Hockney were pupils. He studied art at the Slade School in London. He became a war artist in WW1. At least one of his war paintings was on display. Rothenstein was a son of Moritz Rothenstein, one of several Jewish entrepreneurs who came from Germany to Bradford in the mid-19th century. These entrepreneurs played important roles in promoting the city’s textile industry. William’s painting “Carrying the Law” has a particularly Jewish theme.  In the 1930s, William, by then in London, hosted the Indian Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, who dedicated his collection of poems “Gitanjali” to him.


By William Rothenstein


This brings me to something that I really liked about the Gallery. The paintings (and stained-glass) by European artists, both well-known and not so famous, are hung side-by-side with works by artists with South Asian heritage. This is done so successfully that one does not feel that there is any cultural clashing between them. It made me think how wonderful it would be if people of different origins could coexist so harmoniously. 


By Sylvat Aziz


The South Asian artists, to mention but a few, include Jamini Roy (whose pictures we did not see on display during our visit), Salima Hashmi, Arpana Kaur, Sylvat Aziz, and Gurminder Sikand. In addition to these paintings, we saw one Indian film poster on display.  Just opposite the main entrance on the ground floor, there is a reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor.



By Anish Kapoor


The new Hockney Gallery is itself a masterpiece of gallery curation. It contains some of Hockney’s earliest works done in the 1950s. These works, somewhat more conventional than his later creations, show him as a highly skilled draughtsman and artist. They portray his home town beautifully. The gallery also contains some of Hockney’s more current work, including a series of paintings done during one of his visits to his native Yorkshire. There is also one of his famous swimming pool pictures. The gallery features a ‘recreation’ of one of Hockney’s studios. This display includes a couple of the artist’s sketch books and pads.  I was particularly intrigued by two publications on display, which were illustrated by Hockney: one was a Bradford telephone directory, and the other a guide book to Bradford.


David Hockney: Self-portrait (1954)


Our visit to the Cartwright Gallery was enjoyable, and left me thinking that even if one saw nothing else in Yorkshire, this place is a ‘must’.


The town of Saltaire is a short bus ride from Lister Park, and another mecca for lovers of Hockney’s art. Before 1851, this place did not exist. It was built by a benevolent industrialist Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876) as a model village for the workers in his textile factory, Salts Mill, which neighbours it. The place’s name derives from Sir Titus’s surname and the River Aire, which runs close to the mill. The mill is separated from it by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Saltaire is a well-preserved ensemble of Victorian buildings. It has been designated a ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’. 


Salts Mill painted by David Hockney


Hockney lovers might focus only on the enormous Salts Mill, but this is a mistake because it would mean missing the fascinating little town, an industrial forerunner of ‘idyllic arcadian’ garden suburbs and cities, such as those in north-west London, Letchworth, and Welwyn.  It is also an antecedent of garden cities designed to house factory workers such as: the Bata village at East Tilbury; Zlin in the Czech Republic; and Zelenograd (i.e. ‘green city’) near Moscow in Russia.

Victoria Street leads down towards the railway, the mill, the canal, and the river. The upper section is lined with attractive stone buildings on one side. On the other side, there is a rectangular green space, Alexandra Square, surrounded by more buildings, alms-houses. The former ‘Sir Titus Salts Hospital’ (dated 1868) stands where Victoria and Saltaire Roads cross each other.

Further down the hill, we reach the Salt Building, which is marked as ‘schools’ on an 1889 map. It was a ‘factory school’. Mill owners were obliged by laws (passed after 1833) to provide their child-workers with education. Now a part of Shipley College, it still serves an educational purpose.

Opposite this architecturally whimsical building, there is a larger one set back from the road. With two storeys of windows topped with circular arches and a grandiose central doorway surmounted by a tower, this is Victoria Hall. This was completed in 1871 for Sir Titus to the designs of Lockwood and Mawson. Originally, it was an educational institute, but now its grand hall and other rooms are also used for special occasions such as weddings.



The Salts Mill stands almost at the bottom of Victoria Street. Ignore this for the moment, and enter Albert Terrace. But, before doing so, you should take a look at the Saltaire United Reform Church, which stands in its own grounds close to the canal.  This interesting Italianate building with a circular tower mounted on a circle of Corinthian pillars was built for Sir Titus in 1859, designed by Lockwood and Mawson.

