Period covered: 2003 to 2015
Location: Rio de Janeiro.
This is the
story of a beautiful hiding place that I created for myself that looks out onto the South Atlantic. A sanctuary that provided me with my own private splendour and disregarded any current design trends or rules. This was not a place to be put on show, but somewhere
for me to rest and plan my future life in safety at a time when I badly needed to regain my strength. It reflected the beauty I found so enchanting in the far-off lands of South East Asia that were also pleasingly distant from the world I wished to forget.
This was my final steppingstone that helped me escape from a country where I had been living for more than ten years
through almost continuous soul-destroying torment. No words can possibly describe the effect that this had on us. According to my nephew, my brother Antenor changed completely during this time, though I am not sure if I understood what he meant. I always found
my brother difficult to read as he was never really the verbally expressive type. My sister Clarissa became terribly ill and was hospitalised with multiple infections. Her doctors advised us not to inform her any longer of the discord that surrounded us.
I took refuge in running my own business, but as time passed I withdrew further and further from the world, preferring
to work from home, and also dedicated myself to the creation of beautiful and private places in which to live. For me, beauty inspires tranquillity. When surrounded by beauty my mind achieves a state of regenerative repose. This is the balm I use to heal my
However, even this was not enough. Inside my sanctuaries, when I was not working,
I kept my mind occupied by immersing myself in books. One of them was Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene, in which the old aunt tells her nephew the story of her friend Uncle Joe, who lived in Milan: “Uncle Joe was very sad because as a result of
his heart condition his doctor had very strongly recommended that he settle into a less adventurous lifestyle. Thus unable to indulge in his greatest pleasure, which was to travel, he bought a very large house in the Italian countryside, devalued by its proximity
to an auto-strada, and proceeded to decorate each part of it in the style of one of his favourite countries.”
The old aunt went on to relate to her nephew the events of a weekend when she went to visit Uncle Joe in his country house:
“I was downstairs talking to
Joe’s nurse, when we heard a loud bang from the floor above. Startled, we both ran up the stairs to find Joe sprawled on the floor of the corridor, dead. He was wearing his overcoat and hat, and had been carrying an umbrella and a suitcase, which had
fallen beside him.”
Uncle Joe died the way he had wanted to live, travelling! He was at the moment of his death moving from a suite of rooms decorated
in the French style to another adorned probably in the Dutch fashion.
waited until she had a place large enough to decorate its various parts in the different styles of her favourite countries. And in the Hideaway she at last indulged her fantasies, brought her dreams to life and found a place to display her large collection
of artefacts brought from her favourite parts of the world. ‘
The Hideaway is a
triplex. When we enter its first floor, we walk into the salon christened Minas Chinatown, which on one side faces the ocean and on the other depicts a splendid Chica da Silva in her 18th century world. Chica is portrayed on a large triptych painting
covering most of one wall, and as history tells us that in life she dreamt of seeing the ocean I took her there, albeit three centuries later, to fulfil her dream. This is my tribute to the slave who became a queen, and who is also a distant forebear in my
On another wall, two participants of a Festa do Divino
– Feast of the Divine - pose proudly in their finery as king and queen for the day – a colourful festival of old Minas Gerais during which two slaves dressed up as king and queen and ruled the day at the centre of the celebrations. Next to it there
is a pictorial representation of a Festa Junina – June party - taking place on a central square of one of the historic towns, when large bonfires were lit to keep warm against bitter winter nights, while the town was festively decorated with
multi-coloured flags and the people dressed in their traditional rural costumes and danced the old quadrilles to the sound of concertinas.
Both these celebrations originated in the cold mountains of Minas, where gold and diamonds were mined from the 17th century onwards. This is where, in the early 18th century, Chica and her beloved João Fernandes de Oliveira, the
diamond Contractor to the King of Portugal, lived in the utmost luxury and splendour afforded by his elevated position.
To make my present day Chica feel at
home in her customary extravagance, I decorated her salon with a collection of Chinese urns and vases of various shapes and colours brought from China by our Portuguese forebears who were some of the earliest visitors to the Far East. A golden
Chinese dragon dances for her on another wall.
Embroidery from Burma. Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier
Nearby, a discreetly placed door to the right leads us through a long passage and into the secret private chambers. First, we come upon a suite of rooms decorated in the Baroque-Minas style, complemented in black and blue marble. Next comes a study panelled
in dark wood and displaying a rare collection of artefacts from the remote island of Papua-New Guinea. Finally, at the end of the long corridor we enter spacious living quarters displaying on every side the most exquisite pieces from South-East Asia, as well
as paintings from countries bordering the region of the Himalayas. Nepalese tantras painted in gold detail, as well as Burmese cushioned embroideries, culminate in an ample bathing area surrounded by mirrors and pink marble.
