Aged Por­tuguese man­sion an oa­sis of calm in chaotic In­dia

'I knew I would come back to my roots some­day'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Age sits lightly on the sprawl­ing, 4-cen­turies-old Figueiredo Man­sion. The home is a lived-in repos­i­tory of mem­o­ries trac­ing to the days when the west-coast In­dian state of Goa was a Por­tuguese colony. The Figueiredo fam­ily of Por­tuguese diplo­mats, lawyers and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans be­gan build­ing the man­sion in 1590 as they made their home in quaint Loutolim, sur­rounded by paddy fields and a few neigh­bors. The fam­ily added a sec­ond sec­tion with sim­i­lar de­sign to the home 200 years later. To­day, about an hour's drive from Goa's air­port, a run­down, road­side sign reads "Casa Museu VJ De Figueiredo Loutolim" to let vis­i­tors know they've reached their des­ti­na­tion.

Far from the party beaches and liquor shacks for which Goa is now known, the man­sion op­er­ates as a home­s­tay and a mu­seum, filled with an­tique fur­ni­ture and ar­ti­facts from the 17th cen­tury. The musty smell of aged wood fills ar­caded cor­ri­dors, with rooms to both sides. "It's re­ally like Por­tu­gal in In­dia," said Por­tuguese stu­dent Pureza Lino, 19. "Some­times I look at the walls and I see some­thing that re­minds me of my Mum. Or the smell, only the smell re­minds me of my grand­mother." Three gen­er­a­tions of the Figueiredo fam­ily live in the house, a per­sonal, liv­ing link to his­tory.

'Many, many par­ties'

At 87, Maria de Lour­des Figueiredo de Al­bu­querque is frail and speaks slowly, ad­mit­ting her mem­ory is fad­ing. But her eyes light as she re­calls the "many, many par­ties" hosted in the grand ball­room, with its wall-length mir­rors, teak wood floors and Bel­gian crys­tal chan­de­liers. Now the owner of the man­sion, Maria de Lour­des grew up in the man­sion along with her sis­ter when the fam­ily was based in the west In­dian state. She moved to Por­tu­gal as a young woman, where she wit­nessed the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that led to the end of the Euro­pean coun­try's 451-year colonial rule in Goa in 1961.

A few years later, she be­came the first fe­male mem­ber of Por­tu­gal's par­lia­ment in 1965-69. Then, two decades ago she re­turned to Goa to help her sis­ter take care of the home. "We have to watch these things with some re­spect," she said, her watch­ful eyes tak­ing stock of the paint­ings and em­broi­deries adorn­ing the walls. "Be­cause these things are not made ev­ery few years. It's once made for ages." When her sis­ter died with no chil­dren, Maria de Lour­des in­her­ited. She has ruled out ever sell­ing the prop­erty, say­ing her daugh­ter and grand­son would suc­ceed her.

Maria de Fa­tima Figueiredo de Al­bu­querque, now in her 50s, was born in the house be­fore the end of colonial rule but grew up in Por­tu­gal. Two years ago, she left her job as an ex­ec­u­tive with an in­ter­na­tional cos­met­ics com­pany and re­turned to Goa to help her mother take care of the house. "I knew I would come back to my roots some­day," she said, while giv­ing vis­i­tors a tour of the mu­seum. Ev­ery ar­ti­fact in the man­sion has its own story, and Fa­tima's nar­ra­tive helps in bring­ing some of that com­pos­ite cul­ture alive for the guests. "This is the ball­room and all the fur­ni­ture is made in Goa by Goans, and by Hin­dus, Mus­lims and Catholics," Fa­tima said, point­ing to a wooden chair with the fig­ures of three Hindu gods carved into the back.

Fam­ily trea­sure

Nearby, an an­tique chest of drawers made of ivory, metal, rose­wood and teak with images of lions carved into the base is sim­i­lar to a piece in the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don. But that is "smaller than this one," Fa­tima said. "This is the only one that ex­ists with four lions and also in this size." Mov­ing next through the din­ing room, Fa­tima points to an­other fam­ily trea­sure - a 60-piece crock­ery set made for the fam­ily by the East In­dia Com­pany some 200 years ago. Guests also de­light in see­ing the fam­ily's 350-year old cra­dle, which Fa­tima her­self was the last to use.

Her own chil­dren were born in Por­tu­gal. Other trea­sures in­cluded an 18th-cen­tury Ger­man pi­ano, porce­lain vases from China and Ja­pan, mir­rors and boxes with in­tri­cate gold fil­i­gree work and ceil­ing mu­rals de­pict­ing Por­tuguese ex­plorer Vasco De Gama's jour­ney to In­dia by sea. Tak­ing care of so many trea­sures was daunt­ing, Fa­tima said. "I hope that noth­ing can be bro­ken dur­ing my ex­is­tence in this house." Tourists said the walk through his­tory was fas­ci­nat­ing. Many said the man­sion felt like a home, with its li­brary stocked with old books in English, French and Span­ish. "You don't have this op­por­tu­nity ev­ery day," said Lil­iana Sanchez, from Colom­bia. Pe­dro Figueiredo de Al­bu­querque de Oliveira No­vais, as Fa­tima's only son, is al­ready think­ing about how to ex­pand the man­sion's home­s­tay busi­ness.

More rooms

He said tak­ing over the fam­ily legacy would even­tu­ally be his duty, but that the prop­erty must sus­tain it­self fi­nan­cially. Born and raised in Lis­bon, the 24-year-old trained as an in­dus­trial de­signer and has al­ready be­gun over­see­ing ren­o­va­tions to cre­ate more rooms. The home­s­tay cur­rently of­fers five rooms, each fit­ted with air con­di­tion­ers and mod­ern bath­rooms.

But main­tain­ing the man­sion to its orig­i­nal stan­dards has be­come dif­fi­cult, he said. Find­ing skilled and trust­wor­thy crafts­men to re­store an­tiques and re­pair the house is harder, with many of In­dia's ar­ti­sanal crafts dy­ing out. Still, he plans to re­tain the hos­pi­tal­ity and per­sonal touch of­fered by his mother and grand­mother. "I never knew a lot of the fam­ily," he said, but he wants to main­tain the tra­di­tions. "I want to keep the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing din­ner with guests." — AP

Maria de Lour­des Figueiredo de Al­bu­querque, 87, right, and her daugh­ter Maria de Fa­tima Figueiredo de Al­bu­querque walk in one of the rooms of their 427-year-old Por­tuguese her­itage home in Goa, In­dia.

A run-down sign board on the side of the road reads ‘Casa Museu VJDe Figueiredo Loutolim’ near the 427-year-old Por­tuguese her­itage home in Goa.

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