Albert Terrace runs along the lower ends of several steep streets where the mill employees lived in houses of different sizes according to their inhabitant’s ranking in the firm’s hierarchy. The streets are separated by the backyards of the buildings on them, and between them the narrow back alleyways, which are now crowded with ‘wheelie-bins’ used for placing domestic refuse.

Some of the buildings on these streets are taller than their neighbours. These housed lower-paid workers. Those houses between them, which have small front gardens, were homes to foremen and supervisors. Senior members of the firm had larger houses with bigger front gardens.

On Titus Street, parallel to Albert Terrace but at a higher altitude, there are small terraced dwellings without front gardens whose front doors open straight out onto the pavement. These residences were the homes of the lowest paid workers and their families. Although different classes of mill employees were allotted different kinds of houses, all of them from the humblest to the highest lived together in close proximity.  It is interesting that the founders of Hampstead Garden Suburb in North London, where I grew up, tried to achieve the same social mixing. I do not believe that it was ever achieved there.

The school on Albert Road, now a primary school, has been present since 1893 if not before. Near the south end of Albert Road at its meeting with Saltaire Road, there is a stone building whose two sets of enormous doors are surmounted with triangular pediments bearing weather-worn coats of arms. Now a restaurant, this was formerly a tramway depot.



The Salts Mill, the former textile factory, is now home to a huge exhibition of works by David Hockney. This is arranged on three floors of the building in what were once huge halls where William Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ churned out the materials that made Bradford prosperous. Actually, this particular mill seems to have been quite well-lit.

On the lowest floor and the one above it, the walls are hung with works by Hockney, mostly prints, but, also some paintings. Much of the floorspace in the ground floor gallery is filled with tables containing merchandise for sale, including, appropriately, artists’ materials. On the second floor, there is a vast bookshop, also lined with works by Hockney.

The uppermost floor is a huge exhibition space without merchandise. Its walls were lined with Hockney’s pictures. They can be seen at their very best in this spacious hall supported by cast-iron pillars. This gallery leads to a café, where ‘light bites’ and drinks are available.

Beyond the café, there is a permanent display of objects relating to the history of Salt Mill. These include items such as: old factory equipment; examples of textiles produced; a dental chair from the factory’s own dental clinic; and a small fire-engine. On one wall there was an old notice informing workers what to do if fire broke out. This was printed in English, Italian, and Polish. The factory closed in 1986, long before Poland joined the European Union and the recent influx of working people from Poland. The existence of the Polish instructions suggests that even in the 1980s Bradford had a significant Polish population. According to an article published on a BBC website (in September 2014): “In the 1940s it was immigrants from Poland who came to Bradford. They viewed themselves as political émigrés so it was important to maintain a national identity, traditional ideas, values and customs, all of which were being suppressed in their homeland which was under Nazi rule.”



Some decorative porcelain in the museum bears the crest of the Salts family. It includes an alpaca, whose wool, combined with other animal’s fleeces, was an important contribution to the prosperity of Sir Titus’s family.  Near this display of porcelain, there is a cleverly devised portrait of Sir Titus made using fabric from which pieces have been removed selectively to produce the image.

We did not eat at the café, but at Salts Diner on the floor with the gallery/bookshop. The Diner’s menu cards and napkins are designed by David Hockney. The diner’s walls are lined with the artist’s works. We ordered two dishes: a smoked chicken with mango salad, and steak with chips and Béarnaise Sauce. We washed these down with a lovely beer specially created for the Saltaire Diner. Without hesitation, I can say that this was the best quality food that we have ever eaten in a café or restaurant attached to a museum or gallery.


Napkin with a drawing by David Hockney


Although there is no shortage of works by Hockney at the Salts Mill, I much preferred the smaller but exquisitely curated gallery of his art at nearby Cartwright Hall. However, a Hockney aficionado will be missing a great experience by not making the trip ‘up north’ to see the Hockney exhibits just outside Bradford.


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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

FRESTONIA lives again!




