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  • Shelley Dark

9. Casa da Moeda

I am to be at the Panaji Post Office at 9.30am for an historical walking tour through Sao Tome and Fontainhas, or the main part of Goa. I stroll the 2 kilometres from our hotel, keeping to the shady side of the street as it is already hot, taking photos on the way. My shirt sticks to my back.

The doors. Always the doors.

I love the way that Indian women wear fresh flowers in their hair.

I've said it before, but the way complementary colours get together always amazes me. It's as if they have secret meetings to decide where.

When I arrive a little early, I take a photo of a shingle for a gynaecologist on the side of a large building nearby which faces the river across the busy main road. It's quaint how they've put DR MRS together and in passing, I wonder why.

I text the guide Luis Dias to ask if I am in the right place. He answers and arrives almost at the same time. We shake hands and I instantly warm to him. What a guide he turns out to be. Another who is pursuing his passion, living his dream, and sharing it with others, giving back to the community. What a privilege to be with him. Follow me, he says.

We walk straight towards the building whose sign I photographed. I am lucky enough to live here, he says. I took a photo of the sign on this building, I said. I know, he says, I was watching you. I am a gynaecologist too. We both laugh, and at the front door, he shows me dates in mosaic on the floor at the front door. I didn't ever find out about Elvira.

This was once the Goa Mint. The first date 1834 is the date it became a mint, the second is the date his family bought it. It was originally built by a tobacco trader and the two post office buildings nearby were originally tobacco trading houses.

An old photo.

Luis shows me the sign saying Casa da Moeda (house of money).

We go upstairs and sit at the dining table where Luis’ son is eating his breakfast. And I meet Luis’ stunning, intelligent and very charming wife Chryselle. She writes about travel, green issues, design, literacy, books and culture and has written for such diverse publications as Time, Architectural Digest (India), Marie Claire (India), The Wall Street Journal (India).

Luis grandfather Miguel Dias 1854-1936 came from a very poor family which grew ochra. He wanted desperately to become a doctor, but family finances made it very difficult. They scrimped and saved to get him to university. He studied in Lisbon but could not afford to buy the textbooks which he copied at night by candle light. On graduation he was sent to the Portuguese colonies in Africa - Mozambique and Angola, returning to Goa in 1888. He was instrumental in bringing bubonic plague under control when it broke out in 1908 and 1910.

He did the first successful appendectomy in Goa (ie the patient did not die!). He was the first and only Goan to be designated as ‘General’ by the Portuguese government. He held many official medical positions and a memorial was erected to him - it now stands in a garden in front of the Casa da Moeda. This is a photo of Luis and I in front of it.

And this was his funeral. (photo belonging to Luis)

His eldest son, Luis’ grandfather, was a distinguished physician also, Dr Vitor Manuel Dias. He gained degrees in both law and medicine, and worked in Lisbon. He spearheaded the sanitation plan of Old Goa (Saneamento de Velha Goa) in 1948, eradicating disease there, including malaria.

It was not until Luis' forties that he met and married his present wife, Chrystelle. What a wonderful thing to have happened. He kept the best for last.

Luis and I sit at his dining table. He tells me that he was working as a gynaecologist in London when his father died, and he decided to come home to Goa to be with his mother. He is also musically gifted. He tells me about his dream of teaching underprivileged children to play classical music. He has started a foundation called Child’s Play (India), and he is working on finding funding for it. Life is like an orchestra in microcosm, he says. He also loves taking people on historical walking tours. Passion shines out of his eyes.

These are his grand-father's degrees on the wall.

I absolutely love their floors. This is the front hallway. Luis explained that bags of china were used to protect the ships docking at the port of Goa. When they hit the sides of the dock, the china shattered. He thinks this was some of that china.

I hear tales of his grandfather and the swashbuckling history of spices and Goa and Portugal. Of dreadful days and genocide. Luis talks very fast. An hour flies by. I am totally captivated by his encyclopaedic knowledge of history, of funny historical anecdotes.

Luis makes the point that spices were known through the world long before the Europeans came to conquer the east (he says they did so only because tof their superior firepower). For example, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II in 1213BC had two peppercorns put in his nostrils during the embalming process. A couple of thousand years before the Europeans came looking.

Spices are also mentioned in the old testament. It was spices and souls which brought the Portuguese to Goa - the trade in spices, and the desire of missionaries to bring Christianity.

Luis shows me around the house. I am totally captivated. High ceilings, fans whirring, beautiful mosaic floors, old photographs. A balcony runs along the house on two sides, and shops trade along the riverfront side on the bottom floor. This is the floor of the kitchen, and the old stove.

We walk the streets of Fontainblas, so called because there are several wells which were used for water.

Luis tells me many things about the architecture of the area. So much that my mind is reeling, thoughts still back in the days of the explorers. The size of the central external staircase up to the front door reflecting the wealth of the owners. A ledge for hawkers to put their baskets. Construction in the local laterite stone, which is volcanic red with large lumps of smaller dark stones in it. Sloping roofs to cope with deluges, corbels to break the force of the water. Hindu houses didn’t have balconies because wives were not to be seen. Christian houses had balconies, or large balcões with built-in seating, where the residents sat to catch the breeze.

This looks like a bollard but was actually a tap next to a well. Made in Lisbon.

These old roofing tiles were rounded by moulding the clay over the maker's leg.

Luis says that many old houses are falling into disrepair. He's really delighted when he sees one bought to be renovated. This is one of his favourite ruins.

We see lots of tiny shrines in walls along the streets. Luis laughingly calls them hole-in-the-wall shrines.

This is the dining room of his house.

The art of making tiles has been resurrected and many houses have a bespoke naming tile.

Only churches could be painted white.

You can guess this is a Christian house because of the balconies.

We meet a girl who seems lost. She is from Mumbai. Luis helps her and she asks his name. Luis Dias. THE Luis Dias? she gasps. I am obviously with a star. But then I knew that.

Until next time... I've so much more to tell you.

ps. I've found out that the Dr Mrs Elvira Diaz is Luis' mother whom I also met that day. She is or was a gynaecologist too.


shelley dark, writer 

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