A Private Obsession

Saturday, May 12, 2018, 22:57

Open carriage with and uncomfortable seat

What is it that makes us interested in something? Is it our genes? Or maybe our surroundings? Our childhood experiences? Who knows? One thing that is certain is that some people experience an overwhelming fascination which may be incomprehensible to others. Most of us, for example, find entomology a bit of a turn off. Beetles and greenfly? Who cares as long as we can rid our gardens of them? Other interests, even if we don't share them, are more understandable.

Here I'm going to share with you the obsession of Dr Lopo de Carvalho, a doctor who lived in Geraz do Lima just off the southern road from Viana do Castelo and its suburb of Darque to Ponte de Lima.

To learn about his special interest, click here.

Dr Lopo de Carvalho came from a wealthy family: he was related the to the Counts of Aurora, which if I were ever to have a title, would be one I would envy. What could be more lovely than to be the Count of the Dawn or perhaps of the glorious curtains of light seen at the north and south poles? Well, in the experience of Dr Lopo, a more wonderful thing would always have been a new carriage.

When he was a boy his grandfather gave him what is described as a 'little carriage' and from there grew a fascination and magnificent collection of carriages, which he added to throughout his life.

The red one in the first picture seems very basic but, in its day, was undoubtedly an object of desire. The seat looks horribly uncomfortable, like ones seen on very early farm machinery from the 19th century, yet I can imagine a local beau, speeding along a rough track thinking himself the very epitome of chic.

Smart open carriage with the passengers facing backwards

Rather more comfortable, if less exciting for the wild youths of rich families, this smart carriage would have needed a coachman. Though there seems to have been room for two on the back of this one canoodling would have been difficult in those days. For a start the servant doing the driving could hear everything the passengers said and the local peasants tilling the fields would have had a fine view of any hanky panky. So, travelling in the carriage condemned any young lovers to polite conversation about where they had just come from since they would always be facing backwards.

open carriage with white wheels facing forwards

Now this smart carriage with white rimmed wheels is more to my taste. At least you are facing forwards while the coachman whips on the horses. Like the other two, though, you would need to have a sturdy umbrella with you in case it rained and at the end of a drive, the flunky might be hard pressed to clean the mud off the white spokes to keep them looking pristine. Still, it could be romantic: imagine being lifted down in your ball gown by a handsome young beau on a fine starlit night!

Closed carriage

Ah now, here things are improving. Sheltered from the weather you could go anywhere in comfort – or relative comfort since the roads would have been rough and the springs probably questionable. In this carriage, however, you could murmur sweet nothings to your new bride on the way to a party and make catty comments about the other guests on the way back home afterwards.

"Did you see her dress? Mutton chop sleeves! How passé," for example. 

Or like Lydia Bennett – or rather the new Mrs Wickham – you could dangle your arm outside so everyone could see the wedding ring on your finger.

Stage coach for those who couldn't afford a carriage

Of course, not everyone could afford the luxury of a vehicle and the horses needed to pull it.
In that case maybe you could travel by coach instead and hire rooms at inns along the way. After all, who needs smart white paint when travelling if the main purpose is to get somewhere?

Dr Lopo's widow can point out to you a carriage used in an elopement and another which belonged to Afonso de Bragança, the Duke of Porto, and even one used once by the Dictator Salazar. 

Eventually the doctor moved on in his interest to horseless carriages. There is a fine small collection of vintage cars, one of which seems to have a British number plate.

Line of vintage cars

I'm not a car buff. If my vehicle gets me from A to B, I don't ask much more of it – though if I had enough money to do whatever I wanted without worrying, I might go for the middle car you can see there. With a shiny black and cream livery, it really is rather handsome, isn't it?

Cream and black vintage car

Dr Lopo de Carvalho passed away some years ago now and his widow opens his museum only occasionally to groups rather than individuals. Though there is a brown sign directing you to the museum on an intersection of the road, you would not be welcome if you had failed to make an appointment.

As I understand it – and though I may be wrong, I think I am right – this wonderful collection, which houses carriages of significance from many countries, including the USA, France, Spain, Holland and Italy as well as Portugal, is at risk. It seems that the collector's children do not care much for it. You can imagine them growing up thinking, "Oh that's Dad's crazy hobby!" can't you? Yet it is a collection to be hugely proud of.

If this collection is divided up amongst the legatees – and under Portuguese law you cannot leave members of the family out of your will – it could end up being split and sold off. That would be a monumental shame. Whether the state has money enough to buy the complete collection after the years of austerity is moot; and it is almost certainly far too big a project for crowd funding on the internet. Yet don't you think it would make a splendid tourist attraction if housed in a suitable building in Viana do Castelo or Ponte de Lima?

I, for one, would like to see this museum preserved intact for the nation. Let's hope it can be.


Do you have stories of Portuguese museums, especially unusual ones? If so, do write in and tell us. (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)

 




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