By Rituparna Roy
‘The Latin Quarter Walk’, by Soul Travelling, on a bright Sunday morning in March, turned out to be my most memorable experience of Goa, rivaling a quiet sunset at Benaulim Beach the previous evening. I must confess I simply fell in love with the Goan houses in the (less than) three days that I was there! I had gone to have lung-full’s of the sea; instead, these houses filled up my phone and head space. And nowhere more so than in Fontainhas, Panjim.
Of the options offered by Soul Travelling (ST), I was actually most keen on doing ‘A Saligao Paasai’ – a village trail, meant to be explored as a leisurely evening walk – but the timing didn’t suit me. So I went for what was available. I can’t judge what I missed out on, but what I got to experience was pure delight.
On its website, ST was clear about what it offered and what it didn’t, besides its trail overview, highlights and itinerary. And it delivered what it promised: the trail began at the Panjim Post Office, and ended with a house visit, after tea and snacks at one of the oldest bakeries of Panjim. The bakery in question, ‘Confeitaria 31de Janerio’, established in 1930, was undoubtedly a popular one, as it was crowded even on a Sunday morning. As I waited at a Mario Miranda ceramic-tiled table, I was told by my guide, Suraj, that there were only two people handling all that order; and more interestingly, that all those puffs and patties were being baked not in an electric but the traditional wood oven. On the way out, he showed me both the oven and the stock of wood in a store room nearby.
Suraj is a Goan with an undiluted love for the place and its culture. Raised in Goa and trained as a mining engineer, he divides his time between his professional job in Bangalore and his passion work at ST in Goa. He livened up the tour for me by interspersing the historical facts and anecdotes with sharing bits of his life and asking me about mine.
One of the points that Suraj emphasized during the walk was that, though Fontainhas was only a small slice of Panjim, it has been witness to all the significant phases of the city, “from the times of the tobacco trade to the minting of coins to being the final administrative centre of the Portuguese” in 1843. The shift of the population from Old (‘Velha’) Goa to the New (‘Nova’) had happened because of a devastating epidemic, and the new settlements tended to be dense. As was Fontainhas. I could see that.
Tucked away behind the Post Office was a vibrant network of narrow lanes and small streets, with little houses almost attached to each other on both sides. The colors – never less than bright, often verging on garish – were always striking. There were 50 shades of yellow, for sure; many of blue and green; with a dash of maroon or dark red every now and then, here and there; and in one rare instance, peach. I loved everything about the houses, their “rich Indo-Portuguese architecture”: the red tiled roofs, the projecting balconies, the ceramic tiles on walls and windows, the little front gardens and trees, not to forget the roosters at the entrance. The sweetest feature of all was the glass alcove in some of the walls, with either the family’s patron saint or Mother Mary in it, blessing one and all who passed by.
However, the surprise for me was walking right into a Sunday service – well, almost – at St. Sebastian Chapel. Since visitors are not allowed after the pandemic happened, I couldn’t go inside; but I did see a full house from the outside, and heard out a hymn that the congregation sang in perfect unison.
It was time now for the final stop in the itinerary: a house visit. That house was ‘Solar Andrade’.
The tour was a short affair: a beautiful bougainvillea-framed entrance with a charming front garden led one up the stairs to a reception room, followed, as one moved directly forward, by a moderately sized dining room and a long rectangular drawing room, giving way to an equally long balcony that looked out on St. Sebastian’s just a few yards away and other houses ringed round the property.
This one belonged to Airito Andrade. Seventh generation to inherit it, he showed me around the 185-year-old house, filling me in about its history and his passion to maintain his inheritance, which he considered a “privilege”. “This is not a museum”, he stressed, right at the beginning of the short tour – living, as he did, with his wife, children and mother in it. He had siblings widely dispersed – a brother in Bombay, a sister in Australia. He, too, had been in Oman for about half a decade, but returned to Goa in 2018. In 2020, with lockdown-gifted time, he decided to renovate the house. Luckily for him, he found local laborers “hungry for work” and it was done in four months flat. He tied up with Soul Travelling a year later, opening up his home to tourists at the end of a trail.
He began his tour (of basically the first floor) by drawing my attention to the patron saint of the house – St. Anthony. If I had any wish and prayed with an earnest heart, the saint would fulfill it, he assured me. And once that happened, I should let him know, he requested; he would then light a candle in gratefulness to the saint. This simple faith touched me. Raised in a Catholic convent in West Bengal, I had spent the most impressionable decade of my life praying to Jesus and Mary for every conceivable wish under the sun. And for long after, “Hail Mary” would involuntarily come to my lips in moments of crisis. Even when it didn’t any more, I still had the scope to admire the stupendous monuments of Christian devotion across Schenghen Europe during my decade of residence in the Netherlands. Of all those visits, culminating appropriately in Rome, my most fervent wish was made at the Nortre Dame Cathedral, Paris, during my first visit to the city in 2007. I have a photograph of me lighting a candle at the altar. 15 years later, I was tempted to wish again.
I told Airito about my school; and the Portuguese enclave we have in West Bengal along the Hoogly, Bandel, with its famous church remaining its chief attraction. He pointed out the many pieces of furniture in the rooms that were from Macao, another important Portuguese colony in Asia. The furniture was indeed the most striking aspect of the rooms – from tables and chairs to caskets and cabinets, several of the latter filled with all manner of delectable crockery. I was also particularly drawn to the sea-shell window shutters, which I had marked in many other houses of the neighborhood as well. The ones in ‘Solar Andrade’, however, bore the distinct sign of recent renovation. After the tour, Airito gave me a ‘Visitor’s Book’ to sign. I’ve never done this with greater pleasure.
This tour was the last thing I did in Goa. I had walked into the past at Fontainhas, on a bright spring morning; I flew back to the present in Kolkata, a couple of hours later.
I know I will return… at some point in the future.
Rituparna Roy is an academic and writer based in Kolkata. Her maiden collection of shorts, GARIAHAT JUNCTION, was published in 2020 by Kitaab International, Singapore. You may find her @gariahatjunction.