20 February 2018

Porto in Portugal - one of the loveliest cities in Western Europe

A settlement called Portus Cale was founded on the north bank of the Duoro River in the C4th BC. But nothing much was known before Porto was recovered in 868 AD from the Moorish empire.

Sao Bento Railway Station
1900-1916

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) was born to English Queen Philippa and Portuguese King John I who had earlier married in Porto, creating a political alliance between Portugal and England. It was Prince Henry who, in the new Portuguese Empire, initiated the Age of Discoveries. Henry supervised the early development of Portuguese exploration and maritime trade with other continents through the exploration of Western Africa, Atlantic Ocean islands and the search for new routes. Only thus did Portugal become a sea-trade force, so it is appropriate that a statue in a park honours Prince Henry still today.

Prince Henry, the Navigator
pointing to a far-off place across the Atlantic

Once Portugal became an economic power in the age of the great geo­graph­ical discoveries (C15th – C17th), it was Porto that became the largest shipyard of the country. The town was ready for the the estab­lish­ment of Duoro’s wine region and port wine trade.

The granite streets are everywhere but focus on the grand avenue Rua das Fl­ores, once it was refurbished: its frontages now shine with restored tiles in blues and greens. The avenue is lined with stately stone facades and dominated by the town hall. Granite churches also display glazed blue and white tiles.

Of great beauty is the Capela das Almas/Chapel of Souls near the city’s main shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina. The chapel has its origin in an old chapel made of wood, built to honour Santa Catar­ina. The construction of the building that exists today dates back to the later C18th, when the Brotherhood of the Souls and the Chagas of San Francisco moved from the Monastery of Santa Clara to the Chapel of Santa Catarina. Capela das Almas’ exterior tiles, painted with scenes from the liv­es of saints, are inter-war.

Capela das Almas

Visit the Church of St Francisco, the only Gothic church in Porto; the severe, grey exterior has richly gilded, highly ornate, baroq­ue wood carvings inside. Porto’s craftsmen in 17th and early C18th were special.

Sao Bento Railway Station was built on the site of a Renaissance Benedictine monastery. Work began on the terminal in 1900, in the French Beaux Arts architectural style. São Bento mainline’s central station is one of the most beautiful in Europe, displaying 20,000 glazed azulejos-tiles that, by 1916, de­picted­ highlights of the nation’s history.

The Monastery da Serra do Pilar is a C16th former monastery is the architectural highlight of the Gaia side. Belonging to the Order of Saint Augustine, the church was made in a circular shape and was covered by a hemispheric vault and balcony. It took 72 year to com­plete because of financial difficulties and because of the polit­ic­al turmoil between Spain and Portugal.

Some fine architecture was built during the early C18th, including Clerigos Tower. Climb the Tower, the city’s most prominent land­mark; it was built by Florentine architect Nicolau Nasoni­, a man who was buried in the adjoining church. It is Porto’s best example of baroque architecture and is the tallest tower in Portugal.

Dona Maria Pia bridge, 1877
designed by Gustave Eiffel


To cross to the other side of the river, there is a choice of bridges. Dona Maria Pia, designed by Gustave Eiffel and built in 1877, is a rail­way bridge over the Portuguese northern municip­al­ities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Another bridge, the Dom Luis I, boasts one of the biggest forged iron arches in the world.

Two water taxis cross the river as an alternative to the bridges, inspired by the design of the old rabelo cargo boats. River taxis are convenient for exploring the city on foot, with a dock at the Ribeira. The view of the city is best seen from the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, where the coloured, narrow dwellings stand out.

Douro Valley with endless vineyards

The Douro Valley is at the heart of the country’s wine industry and its namesake waterway is becoming the hottest ticket for European river cruising. These journeys take the visitor through rural idylls and rugged terrain, stopping at charming towns and villages. Discover the beauty of the Portuguese countryside during this full-day trip through the Douro Valley from Porto. Travel through sweet villages such as Pinhão, Régua and Lamego.

Book for a longer (eg 8 day) river cruise along the Douro River to see some of the most gorgeous natural scenery across Portugal, and sip on locally made port wine during a tasting session. Visit three vineyards to taste world-class wines while ad­miring scenic views from the Douro’s terraced vine yards. And have traditional lunches in the charming villages. All the major river-cruise operat­ors organise Douro trips from late March to Nov eg  Spain & Portugal Travel Connection or Euro River Cruises.

As well as drinking a LOT of port, we also enjoyed buying Claus Porto hand-crafted soaps, permeated with fragrances drawn from the Portuguese country side and hand-wrapped in Belle Epoque papers.

Portugal and Spain

Fatima

On the last day in the north, en route back to Lisbon, we visited the univers­ity town of Coimbra on a day trip of cultural experiences.  Even further south we explored one of Portugal’s most holy sites Fatima. We watched people attending mass at the basilica inside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. This was where the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in October 1917.











