Archives for category: Montevideo Uruguay
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Stained glass panel for a ceiling light

You may have seen a number of my previous posts on Montevideo’s architecture – its old city centre https://theproverbial.org/2012/12/22/montevideo-ciudad-vieja/

and its cemeteries https://theproverbial.org/2014/09/11/the-british-cemetery-of-montevideo/

On Tuesday I visited an architectural salvage firm in the Aguada area of Montevideo http://www.CarraraDemoliciones.com.uy  where the affecting sight of the city’s architectural heritage in pieces made clear how much of the old city is being torn down to make way for new apartments, but also that people value – and are prepared to pay for – preserving some small elements of that heritage.

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Entrance on the busy Avenida General Flores

Even purely utilitarian pieces – cast iron pipe, security grilles, window frames, iron shutters – have something of the visual character of the old city about them.

Behind the miscellany at the front is a dark warehouse full of salvaged floorboards. As in other parts of the world, tradesmen here tell you that the old wood is of much better quality than new flooring – properly dried, free from knots, broad and thick – though it will cost more to lay than modern system-build wooden flooring which clicks together without nails or screws. Even this old, it looks, feels and smells like real wood.

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Functional and decorative

But it’s the decorative items – breath-taking in their variety, profusion and grandeur – which drive the message home. This city was once much more prosperous, vying with European capitals for elegance, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, judging by the style of the ornament.

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Turn-of-the century ironwork

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One lighting bracket still sports its glassware

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Railings for steps to grand front doors

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Not one but two cast-iron fountains, in pieces

Fewer fragile items survive – stained glass, painted panels, ceramic tiles – but these too suggest wealth and elegance, less on show now in Uruguay, even in the playground of the rich which is Punta del Este.

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Accomplished stained glass work

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Job lots of the azulejos or blue and white tiles favoured in Latin America

When you ask, you are told that Latin America grew rich on feeding and clothing the combatants of the Second World War with beef and wool, and when it stopped, so did the riches.

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Industrious putti in field and factory – painted plaster panels

But agricultural wealth continues to support the rich families of Latin America – what else intervened to stop the rise of prosperity? The echo of the time of the dictatorships is much fainter, but it can be chilling – the sight, for example, of one of the hated army trucks which brought soldiers onto the neighbourhood streets at night to arrest and take away suspected dissidents, elicits fear and loathing still. It is not only prosperity which needs salvaging. Talk in Europe and the US of impending civil war seems a little wild against that cultural backdrop.

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Exhausted by his labours

One of the oldest cemeteries in Latin America, the Cementerio Británico Montevideo was first sited on a piece of land known as the Cementerio de los Ingleses – during the British Invasions of 1807 a battle took place there, and several British soldiers were killed. Their comrades buried their bodies on the land on which they had fallen. In 1828 the British Consul in Montevideo bought the land for the British government, and the British Cemetery became more formally recognised. In 1885 this original central city site was closed, and the cemetery transferred to its current location next to the Buceo Cemetery.

In honour of "Victoria, Queen and Mother of her People"

In honour of “Victoria, Queen and Mother of her People”

The 1902 obelisk at its entrance in honour of Queen Victoria was funded and constructed in 18 months. It’s a reminder of how prosperous and patriotic was the British community in Montevideo.

A strong portrait in fine statuary marble

A strong portrait in fine statuary marble

The portrait bust is impressive, the inscription V . R . I (for Victoria Regina Imperatrix) an echo from the past. The monument dates and celebrates her accession and long reign.

An empire on which  the sun never set

An empire on which the sun never set

The site’s occupants remind us of the character of the British – they are from all parts of the United Kingdom, and they include sailors, soldiers and ordinary people as well as the great and good.

An obelisk for the Consul

An obelisk for the Consul

An elaborate Irish family grave with Masonic hourglass

An elaborate Irish family grave with Masonic hourglass

Some who died here were commemorated by friends and shipmates …

An ordinary merchant seaman from the shires who died young

A merchant seaman from the shires who died young

… others by their émigré families now established in the New World.