Overshadowed by the charred remains of Grenfell Tower (built in 1974 as part of the Lancaster West Estate), Freston Road runs close to Latymer Road Underground Station. During the early 1970s when tower blocks, such as the ill-fated Grenfell, were being built, Freston Road was a jumble of run-down, mostly vacant, Victorian dwellings.

Squatters moved into these empty houses in the early 1970s. When the Greater London Council (‘GLC’) wanted to redevelop the area that included Freston Road, all of the residents adopted the surname ‘Bramley’, so that the GLC would be faced with housing a very large family. When the Council threatened compulsory eviction at a meeting attended by more than 200 residents, the residents under threat declared that the area around Freston road should become an independent republic, separate from the UK. Thus, was born the ‘The Republic of Frestonia’ in 1977.

The Republic, which applied for membership of both the UN and the European Economic Community, survived for several years. Life in the ‘Republic’ was recorded in photographs by the photographer Tony Sleep. An exhibition of his beautiful photographs of life in Frestonia opened this evening (11th October 2017) at the Frestonia Gallery at 2 Olaf Street, W11 4BE. It will continue until 10th of November. The gallery is housed within the Peoples Palace (built 1902), which is almost the only remaining building amongst those which existed during the lifetime of the Republic.

In addition to the wonderfully composed black and white photographs, there are also display cases containing documents relating to the Republic. These include contemporaneous press-cuttings, the application to the UN, and special postage stamps issued by the Republic. The exhibition is a worthy homage to a fascinating episode in London’s complex history.


Tony Sleep with one of his photos projected behind him


The opening of the exhibition was a very special occasion. Not only was Tony Sleep present, but also some of the now ageing inhabitants the short-lived Republic.

This is an exhibition well worth visiting – not to be missed.



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Sunday, 8 October 2017

AN ALBANIAN CONDUCTOR IN LONDON



CONCERT 7th OCT 2017 AT ST STEPHENS CHURCH SW7 4RL

Last night (7th Oct 2017), I attended an orchestral concert performed by the London City Philharmonic, an orchestra whose players come from all over the world. The conductor was the Albanian Olsi Qinami, a founder of the orchestra. The programme, “Tales from the East”, consisted of music by eastern European composers with one exception.

The concert began with a sensitive rendering of Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances”. This was followed by Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei”, Adagio on Hebrew Melodies”. Bruch was not an Eastern European, having been born a Protestant in Cologne (in 1838). He was fond of using ‘exotic’ themes in his compositions. The piece for cello soloist and orchestra, which we heard last night looks eastwards in a romantic way at a prayer of the Ashkenazi Jews, which is recited at Yom Kippur. The cellist, Alexandra Fletcher, a Londoner, played beautifully.

These two well-known pieces were followed by two compositions, which deserve to be better-known. The first was a piano concerto (“Concerto for piano and orchestra in one movement”) by Fatos Lumani (born 1983), a Professor at the State University of Tetova in Macedonia. The soloist in this powerful, invigorating piece was Shkelzen Baftiari, an Albanian Macedonian who lives in Skopje (Macedonia). His playing of this complex composition was masterful. The orchestra accompanied him skilfully, seemingly with great ease given how difficult this piece is to perform.

The evening continued with an orchestral piece, “Arbereshes Sime”, by the Albanian composer Gerti Druga. He was born in Kuçovë (Albania) in 1986. The first part of this beautiful composition was based on the melody of a song sung by the Arbëreshë people, descendants of Albanians who escaped from the Ottomans in the 15th century and settled in Italy, where, to this day, they speak an archaic form of Albanian and maintain the traditions of their ancestors. During second half of the piece, the music livened up considerably. It reminded me, and I mean this in a positive way, of the best of the stirring propagandistic music that the former Communist regimes used to inspire their people. The orchestra was accompanied by Shkelzen Baftiari on the piano and featured solos by the orchestra’s leader, the Finnish-born violinist Alina Hiltunen. I was not alone in enjoying this piece; the audience loved it.

After the interval, the orchestra, as always directed skilfully by Olsi Qinami, gave a great performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 4. Lasting just under an hour, the orchestra never flagged. Their account of this moving piece was exhilarating.