17 February 2018

Charles Dodgson and Alice (Lidell) in Wonderland

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll 1832-98) was born in a NW English vil­l­age, third child of Rev Charles Dodgson. As the fam­ily grew to in­clude 11 children, Charles told stor­ies to his siblings, made up games and wrote magazines with them.

After enrolling at Oxford in 1850, Dodgson became a fel­low at Christ Church College. According to the rules, fellows had to be ordained, but Dodgson ignored the ordin­ation rule and lived at the college unmarried. He was a maths lecturer and a devout deacon of the Anglican Church.

Like many Victorian bachelors, he became an “uncle” to his friends’ children, taking them out. In 1855, Dodgson’s Dean Henry Liddell arrived at Christ Church with his wife, Lorina and their first four children. As the 3 sisters grew older, Dodgson took the girls under his wing, with their parents’ blessing. In summer 1862, he took the Liddell girls on the river in Oxford and told them stories. Alice Liddell (1852-1934), then 10, was delighted that the main character shared her name and asked Dodgson to write his stories.

Dodgson wrote to Gertrude Thomson, an artist who was sketching girl­ish nymphs: "I am fond of children ex­cept boys." And "I confess I do not admire naked boys in pictures”. He took exq­uis­ite, melancholy photog­raphs of lit­tle girls. But it was Alice Liddell in particular who became his passion.

So why did the Liddells trust Dodgson with their precious daughters. I suggest a few significant reasons:

1. Harry Liddell was Dodgson’s dean and had a trusting professional relationship with him;
2. The Liddells had 9 children and were delighted when an adult offered to help keep them educated and amused;
3. Dodgson was a respectable Anglican deacon; and
4. The children loved Uncle Charles’ stories and activities.
Dodgson’s love for girls was elusive, and filled with yearn­ing. He wrote to a 10-year-old girl, thank­­ing her for her lock of hair. “I have kissed it sev­eral times - for want of having you to kiss, you know, even hair is better than nothing." There was a romantic intensity to the friendships, a hunger, of nev­er quite getting enough, want­ing more of Alice.
If the man did not ever literally shag a child, was he still culpable? Yes!! He carefully groomed the youngsters and he changed those girls’ lives forever.

The Queen of Hearts by John Tenniel
The queen was a foul-tempered monarch 
whose favourite line was “Off with their heads!"

He loved little girls, but, like Peter Pan, he couldn’t marry them. So Katie Roiphe asked if there were other famous C19th men who disliked overt adult phys­icality and who found them­selves drawn to children/teens instead.Yes! John Ruskin also fell under the spell of young girls he met, yet he couldn’t consummate his marriage to an adult woman. Anne Isba said Charles Dickens met his wife Cath­erine when she was 14; she had 10 children before being dumped for her young sister Mary (who died at 17) and the young teenage actress Nelly Ternan.

Victorian culture clearly had a very sen­timent­al view of young girls that could co-exist with disgust about adult sex!! There is no doubt that Dodgson was tor­m­ented by what HE called "the inclinat­ions of my sinful heart"; that his own thoughts were “unholy”. But Dodgson felt his er­ot­ic fascin­ation was under control; he was channelling his desires into a wild and lovely lit­er­ary univ­erse instead.

Although the camera was still new technology, in 1856 Dodgson had been an early and skilled portraitist. He found plenty of friends who wanted him to take family port­raits eg Engl­and’s poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. In total Dodgson took c3,000 photo­graphs, just over half were of child­ren, mostly dressed. Some of his portraits might offend us, but by Victorian stand­ards they were innocent. They were prais­ed as art studies, a la Julia Margaret Cameron. Yet modern critics have condemned the photos that showed his fascination with the immature female body.

One example will suffice. On the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the BBC made a documentary called The Secret World of Lewis Carroll, 2015. It expl­ored the nature of Carroll's relationship with children, and revealed a newly-discovered photograph of Alice’s elder sist­er, entirely nude. Although the picture was not 100% proven to have been Carroll’s, the uncomfortable pubescent model strong­ly suggested he was a somewhat rep­res­sed paedophile.

In 1865 a completed version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonder­land was published as a book, published with John Tenniel's unmistakable art work. Dodgson published a sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, in 1871, and a long poem in 1876.

He retired from teaching mathematics in 1881, and died in 1898 aged 66. At that stage, loving little girls was still acceptable. The London Daily Graph­ic’s 1898 obituary fondly noted his affection for girls. Also in 1898, Dodgson’s nephew published a biog­r­aphy that devoted two warm chapters to Dodgson’s child friends and their kiss­ing.

Now my final questions. There is a gulf between how modern readers perceive an author and how they perceive his work. Is a good work of art, created by a bad person, tainted forever? Would you still read his stories to your children, thinking of them as classics of pure, innocent literature?