Geordie emigrants

Geordie emigrants

Established as a Protestant cemetery to accommodate those who couldn’t be buried elsewhere, the Jesuit symbol on this gravestone makes good the cemetery’s claim to have no restrictions regarding religion …

Emigrant from Eccles near Manchester

Emigrant from Eccles near Manchester, another from the Falklands

… and there are many examples of non-British nationality.

A Germany dynasty

A Germany dynasty

Grave of a young American merchant seaman

Grave of a young American merchant seaman, still remembered

Viennese ("Weener") Jewish family grave

Viennese Jewish family grave

Those commemorated may have died in parts unknown.

French Jewish memorial

French Jewish memorial

Others have left home and family so far behind that little more than their names are known.

Grave of an Irish woman

Grave of an Irish woman

A deceased wife is the subject of a fulsome eulogy from her spouse.

Memorial from a loving husband

Memorial from a loving husband

Some recount the lives of their occupants in old and adopted cultures.

One of the early RAF airmen, later a civilian instructor

One of the early RAF airmen, later a civilian instructor

Bilingual German-Uruguyan family grave

German-Uruguyan family grave, with street market behind

There is a German community here too. The German Patients’ Union (Deutscher Krankenverein) saw to it that those who died in Uruguay received a decent burial. Some of the crew of the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee were buried nearby following the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

Post-War burials continue

Post-war burials continue

Earlier European history is also visible.

Grave of cavalry officer serving Franz Josef I, Austro-Hungarian Emperor during World War I

Cavalry officer serving Franz Josef I, Austro-Hungarian Emperor during World War I

The old world’s institutions take vigorous root in the New.

The cemetery has long been associated with Masonic families

The cemetery has long been associated with Masonic families

Bilingual grave with tribute by fellow Rotarians

Grave with tribute by fellow Rotarians

With differences – bankers are not held in such regard in the old world.

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Employee of the state-owned Banco (BCO) Republica Uruguay

The cemetery is still in use. At first glance it appears like the cemetery of a prosperous British city – perhaps the statuary is a little florid.

Italian surname, Spanish inscription, English-speaking neighbour

Italian surname, Spanish inscription, English-speaking neighbour

But the graves are eloquent testimony to the turbulent history of this part of Latin America, on a large and on a small scale. One of the most striking monuments still cries for justice from beyond the grave. These stones truly do speak.

Among the casualties of war and industry, a personal drama

Among the casualties of war and industry, a personal drama

 

We Anglos are used to speaking the world’s lingua franca – around 70% of the world’s business is transacted in English – so we’re taken aback to find that not everyone can default to our tongue, or that some have only a handful of words in their Anglo vocabulary.

It’s not confined to Latin America – in Tokyo airport I saw an alluring refrigerated display of a drink they call Sweat – but in Brazil, with less British influence than say Argentina, it’s especially true, though they’re catching on, witness the huge number of English language schools. Sao Paulo is providing free English lessons for taxi drivers to prepare for the Cup and the Games. Cultura Inglesa, a clever combination of consulate, arts centre and language school, has 56 branches in Brazil.  http://www.culturainglesa.net/wps/portal/inicio

Evidence for the absence of English in Brazil and Uruguay surprises you with unintentional, sometimes Anglo-Saxon humour. A selection below.

Leather goods boutique Christ, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Boutique, not church, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Supermarket, Montevideo - not a Welcome sign

Supermarket, Montevideo – not a Welcome sign

For the educated dog, Sao Paulo, Brazil

For the educated dog, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Not

Not.   Supermarket, Sao Paulo

Let's hear it for fabric softener. Supermarket, Sao Paulo

Let’s hear it for fabric softener. Supermarket, Sao Paulo

Boutique near the Playa de los Ingleses, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Boutique near the Playa de los Ingleses, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Pharmacy, Sao Paulo

Pharmacy, Sao Paulo

Bakery section, Sao Paulo supermarket

Bakery section, Sao Paulo supermarket

People are puzzled when I stop to take such pictures …

In the Switzerland of South America – in Montevideo, Colonia and Punta del Este – a unique Uruguayan approach to cars can be seen. Cars are expensive and the climate is benign, so the road along the south coast from Montevideo to Punta boasts gently rusting fields which present a history of the car in the twentieth century. And some are on the street …

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Mid-20th century car on 17th-century street, Colonia. Not the rustiest road-going car I saw …

At Carrasco airport, the taxi fleet is dominated by white C-class Mercedes estates, and the long-distance bus services are frequent and excellent. The transport infrastructure is sound.