If you did not attend this concert, I feel sorry for you because you missed a great musical experience!


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Saturday, 11 February 2017

VISITING VYPIN ISLAND - a lovely excursion from Cochin


Chinese fishing nets, Fort Cochin


Goat on a boat: on the ferry from Vypin to Fort Cochin


Like Venice and Istanbul, Cochin is a city where water plays an important role both functionally and aesthetically. The Cochin ‘metropolitan’ area that includes Fort Cochin, Mattancherry, the modern city of Ernakulam, Willingdon Island, and other islands is infiltrated with waterways that flow past them and out into the Arabian Sea. These watery channels are alive with shipping, lined with fishermen, flanked by warehouses, and swarming with waterfowl. The sun reflects off the waters, producing a rare quality of light that heightens the beauty of the area.

The historic city of Fort Cochin with its many historic buildings, its Chinese fishing nets, and its colourful shoreline, makes for a wonderful place for tourists to linger. I have visited the place three times in two years, and Cochin’s attraction simply continues to grow for me.

The elongated island of Vypin (aka ‘Vypeen’) runs in a north-south direction, its southernmost tip being across the estuary from Fort Cochin. Two ferries connect Vypin with Fort Cochin. One carries foot passengers only, and the other carries both vehicles and foot passengers.

Ticket office for ferry at Vypin


The first time that I crossed to Vypin on the foot passenger only ferry, I noticed that a section of the boat was reserved for ladies only. Indeed, the queues for the ticket boot were segregated by gender. Lately (2017), I did not notice any separation of male and female passengers.

Leaving Fort Cochin, the ferry passenger gets a good view of the Chinese fishing nets on one side, and of the waterfronts of the Brunton Boat House and its neighbours (such as the old Aspinwall warehouse complex).

The ferry captains have to navigate carefully, so as to avoid colliding with all manner of craft: everything from ocean going liners and enormous dredgers to tourist pleasure boats and smaller craft used by the local fishermen.

Boats moored at Vypin


As the Fort Cochin shore begins to recede and mingle with the heat haze, the Chinese fishing nets of Vypin get nearer. Behind them, it is not difficult to see a couple of huge cylindrical structures, which are part of an oil refining site near to the Arabian Sea shore.

Belts in a small shop in Vypin


Both ferries dock at the aged, rather shabby Vypin ferry terminal, which until recently contained an even shabbier café, The Sealand, now closed. Passing through the terminal, we reach a line of small shops that face a parking area where multi-coloured busses and auto-rickshaws park. These busses carry passengers to a variety of places including Ernakulam and beaches at the northern tip of the island.

Detail on a private house in Vypin


The southern shore of Vypin is a peaceful contrast to the relatively busy shore of Fort Cochin, which faces it across the water. A good paved footpath follows the shoreline, passing several Chinese fishing net set-ups, upon whose ropes and wooden structural elements sea birds roost. On a recent visit, most the avian population consisted of white egrets. Landward of the path but partly hidden by the dense foliage of luxuriant gardens, you can just about spot low dwellings.



Taking one of the paths that lead away from the sea, one enters a series of narrow lanes lined with domestic residences surrounded by lush gardens. Wandering around these lanes reminded me of the lesser visited parts of Venice. There was hardly anyone around, little or no traffic, and a lovely calm silence.



The village of Vypin is built around The Church of Our Lady of Hope, (aka "Nossa Senhora Da Esperança"), which was built during the Portuguese occupation in 1605 AD (see picture above). Along with many other Roman Catholic buildings in the Cochin  district, it was badly damaged by the Dutch in 1663, but has been restored lovingly since then. Usually this is closed except for early morning masses. My wife managed to persuade a passing nun to get the sacristan to open up the church for us. While its interior (see picture below) is not as grand as some of the churches we saw in Goa, it is nevertheless worth seeing. A great anchor hangs from the northern wall of the chancel. A highly-revered effigy stands in a glass-fronted cabinet covered with a curtain near the southern wall of the church.



