We’re standing on the Bougainvillea-laden verandah of the grand Figueiredo House in Loutolim, on a kind of personalised tour, being led by Maria de Lourdes Figueiredo de Albuquerque, no less. “How old do you think I am? Go on, guess,” she says with a twinkle in her eyes. It’s a challenge most have failed. While her porcelain skin and wavy cream-and-beige hair belie her age, her words and wit help us reimagine the history of the house.
She tells us that her family home was made open to the public as a museum in collaboration with the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, Goa. We learn that the house was built in two phases – the older part was built 407 years ago; the left wing, two centuries later.
Our drive to Loutolim passed through some seriously scenic landscape along the River Mandovi. Loutolim incidentally is where Mario Miranda’s (the popular cartoonist who was remembered on his 90th birthday anniversary, recently, with a Google doodle) ancestral home is located. The village square in Loutolim is like a showcase for life – it has a lovely church, a school, a park, an old post office (supposedly dating back to Portuguese times) and a cemetery.
As she took us around the house, Maria wove fascinating stories about her own life and about this grand old house. It has an impressive collection of furniture, porcelain, Chinese silk embroidered garments, various costumes and dresses, and 20th century dinner sets from Portugal, 17th century china.
Maria points to several plates on the wall. “They are from China, Japan and Europe,” she says. “That one’s painted by me,’ she points to a plate with an image of flowers. She goes on to tell us about her stint as a member of parliament in Portugal between 1965 and 1969 under the then Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. She left politics and eventually planned a business in Lisbon. She has also worked for a legal firm in Mumbai. “I was a woman entrepreneur when there were virtually none,” she smiles. She came back to Goa several decades back and has been looking after the house and its priceless antiques since.
Next we are led into a majestic hall, redolent of waltzes and grand dinners. The furniture has Indo-European influences. One of the chairs has images of lions, coconut trees, and Dattatreya (a Hindu deity considered to be an incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). We heard the stories behind every room, furniture, painting, vase – how governments tried to take over the property, and how museums around the world wanted to buy the many antiques (including an old chest).
It’s getting quite balmy as we drive down to the next stop, the Palácio do Deão Mansion in Quepem. It’s a 213-year-old mansion built by a Portuguese nobleman Jose Paulo de Almeida, who was also the founder of Quepem town. The house on the banks of the Kushavati River has been restored by its current owners (call ahead to book a tour or a Portuguese-inspired lunch on its lovely patio). We had an amazing lunch of prawns and crabs, fresh salads, fish, vegetables on a patio in this mansion looked after by Ruben Vasco da Gama and his wife.
The sun is low in the sky by now and the light is mellow as we head to Casa Araujo Alvares situated opposite the very touristy Big Foot (Ancestral Goa). We walk up a curving stairway to an elevated entrance with a door that has the family emblem over it. The mansion was owned by a lawyer and is now a museum packed with all kinds of memorabilia – possessions of the family bought over many generations.
Some of it reminded me of old auction houses – like a kerosene-fired refrigerator. The rooms include an imposing hall, the master-bedroom and a nursery with a collection of charming toys from a bygone era. The old kitchen lies stacked with utensils, crockery, cane baskets, earthen containers – imagine a museum based on cooking methods and food.
The huge hall has a wooden floor, a crystalline chandelier, writing desks, a really long dinner table, several love seats and two doorways. We come across a chapel with a statue of Madonna framed by carved wooden panels. We come across a wall full of images of Jesus and Mary. Strangely enough, one image has a chicken on top of Mary’s head – Happy Thanksgiving, it says. It leaves us smiling as we troop back into our vehicles, tired but happy at having come this far.