Land transport, República Oriental del Uruguay Armada

Land transport, República Oriental del Uruguay Armada, Colonia

The familiar brands are there.

Champion spark plug, Montevideo

Champion spark plug, Montevideo

In Punta, playground of the rich, you see plenty of Porsches and the odd Ferrari, while at the other end of the scale, Uruguyan recyclers – recolectores – use a very eco-friendly form of transport.

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Recolector, Plaza Zabala, Montevideo

Horse-drawn transport has its enthusiasts and collectors, but most striking is the 3- and 4-wheeled, small-engine transport.

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Cart and carriage collection, Finca El Sosiego, site of the Punta Jazz Festival

As elsewhere, quad bikes are basic and economical, adopted and developed enthusiastically. The well-known brands appear here too.

Kawasaki quad, petrol station, Punta

Kawasaki quad, petrol station, Punta

In Colonia hire quads ply the cobbled streets; Dad drives with son up front, while Mum and daughter take the rear-facing seat, enjoying that view. Quads can also be hired at the ferry terminal from Buenos Aires.

Ready to tackle the slopes

Ready to tackle the slopes

Locals clearly find them useful.

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Quad in a mild climate, Colonia

None more so than the jobbing builder I encountered. It was hard to believe that this is road-legal, though it reveals the Uruguayan approach to regulation: when he’s stopped by the police the usual reaction is a joking “Get that thing out of the way!”

No differential on the only axle

Kick-start engine, no differential on the axle

It boasts a 1969 100 cc Honda engine, like the Honda Cub step-through bike, and does 38 kilometres per litre, 107 miles per Imperial gallon.

Single windscreen wiper, tiller-style steering

Single windscreen wiper, tiller-style steering

Metal sides, fibreglass roof repaired with gaffer tape, sliding windows, carpeted floor and doors …

Room for all the tools of the trade

Room for all the tools of the trade, including self-made ladder

He has to drive carefully in cross winds, and take corners slowly. Don’t think somehow he’ll be putting in a claim for injury on the job either …

P.S.

Here’s one I saw at a wedding reception.

1949 V8 Cadillac, Montevideo 2014

1949 V8 Cadillac, Montevideo 2014

During February, I took a break in Uruguay, to see their famed carnaval and to sample the pleasures of coast and countryside. Nothing had prepared me for the delights of the old town centre in the capital Montevideo though. To say I could have been in Paris or Brussels, or perhaps in Palma, is not intended as a back-handed compliment – Uruguayans themselves are proud of the more European style of their culture compared with other parts of South America. The elegance of Montevideo architecture astonished me.

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Ex-headquarters of Uruguayan Navy, now ferry terminal, Puerto de Montevideo

The centre of Montevideo is small enough to explore on foot. A busy and prosperous port – ferry terminal, cargo operations, one of the few railway lines – it handles a constant stream of visitors from Buenos Aires, a few hours across the Rio de la Plata by ferry, and tourists from neighbouring Brazil. They stroll past as you sit on the terrace of your favoured restaurant with a glass of medio y medio, an easy-drinking mix of espumante and dry white wine.

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British cast-iron water spout …

In the usual way, the central wholesale food market has been transformed into a popular retail emporium. The Uruguayan version has a surprising number of barbecues or parrilladas – I stopped counting after 20 – offering every kind of meat cooked to order. During the working week at lunch time, they are extremely busy, serving between a dozen and 40 or 50 customers at a time, at counters and tables. Not a country for convinced vegetarians, Uruguay.

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… and British market hall, Mercado del Puerto

A pleasant surprise awaits you a block or two away, up the hill from the quayside. The historic core of the centre is crammed with turn-of-the-century town houses, street after street of them.

