Friday, October 27, 2017

Mediterranean 2017 - part two

The harbour of Horta. The picture’s not panoramic, but Veendam’s stern deck configuration makes it seem so. 

Mark Twain, then a young man, arrived here in 1867 with the first cruise ship of American tourists.

The Quaker City, a side-wheel steamship, carried sixty-five pioneering passengers on a Mediterranean cruise of five-and-a-half months. Burdened, as are we all, with the national prejudices of our age, Twain and his compatriots warily considered a jaunt ashore: ‘A swarm of swarthy, noisy, lying, shoulder-shrugging, gesticulating Portuguese boatmen, with brass rings in their ears and fraud in their hearts, climbed the ship’s sides and various parties of us contracted with them to take us ashore at so much a head, silver coin of any country’.

We, on the other hand, pass uninterested immigration officials and, within five minutes, I am on my own at a handsome, 1933 Catholic Church.

Igrega de Nossa Senhora da Conceição or Church of Our Lady of Conceicao - the parish name -  is a happy change from so many dark, intimidating and pompous southern European churches. A 1926 earthquake destroyed its predecessor.

The stained glass is populated with jolly little cherubs, one of whom appears to be having a snooze. I am uplifted - and a little surprised - by a building from when the clergy and Fascist Portuguese government were in fond embrace. However, to give Rome credit, much Church architecture in the mid 20th Century was open, bright, even innovative.

Aside from a modernist church, a shop window reminds of when another startling symbol of progress arrived in a then particularly backward part of a backward country. 

Horta was a stop for transatlantic flying boats. PanAm's ‘Yankee Clipper’ first arrived in May, 1939.

Rough seas often made landings difficult (it took three attempts for Veendam to dock this morning) and planes were sometimes damaged. PanAm once paid a shipping company an estimated $20,000 (in the early 1940s) to get passengers off the island. 

Sadly, no flying boats now dramatically land … 

... and the best one can do is Horta’s Hotel do Canal with its PanAm route map and rather nifty large scale model Clipper.

However, Horta’s become a frequent transatlantic yachting stop and hundreds leave their mark on the marina walls, some quite artistic.

As for Mark Twain’s brief visit: ‘We walked up the middle of the principal street … every moment excited couples shot ahead of the procession to get a good look back, just as village boys do when they accompany the (circus) elephant on his advertising trip from street to street. It was very flattering for me to be part of the material for such a sensation’. 

But for a courteous nod or two from locals, no-one takes the slightest notice of me. This, I have found, is often an advantage for photography ....

I find a pleasant Portuguese red wine - Terrenus Serra de Sao Mamende, D.O.C. Alentejo Portalegre 2012 - for under ten Euros and return to the ship.