Charles Dodgson photo, self portrait, 1857

Charles Dodgson photo, Alice Lidell dressed as a beggar-maid, 1858



13 February 2018

Prince Edward's World War 1 experiences and his pro-Fascist views

To understand why Ed­ward the Prince of Wales (1894-1972) turned towards Fascism before WW2 and turned away his parents’ moral values, I will be citing the writing of Dr Heather Jones. Her journal article “Edward in the trenches” lays the blame firmly on his terrible war experiences.

So let us first canvas WW1. When Britain found itself under threat during WW1, Edward (20) had become the Prince of Wales three years earlier. Edward could easily have stayed at home in safety and inspected military train­ing camps but he was desperate to serve on the Western Front. The Secretary of State for War naturally forbade the first in-line-to-the-throne to die in the trenches so Edward took a commission in the Grenad­ier Guards and accepted a junior officer role in France, far behind the front lines.

As soon as he could, Ed­w­ard wanted a com­promise. Although not directly involved in fight­ing, he was assigned to staff work on logistics. Thus Edward could go on frequent morale-boosting visits to the trenches, visit advanced positions, see the dead bodies lying unburied in the fields and smell the shell fire. The visits made him very popular with the men.

In contrast, his younger brother Prince Albert (1895-1952) would not ever become king under normal circumstances, so there was a less rigid approach to him serving in war. Everyone believed that Britain controlled the seas and the nation’s naval supremacy could not be challenged by Germany, so Albert, who was still in his teens, served in the Royal Navy as a midshipman.

However Germany embarked on a campaign of battleship building and by 1916 was ready to take on the British fleet which was block­ad­ing the North Sea. In May the Battle of Jutland was waged, becoming WW1’s biggest sea engagement. It was a catast­rophe for both sides, including for the young prince in a gun turret, watching the ships being destroyed by torpedoes around him.

Thus both princes, who had lived in the lap of luxury back in their palaces, faced horror at war. Perhaps Edward seemed a little jeal­ous of his younger brother who participated in direct action. But there was no questioning the bravery of both princes.

Edward the Prince of Wales in army uniform, and his brother in navy uniform, 1915. 
Photo credit: Express

During WW1, Edward had his first, hidden sexual experiences in Amiens, and then in Paris. But post war, liv­ing a vigorous social life was essential for any ex-serviceman, to regain his sanity. People were tolerant. In London Edward courted Lady Sybil Cadogan, his sister’s best friend, and wanted marriage in 1917. His next affair was with Lady Rose­mary Leveson-Gower, a soc­iety beauty who the prince wanted to marry in 1918. However she married William Ward, 3rd Earl Dudley, in March 1919. Then Ed­ward chose married women: Mar­ian Coke, his much adored lover Freda Dudley Ward divorced wife of an MP who was vice chamb­erlain of the Royal House-hold and the Amer­ic­­an heiress Aud­rey James. Best of all was Lady Thelma Furn­ess, daught­er of an American diplomat who eloped at 16, divorced and then married the shipping magnate Vis­count Furness. Thel­ma joined the Prince in Kenya in 1928 where the two fell in love. 

He enjoyed a hectic social life, travelling the world (Canada, USA, the Caribbean, India, Australia, New Zealand etc) formally rep­res­ent­ing his father the king, and making many private visits to Germany throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
 
King George V and Tsar Nicolas II, 1913
first cousins and close friends, sharing a family wedding in Berlin
Photo credit: Rare Historical Photos 2018

Dr Jones showed that the war had a fundamental impact on Ed­ward’s political views. It left him with an abhorrence for Commun­ism and anger that the Bolsheviks had killed his Russian cousins, Tsar Nicholas II and his family. [So why did Edward not blame his father King George V, for banning the Russian royals’ entry into Britain when the Tsar was desperate for a safe haven in 1917?]

Edward fervently believed future European war had to be avoided, supporting the British Legion in interwar efforts at reconciliation with German ex-servicemen, even after Hitler came to power.

For King George V, individual personality had to be completely subord­inated to the dignity of the office of king. But Prince Ed­ward believed a king had to be a strong leader who embraced a cult of personality. He admired Fascist leadership because he believed appeasement with Fascism offered European peace. In particular Fascism seemed a modern answer to the Communist threat, for example by improving the lives of Germany’s poor.

King Edward VIII on an unofficial tour to Germany
giving a Hitler salute in 1937
Photo credit: Daily Mail

A weak personality himself, Edward was most vulnerable to the myths Fascism propagated – anti-Semitism, a need for new rad­ical politics of the right and a strongman leader. Perhaps this was appealing because the war had left Edward deeply insecure about his own mas­culinity. By abandoning crown and nation in a passion for the last of many women he had loved, Edward could finally publicly prove his manliness.

I will add one more critical factor that Dr Jones did not mention. Edward VIII’s mother Queen Mary was almost entirely German and his father King George V was partly German. Edward remembered how older relatives would change to speaking German, as soon as any English-speaking staff left them in privacy. Edward himself was fluent in his "mother tongue". So asking the prince to devalue his German heritage would have been cruel, and ineffective.