A short walk through more narrow lanes brings one back to the ferry station. Whereas the passenger only boat is quite comfortable for passengers, the boat that carries vehicles is less so. Passengers congregate at the covered foremost part (the bow) of the boat. Cars and vans are tightly loaded onto the ferry, and then the two wheelers motor bikes and scooters) squeeze their way into the remaining spaces including at the bow of the ship where foot passengers congregate, trying to avoid being knocked by mirrors or getting their feet run over by wheels.



Disembarking, one realises how peaceful Vypin is in comparison with Fort Cochin. This is not to say that Fort Cochin is not particularly unrestful (as is the city of Ernakulam); it is just far busier than that  peaceful haven Vypin.

The vehicular ferry at Fort Cochin


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Church hall on Vypin Island next to Church of Our Lady of Hope 

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Thursday, 15 December 2016

EDWARD LEAR IN BANGALORE

 

Telicherry (Kerala) sketched by Edward Lear in 1874


On September, the 24th 1874, Mr Edward Lear (1812-1888), who was staying in Bangalore (now ‘Bengaluru’), wrote in his diary:
Walked to Orr and Barton’s and got my photographs…”

Lear is best known for his nonsense verse, lesser known as an artist. Although never as successful as his contemporaries (e.g Holman Hunt, Lord Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Turner, Millais, and Rossetti,) in the 19th century UK art world, he was a wonderful landscape artist. In addition, he was highly skilled at depicting flora and fauna (especially birds: he was said to rival Audubon). Oddly, his talents did not extend to great representations of the human form except in comical cartoons, at which he excelled.

Restless, Lear travelled the world in search of the ‘picturesque’. He visited many places, including Albania, which is what got me interested in him in the first place. He recorded his travels in sketchbooks, and later transformed some of these into oil paintings - the medium which he hoped to master - but never really managed. Lear described his trips in diaries that he later published as travel journals, his pen producing portraits of the places almost as eloquently as his fine sketches and watercolours.

Recently, I discovered that Lear visited India (including Ceylon). He did so at the invitation of an old friend, Thomas Baring - Lord Northbrook, who had become the Viceroy of India in 1872. I bought a reasonably priced second-hand copy of Lear's "Indian Journal", introduced and edited by Ray Murphy (published in 1953). Unlike his other travel journals (e.g. for Albania, Greece, Corsica, and Southern Italy), this book contains Lear's actual diary entries rather than a later polished-up literary version of them.

Lear describes almost every day of his trip to India, which lasted from November 1873 until January 1875, when sickness and bad back pain forced him and his Albanian servant Giorgio to end their rambles, which had taken them from the heights of the Himalayas to the deep south of India and through Ceylon.

The trip was dogged with problems: logistic, illness, food, and so on. Yet, even on the worst of days, Lear found something redeeming to write about. Lear enjoyed Indian 'local colour', but was often less than lukewarm about British colonial social life. He preferred the ‘really Indian' places to those places favoured by the British. Many a place where the British liked to spend time relaxing were loved because, to use Lear's words, because of their: 
un-Indian qualities."

Lear visited Bangalore twice. His first sojourn was between the 13th of August 1874 and the 21st of that month. He arrived there on a train that passed through:
Arkonam … at the junction of the Bombay-Madras and Madras-Malabar lines.”
At this his junction in Tamil Nadu, now known as ‘Arakkonam’, he had to spend a night in a waiting room. In Bangalore, he took rooms for himself and his servant in the Cubbon Hotel, which he did not rate highly on arrival. However, a few days later, he noted:
The food at this hotel is good, and the service quiet and unobtrusive…”
Kora Chandy wrote in “The City Beautiful” by TP Issar (published1988):
“…let me turn to Infantry Road and the present office of the Commissioner of Police. Some 100 years ago, it was the leading hotel in Bangalore, called the Cubbon Hotel. The facilities it advertised included a ball room, ‘complete suites of the bachelor’s apartments’ and ‘carriages on the premises. In the early years of the century the British Resident purchased this property and his office was located there until 1928…” 
In 1911, the Cubbon Hotel still existed, when it was leased by Spencer’s, which was then in the hands of the Oakshott family.  The Cubbon Hotel was rated along with the (still extant) West End Hotel as being above average in Murray’s “Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon” (10th edition, published 1920). Therefore, the Resident must have purchased it sometime after 1920. Maya Jayapal writes in her “Bangalore: roots and beyond” (published in 2014):
“… the Cubbon Hotel… was constructed in the prevailing style of colonial architecture, sometimes called Greco-Roman. It is now the police commissioner’s office…
A photograph (see below) in TP Issar’s book confirms Jayapal’s description of the architecture. 



