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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

The ruin on our doorstep - Day 420

I wonder what Laurinda Santos Lobo would think about her house now, this ruin on our doorstep?

Laurinda Santos Lobo's former house no longer does it have silk curtains and rugs, oriental furniture or fine china. In fact, now it has no interior, it is stripped bare even of plaster on the walls and is just a skeleton of the beautiful late 19th-century mansion it once was. Back then, Laurinda, a wealthy heiress and lady of the Carioca society, would entertain intellectuals, writers and artists here. I wonder what discussions and decisions the rooms witnessed that transformed this country both politically and artistically.

Laurinda sounds as if she was quite a character; known for her elegance, she also presided over the Brazilian Federation’s council for feminine progress and even had a play composed in honour of her by Heitor Villa-Lobos called Quattour - impressions of worldly life.

I was astonished to read that this lady of society had left this incredible neo-colonial place in her will in 1946 to the Homeopathic Society (her late uncle Joaquim Murtinho was a famous homeopath and politician) and the Society never came to use this building. Instead, it was left deserted and stripped bare of anything of value from local people then taken over by squatters and drug users.

Eventually, in 1996, the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro and the neighbourhood's Regional Administration took possession of this historical residence and created the Parque das Ruínas.

Would Laurinda feel distraught seeing her house in ruins? Or would she be pleased that locals, families, and people from all around the world come to experience the magical feel of this place, allowing their imaginations to create what used to be here, spending time relaxing, chatting, and seeing the incredible views across the city? I hope the latter.

Luckily for us, this is right on our doorstep. We just needed to come out of the apartment block, cross the road, walk up a steep slope, around two bends and Voila, there it is and all for free.

The restoration has been very sympathetically done, keeping the essence of the ruin. On the ground floor, as well as a theatre, there are interesting artwork, many with groups of blocks, including one of painted concrete bricks in a geometric pattern, with a couple out of line. We both were itching to nudge them back in place, but our well behaved English upbringing prevented us!

The architects for the reestablishment of this shell of a building installed catwalks and metal stairs to take us on a journey up to each level of the house. We pass plants clinging onto the brickwork and two huge windows with a photo of Laurinda looking down on us, like a ghost watching and listening to every conversation, keeping things in order.

We slowly climbed the stairs and reached the pièce de résistance - the views! Oh wow! A 360-degree view of this incredible city with a contrast of modern and old, rich and poor, manmade and natural. The huge harbour of Guanabara Bay with yachts and fishing boats, the iconic Sugar Loaf in front and as we walked around, Cristo Redentor high up above the tops of the trees. Over the water is the area of Icaraí and the jagged mountain range behind, curving all the way around are like a picture frame of this incredible landscape.

Thank you, Laurinda, that we have the pleasure of exploring your magical place, and thank you for the Homeopathic Society – your loss, our gain.

There was a bridge leading us out of the building towards a curved pathway. This led us to the Museu da Chácara do Céu which houses the European and Brazilian art collection of Castro Maya, a businessman, who inherited the original house in 1936 and had it demolished and rebuilt to a modern grey block building. Quite a contrast to where we had just come from.

Inside were two rooms that have been preserved to keep the residential character of the place. One of the rooms was the dining room. To my astonishment, I noticed that on the laid-table, there looked like the same Wedgewood “Queen’s plain” crockery set that we used to have. (Our’s didn’t have a motif on though!), however, the label called it “Woodhouse. “Tim, look” with my eyes wide with excitement “There’s even the same gravy boat we had” and proceeded to take rather a long time to get just the right angle photo. Just then, the very formally dressed security guard came up to us to inform us that we only had ten minutes. He was probably thinking that if we were taking so long looking at a bit of China, we’d never get around the rest of the museum. In my usual elaborate style, I actioned out that we used to have this crockery. I think he understood my charade! He looked amused or was it bemused, anyway.

Having admired the assortment of artwork, including abstract expressionist, similar to Jackson Pollock, some impressionist paintings, and two weird large canvases showing, in one, a fire in a town and in the other, the same area being rebuilt, ten minutes later, we were outside for our short walk back to the apartment. Time for tea – no china crockery for us though.

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