domingo, 29 de abril de 2018

Memories of a grande dame

“It is a magical place, it is a mythological place. It is somewhere which one cannot believe does not have a fantastic legend to its name, where you feel the presence of Bogart ... or Bacall ... or Loretta Young, or Hemingway ...” Those are the words of French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who stayed at Macau’s Hotel Bela Vista in 1968.
The big yellow-and-white building on Penha Hill has seen its share of fantastic times since William Clarke – a British captain and commander of the Heungshan steamer that travelled between Macau and Hong Kong – and his wife Catherine decided to open Macau’s first Western-style luxury hotel. They chose the large, three-story building, with its neoclassical architecture and wide balconies, and called it the Boa Vista (good view, in portuguese).
Opened on July 1, 1890*, it had direct access to the beach, “hot, cold, shower and seawater baths, large and ventilated dining, billiards, reading room” and a “well supplied bar”. At the time, Macau was a summer resort where people often went to recuperate from diseases such as tuberculosis. They came mostly from Hong Kong, Canton and Shanghai. Among the famous early guests there was Hong Kong governor William Robertson, in 1892.
But revolutionary currents swirled through China and in November 1899, with hardly any guests, Clark sold the hotel to the Hong Kong, Canton and Macao Steamer Company for 15,000 patacas. The French wanted to buy it and turn it into a sanatorium for their soldiers wounded in Indo-China, but Macau’s governor wouldn’t allow the sale and the building became government property.

In 1909, the Boa Vista reopened under a French manager, Auguste Vernon, who soon took ill and was replaced by Albert Watkins. Police, however, discovered illegal gambling activities and closed the business. From 1917 to 1923 it housed a secondary school. Renowned Portuguese poet Camilo Pessanha was one of the teachers.
On December 23, 1936, the hotel reopened with a new name, Bela Vista (“beautiful view”), but, in the wake of the Sino-Japanese War, it was used instead to accommodate some of the thousands of refugees escaping atrocities, mostly from Hong Kong and the mainland. Just after the war, the hotel was used by Allied soldiers to rest.
In the early 1950s, the Bela Vista became famous for lavish balls, featuring a live band and that attracted hundreds of wealthy socialites and expatriates from Hong Kong and Macau for decades to come. In 1967, Adrião Pinto Marques became the hotel manager. A fan of Napoleon, he decorated the site with memorabilia of the French leader. When Pinto Marques died in 1985 his son took over.
The hotel, with its “magical” setting and East-meets-West atmosphere, became a popular location for films and TV shows. Some of the more famous ones include Around the World in 80 Days and Return to Paradise.
By the end of the 1980s, when the hotel was deteriorating, Macau government declared it a historic building. After a major restoration, it reopened in 1992 as a luxury boutique hotel, with a décor resembling that of a traditional Portuguese mansion with eight rooms decorated in Portuguese style accented with Oriental antiques.
Seven years later, as Macau was preparing to return to Chinese rule, the hotel bid its final guests farewell in a series of lavish parties and The Last Bela Vista Ball arranged by Hong Kong party host Ted Marr. “Five hundred people, who have each spent HK$2,200, will dance until dawn observing the dress code, ‘black tie, gorgeous in gold or Walking on Sunshine’, the last a tribute to the song without which no Ted Marr event is complete”, reported the South China Morning Post at the time.
By the end of 1999, the Bela Vista was converted to the residence of Portugal’s consul for Macau and Hong Kong, which it remains today.
Text by João Botas published at Macau Destination in 2015 (South China Morning Post), Hong Kong

*Notícia de 4 de Julho de 1890 do jornal Hong Kong Daily Press: " Acaba de aparecer uma importante contribuição para as instalações hoteleiras de Macau. O Hotel Boa-Vista, belo e novo edifício com 20 quartos, situado na Baía do Bispo, frente ao Mar do Sul, foi aberto a 1 de corrente. (...)
PS: os links acima são de posts escritos em português sobre o hotel Boa/Bela Vista.

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