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Gracious stucco and cast iron ornament …

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… from Belle Epoque to Art Deco

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Some are inhabited and in good order

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Others await investment

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Beautiful moulding, though balustrade needs attention

Art Nouveau gem

Art Nouveau gem …

 ... and occasionally, more utilitarian Art Deco

… and occasional, more utilitarian, Art Deco

Entrance to a naval officers' club

Entrance to a naval officers’ club …

 ... beautifully tiled

… beautifully tiled

Majolica colours

Majolica colours, naval motifs

Some frontages need rescue

Some frontages need rescue

Some demand more drastic measures

Others demand more drastic measures

Heritage renovation

Heritage renovation

Further up the slope of Montevideo Hill, the Plaza Zabala has some of the grandest buildings, around an equestrian monument to the city’s founder, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. Formerly residential, these palatial buildings are now commercial or cultural.

Casa Matriz, now Discount Bank

La Casa Matriz, now Discount Bank

Palacio Taranco, now Museo de Artes Decorativas

Palacio Taranco, now Museo de Artes Decorativas

The museum’s director told us proudly that the 1910 building’s design was completely French – the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is also the work of its architects Girault and Léon.

Palacio Taranco interior

Palacio Taranco interior

Other, less grand buildings have been re-purposed too. Away from the centre, a prison has become an art gallery, with temporary and permanent exhibitions – a cool Donald Judd caught my eye.

With paint and ironwork, prison becomes gallery

Predio Carcelario de Miguelete, now Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo

Predio Carcelario de Miguelete, now Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo

Prison cells from 1889 exhibiting artworks now

And in a more comfortable part of town, a prison administration block (see below the clock) has become a shopping centre.

Administracion building welcomes shoppers

Administracion welcomes shoppers

The country’s institutions  – parliament and central bank – still occupy imposing buildings in the centre. Guardians of Uruguay’s political and economic health, both are regarded with fierce loyalty by their citizens.

Asamblea General in wedding-cake style, complete with carriage drive

Asamblea General in wedding-cake style, complete with carriage drive

 Banco Central de la República Oriental del Uruguay

Banco Central de la República Oriental del Uruguay

That other great institution, the Roman Catholic church, is also in evidence, both in Montevideo and in the country.

Montevideo church

Montevideo church

San Carlos church

San Carlos church

A nation’s history can be read from its gravestones. At San Carlos, there was the pauper’s grave of a slave of a military officer, and of one who had fought in the ‘war with the English’ (1806-1807? 1845-1849?).

Pauper graves of Maria, "morena esclava del Colonel Leonardo Olivera", and to a commander in the war "contra los Ingleses."

Graves of Maria, “morena esclava del Colonel Leonardo Olivera”, and of a commander in the war “contra los Ingleses”

Indeed, driving through the countryside brought to mind British landscapes, complete with flocks of sheep and dry-stone walling.

Could this be Wales?

Could this be Wales?

Grand monuments may honour Uruguayan politicians, but it was refreshing to see the role of ordinary farmers and drovers being acknowledged too.

Supporting the monument to Zabala

Supporting the Zabala monument

Wool and beef are still major exports

Wool and beef are still major exports

The gap between rich and poor is less marked than elsewhere, and the physical evidence of prosperity is clear. It seems that a prosperous life has been and is still possible for the vast majority of Uruguayans – it’s known as the Switzerland of South America.

Entrance to a countryside villa, now museum

Entrance to a country villa, now museum

And prosperity is not confined to the capital in this agricultural economy.

San Carlos town house

San Carlos town house

Cast iron door grille

Cast iron door grille

The Uruguayan way of life appeals. Which is why I’m going again. Stay tuned to see more of this … and a happy and prosperous 2013 to all!

Town house courtyard with working well, yerba maté kit in foreground

Town house courtyard with working well, and yerba maté kit in foreground

Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco, airside - architect  Uruguayan-born Rafael Viñoly

Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco, airside – architect Uruguayan-born Rafael Viñoly

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