We arrived around noon and were told by the maid that Mrs. de Menezes Bragança (who guides visitors around the house) was at lunch. Would we please sit? We sat on carved wooden chairs and waited. Sure enough, within a few minutes, the lady, white-haired and very spry, arrived.
We began with the drawing room, with its balconies, heavy curtains, and painted walls (an unusual pattern of thistles all along the top). Mrs de Menezes Bragança started off by revealing that the chairs we’d been sitting on were 350 years old. In fact, almost everything in the house - furniture, silverware, porcelain - is between 250 and 350 years old. The Spanish tiles on the floor are 450 years old.
In the drawing room are an exquisitely carved Chinese cabinet of ebony; hand-painted Chinese porcelain plates and urns; a Japanese cloisonné vase decorated with goldfish; and a lovely ladies’ fan painted in muted colours and gold leaf. "My great-grandmother’s," our guide said. Next to it was an intricately carved box that looked like some dark wood, until Mrs de Menezes Bragança held it up to the light, where it revealed itself in rich, blood-gold tones as flawless Chinese amber.
We were led onwards to the 5,000-book library (the largest private collection in Goa) that belonged to our guide’s father-in-law, a famous journalist. Luis de Menezes Bragança was so vocal in his criticism of Portuguese rule that when he died, they wouldn’t let him be buried within the pale, and his mausoleum stands across the road from the house.
Past the sunlight filtering in through windowpanes of oyster shell, we reached the ballroom, with its Italian marble floor, gold-painted scrollwork, and Belgian-glass chandeliers. The dining room, with its massive dining table, was less ethereal, but equally imposing. The sideboards were of teak inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and the glass-fronted cabinets were full of china and well-polished English and Portuguese silver, all in perfect condition.
Our guide’s own bedroom had an intricately carved chest of camphor wood (which we dutifully sniffed), and in another spare bedroom was a teak wardrobe inlaid with rosewood.
By the time we emerged, we weren’t keen on visiting the more "modern" half of the mansion. We eventually went, but were disappointed - it’s too modern. Mrs. de Menezes Bragança’s home is by far the better.
There’s no entry fee to either home, but there’s a contribution box, and all donations go towards the upkeep of the mansion.
New Delhi, India
August 6, 2005
From journal A Whiff of Portugal