Lear considered Bangalore:
“… an odd place, not over beautiful, but contains three picturesque bits and, I think, one general view. The tall coco-palms are a chief characteristic, but the queer houses are odd indeed…”
On the 15th of August, he visited the Lal Bagh gardens, concluding that:
“… he had never seen a more beautiful place, terraces, trellises, etc., not to speak of some wild beasts. Flowers exquisiteThere is something very rural quiet about this placewalked with Giorgio to some granite rocks, and a little tank, where I drew till it began to rain, ven I cum back…”
This little excerpt exposes Lear’s liberated approach to spelling. I have visited Lal Bagh often, and have seen its large tank, which contains an island. The large tank is separated from a smaller one, often filled with waterlilies, by a causeway. I am not sure about which water feature Lear was writing. Next day, he visited Ulsoor Tank, but arrived too late to sketch it. The Tank, which is still in existence, is a veritable lake with several islands in it. Zafar Futehally and Kora Chandy writing in Issar’s book, noted:
It extended over an area of 125 acres and was constructed by Kempegowda II during the second half of the 16th century.”
It supplied drinking water to the civilian and military population of Bangalore until the 20th century.
That day he praised Bangalore in his diary:
This station is very extensive and populous, and seems in some ways the pleasantest I have known in India. A sort of homely quiet pervades everything, and the air is delightful, ditto flowers. Birds are numerous but make absurd noises.
All over India, Lear remarked on the peculiar birdsong he heard. He left Bangalore on the 21st of August, heading for Madras.

Lear returned to Bangalore on the 23rd of September 1874, arriving by train from Salem. His journey had not been uneventful.  Near ‘Cajdoody’ (this is probably modern day Kadugodi, which is on a railway close to Whitefields, and, relevantly, a couple of still-extant large bodies of water), a bridge was down. Lear wrote:
Descending from the carriage, we had to walk along a narrow edge of clay by the steep side of the embankment; this was … difficult. … Next, a descent, with a crowd of natives, and still more awkward pass over loose planks to a boat … ferried across deep and rapid water, the result of a broken tank which had so swollen the stream as to carry away the bridge. Then came a hoisting up slippery wooden steps … to the level of the other train…
Lear and Giorgio arrived exhausted in Bangalore on the 23rd of September 1874 after a thirty-minute train journey from the flooded area. It was the following day that he visited Orr and Barton’s to collect some photographs – of what he does not say. Throughout his visit to India, Lear bought photographs, which he might have used to remind him of places that he had seen.

On my last visit to Bangalore in 2016, I bought some jewellery from Barton’s, whose extensive shop is within Barton Tower on MG Road. From its earliest days, it had been a jeweller but it came as news to me that it was also known for its photography. The 1920 Murray’s guide to India (see above) lists “Barton & Sons” both as a jeweller and a photographer.  One of the Mr Bartons must have been an exceptional photographer. M Fazlul Hasan writes in his “Bangalore Through the Centuries” (published 1970) that when an equestrian statue of Sir Mark Cubbon was unveiled in March 1866, many photographers rushed forward to ‘snap’ it, but:
Owing, however, to the fading light and other difficulties, only two, Major Dixon and Mr Barton, succeeded.”

Bangalore was not Lear’s last port of call in India. He went on to visit several other places including Sri Lanka before returning via Kerala to Bombay, and thence back to Europe. It was noticing that he had visited Barton’s, a shop I know well, that prompted me to write this piece based on the lesser-known travels of a well-known cultural figure of the nineteenth century. 

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Thursday, 24 November 2016

DESIGN MUSEUM IN LONDON




CLOTHES WITHOUT AN EMPEROR

In 1837, the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote his “Kejserens nye Klæder” (‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’). Two tailors weave some new clothes for the Emperor. No one can see them because they were invisible, they had no substance at all, they did not exist.

