A chance meeting with a local on the banks of a restored river opens up a window onto the life journey and vision of others.
Senhor Claudio Funari is a well known local figure in Carlshalton, south London. He builds bank side sculptures using scrap metal he has pulled from the River Wandle. He also creates bank side flowerbeds and small gardens using natural materials such as fluvial cobbles and branches of parasitic ivy he removes from riparian trees as he works.
Short, slim and unassuming with kind eyes and a soft voice, Funari (that's what he likes to be called) is originally from São Paulo, Brasil. He started chatting to me in Portuguese when we met during a lunchtime walk I was taking with colleagues from the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) to watch trout breeding in this restored urban chalk river. They knew him very well by sight but had never stopped to chat with him.
I acted as his interpreter as Funari talked to us in Portuguese about not only about his work along the Wandle but also where fish tended to shoal in different reaches of the river. We all stood and looked at large redds - areas of pebbles and cobbles cleared by thrashing trout to lay and fertilise their eggs. Funari pulled an old photo album out of his shopping trolley where he also kept a radio that played music continuously as we talked. The album was packed with photos showing his work as an artist in Brazil in the 1970's and 1980's when Funari was commissioned for sculpture, paintings and restoration work for private clients but also for churches and cathedrals across the state of São Paulo.
Claudio Funari - a local artist who creates sculptures and "pop up" gardens with material he finds along the River Wandle. He brings joy to others and that is important.
To me, someone like Funari personifies the phrase that "life is a journey". An amazingly warm-hearted man who shares the art and gardens that he creates from the materials that are at hand along the Wandle in Carlshalton. He expressed no bitterness about leaving his previous life in another, much warmer continent, a long long time ago. He now knows and loves the River Wandle after following family to the UK. He must be a person with many stories to tell.
Funari represents, in a very distinct way and at a personal, local level, how rivers are important to our well-being. The Wandle, a prize winning restored urban river, is a source of inspiration to him. What he creates contributes to the well-being of the locals that know him. I saw them smile and appreciate his work as they walked by. It made a difference, albeit fleetingly, a splash of colour on a grey urban winter's day. All too often people like Funari are lazily labelled as eccentrics and smiled at patronizingly by many. Funari channels his creativity, with nothing to prove and without expecting anything material in return, to give joy to others in a time of rampant individuality, risk aversion and smartphone staring. And that means a lot.