London’s Design Museum has just (November 2016) moved into what used to be the Commonwealth Institute (‘CI’) in Holland Park. Its construction was completed in 1962. I remember visiting the CI in the early 1960s, when its gloomy interior housed exhibits from various parts of the Commonwealth. I was more impressed by the building’s then original and fantastic architecture than by its contents.

The CI building remained closed and disused from long before the beginning of this century until this year when it re-opened as the Design Museum. The building’s exterior has been well-restored, but is somewhat hidden from the road by two ugly ‘rectanguloid’ (or box-like) low-rise tower blocks, which are an affront to both good design and good town-planning. I imagine that letting or selling space in these two buildings helped pay for the restoration of the former CI building.

The interior of the old CI building has been scooped out and replaced by a wonderful new interior, an exciting space worthy of a museum that is dedicated to design.

Sadly, the exhibition fails miserably. Leaving the splendid atrium, the visitor enters a series of ‘galleries’ crammed with ‘icons’ of (mostly) 20th century design. The cluttered exhibition spaces reminded me of charity shops or jumble sales. The only difference between the museum and the latter is that the objects on display are in better condition than those in jumble sales or charity shops.

The newly located Design Museum made me think of Hans Christian Andersen. The building is splendid, both outside and inside, but the exhibition does not deserve such a fine building. The clothing is great, but the Emperor is missing.


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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

DISCOVERING JEWS IN BANGALORE






About ten years ago, an American Jewish acquaintance, who had just completed a tour of southern India, complained that he had seen no end of Hindu temples and Christian churches, but only one synagogue. Well, I was not surprised. Once in Venice (Italy), a religious Jew on learning that I am Jewish asked whether my wife (a gentile), an Indian, is Jewish. That got me thinking. I calculated that randomly meeting a Jew born in India was extremely improbable – it is less than 0.0005%.  So, to write about the Jews of India is to describe a minute proportion of the country’s vast population. And as I write, that proportion is only likely to diminish.

While idly flicking through the Eicher street atlas for Bangalore, I noticed, quite by chance, that the city has a “Jewish Grave Yard”. I have visited this cemetery several times. It contains less than sixty graves, but together they open a window that provides a good overview of the Jewish people who have lived in India. The story of India’s Jewry has been described in detail elsewhere (for example: “India’s Jewish Heritage” edited by Shalva Weil and “Shalom India” by Monique Zetlaoui). I will present their tales as viewed through a south Indian lens.

Jews have lived in what is now Kerala since time immemorial. They lived on the Malabar Coast in, for example, Kranganore and Cochin. It is said that St Thomas came to India to convert them into Christians. He failed miserably, converting, instead, the other people who he found living there.  A grave in the cemetery commemorates Elias Isaac, who came from Cochin to Bangalore to act as the schochet (ritual slaughterer) to the Moses family.  Today, there are one or two elderly Jews still living in Kerala.

The oldest graves in the cemetery mark the resting places of Subedar Samuel Nagavkar (1816-1904) and Benjamin Nagavkar (1877-1910). Samuel might have served the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who donated the land for the cemetery in 1904. The Nagavkars were members of the Beni Israel community, whose origins are obscure. According to the historian HS Kehimkar, they claimed to have come from “the North” to India in about 175 BC (BCE). Many of their community still live in and around Maharastra State.

There are several other graves bearing names of Beni Israel Jews. Tor example: the horse trainer Sion E Nissim (1900-58), one of whose horses, Commoner, won the Indian Derby; Mrs Abigail Jhirad, daughter of the Subedar; and Joshua Moses Benjamin  Bhonkar (1920-2005). The latter (aka ‘Joshua Benjamin’) was both a writer (“The Mystery of Israel's Ten Lost Tribes and the Legend of Jesus in India”) and a Chief Minister in the Government of India.

Whereas the origins of the Malabar and Beni Israel Jews are obscure, this is not the case with the Iraqi Jews, who came to India from the Middle East beginning in the 18th century. Many of them settled in Bombay and Calcutta. The most famous of them being the Sassoon family.

The Bangalore cemetery contains graves for the following families from Calcutta: Ezra, Elias, Earl, and Moses. Edward Earl (1910-1953) was the proprietor of the once well-known Earl’s Pickles company.  Calcutta used to have a large Jewish community, including the Moses family, who are buried in Bangalore and originated in Iraq.

Ruben Moses (1871-1936) left Iraq to join the California gold rush. He left California for India in 1906, following the disastrous San Francisco earthquake. He headed for the Kolar gold fields, but ended up in Bangalore, where he founded a shoe store in the city’s Commercial Street. The store, which is now occupied by Woody’s veg fast-food outlet, was once the largest shoe retailer in southern Asia. His home, now long since demolished, contained a prayer hall where the city’s few local Jews and Jewish visitors from all over the world came to wordship along with the Moses family.

What did the Jews do in Bangalore apart from what I have mentioned above? Poor Moses Ashkenazy(1957-1982) was a student, who died of an overdose of drugs.  Sassoon Saul Moses (d. 1975) was a ‘hawker’, as were many of my Lithuanian Jewish ancestors who arrived in South Africa in the 1890s. The widow Rebecca Elias (1927-1992) lost her husband early, and then worked in a needle factory in Bangalore. GE Moses and Isaac Cohen, neither of whom are buried in the cemetery, were, respectively, a clothes retailer and an auctioneer. The grave of RE Reuben (1877-1939) records that he was “Malarial Supervisor of the C&M Station Municipality”. I wonder whether he ever met the Nobel laureate Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932), the pioneer of the fight against malaria. Reuben’s place of work is mentioned in Ross’s papers.

Troubles with anti-Semitism in Europe and, later, the outbreak of the Second World War (‘WW2’) led to other Jews entering the Indian Judaic scene – refugees and soldiers. They are well represented in the Bangalore cemetery. But, before describing some of them, let me not forget the Russian-born Saida Abramovka Isako, who died in 1932. She was the wife of FY Isako, who was proprietor of the ‘Russian Circus’. Her coffin was carried on a bier drawn by white circus horses. I imagine that the burials of the German refugees Siegfried Appel (1906-1939) from Bonn, Gunther and his mother Mrs Rahmer from Gleiwitz, and Dr Weinzweig, were less memorable. Carl Weinzweig (1890-1966) was a dentist (his surgery was in MG Road), as was Gunther Rahmer.

Amongst the military personnel that passed through Bangalore during WW2, was the future President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was stationed at an RAF base in the city. His name appears in the Moses family guestbook. Sadly, the cemetery records the casualties of war, who died in the city. These include Yusuf Guetta (1921-1943), who was evacuated from Ben-Ghazi in Libya by the British in 1941, and Private Morris Minster (1918-1942). Minster served in the South Wales Borderers Regiment and was initially buried in the grave yard. His stone remains, but he has been moved to a large Commonwealth war cemetery in Madras.

The “Jewish Grave Yard” in Bangalore encapsulates the story of the larger of the Jewish ‘groupings’ that have lived in India. The cemetery is so unknown that even a few of the Jews who have lived in the city have been unaware of it. I have met the heirs of the Jewish refugee from Germany, Mr Jacoby, who introduced popcorn and machines for making it to India and settled in Bangalore. Their nearest and dearest are resting in peace in Christian cemeteries, of which there is no shortage in Bangalore.

At the beginning, I mentioned that India’s Jewish population is diminishing. Over the years many Jews left India. My wife, who went to school in Calcutta, remembers that the city had many thriving synagogues and that there were several Jewish girls in her class. When we visited Calcutta four or five years ago, we saw three synagogues. Two of them were well-maintained, by Moslem caretakers, as is Bangalore’s Jewish cemetery. The third that we saw appeared to be about to crumble.

India can be proud to remember that, unlike so many other countries, it was not anti-Semitism that caused Jews to migrate. Just as so many other Indians have left the country to better their economic prospects, so did the Jews.


An album containing annotated photographs of all of the graves in Bangalore's 'Jewish Grave Yard' may be purchased as an e-book (or a paperback) by clicking HERE