Returning to the entrance hall, we now turn our backs to the ocean, turn left and enter an adjoining room which displays
three vessels on picturesque seashores – a Chinese junk, a Portuguese ship, and a sailing goat. Now we must choose one in which to travel east. Once on board, our vessel floats us gently up pink marble steps which lead the way to the northern hills of
ancient India, where heavy stone columns frame the exit to a wide blue shore. There we are encircled by the colourful pavilions and entertained by troupes of local musicians and dancers who whirl to the silent music. Delicately carved wooden trellises protect
us from the fierce sun, while time itself comes to rest as we gaze at the beauty that surrounds us, further embellished by brilliant Zardozzis - embroideries from the time of the Moguls - which gleam and sparkle in the light from dawn to dusk.
Left: Paintings on Silk from India. Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
Right: Wood Screens from Rajasthan. Photo collection
Inlaid Stone Piece from the Region of the Taj Mahal.
Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
On this floor, various suites of rooms are ready for our guests, each one inspired
by a particular part of the globe. The Arabian quarters are decorated with panels of silk embroidered with threads of silver, while the Borneo chamber presents various painted masks originating from the interior of that wild island. The Indian rooms are covered
with delicate paintings on silk, characteristic of the subcontinent, and the walls of the Bali suit offer a collection of oil paintings brought from that island paradise in the years shortly after it opened up to visitors.
Once fully rested and refreshed in one of the eastern wing chambers, we continue on our peregrination along a corridor with both
walls adorned with Indonesian paintings depicting clusters of people engrossed in their daily tasks, quite unaware of us passing by. At the end of this passage we burst out into the open air and see a most enchanting and secluded pond, bordered by blue Hydrangeas
that bend down to kiss the water.
We must pause here to enjoy the silence and the fresh air perfumed by white and purple blooms of Manacás, while flowering
orchids dangle from their nests and little Bromeliads shoot up towards the sky. No sooner do we focus on our surroundings than we realise that we are surrounded by golden woodcarvings also depicting Bali daily life. The beauty is astounding. Is this a little
piece of heaven?
Left: Indian Buda, Sitting on the Western position. Right: Bali Pond.
Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
Driven by curiosity we at last move again, ascending steps that take us to the mythical Suspended Gardens of Babylon, covered
by a ceiling of the bluest sky. Here exuberant shrubs burst forth, happy in their environment, while Bougainvillaea add a profusion of colour, and small trees heavy with fruit feed the visiting birds. This glorious scene is framed on one side by an endless
undulating ocean, and on the other by stark granite hills, on one of which stands Christ the Redeemer, with open arms stretched in a protective and welcoming embrace.
Left: The Gates of Babylon. Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
Right: The Suspended Gardens of Babylon. Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
Babylon was a city in ancient Mesopotamia, situated in the fertile plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This
was initially the site of a small Semitic Akkadian city, part of the Akkadian Empire, which flourished in 2300 BC. The Greek word for Babylon (Βαβυλών) is an adaptation of Akkadian Babili meaning Gate of
God. In the Hebrew Bible the term Babylon means confusion. The Greek historian Herodotus listed the city as among the seven wonders of the ancient world, ranking alongside the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The renowned Hanging Gardens of Babylon are
said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, and the Babylonian priest Berossus, writing in about 290 BC, attributed the gardens to the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605 and 562 BC.
According to one legend, Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens for his Median wife, Queen Amytis, because
she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. If these gardens did exist, they were destroyed sometime after the first century AD. There is, however, some controversy as to whether the Hanging Gardens were an actual construction or a poetic creation,
owing to the lack of documentation in contemporaneous Babylonian sources. A recent theory proposes that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were constructed for the palace at Nineveh by the Assyrian King Sennacherib, who reigned from 704 to 681 BC.
Babylon, located in Iraq and near Bagdad, is not to be confused with the site that housed the sect of the Assassins,
from the Arabic Ḥashshāshīn. The location that housed this faction was Alamut Castle, a mountain fortress situated approximately 100 km from present-day Tehran, in Iran. There, the mysterious Old Man of the Mountain, in the late 11th century,
trained warriors to carry out espionage and assassinations. It is also possible that the term hashishiyya or hashishi was used metaphorically in Muslim circles in the abusive sense, meaning social outcasts or low-class rabble. The literal
interpretation of the term that refers to the Nizari people as hashish consuming and intoxicated assassins may be rooted in the fantasies of medieval Westerners.
Eighteenth century hills and scenes
Of baroque Minas, next to China
Urns and painted artifacts
From distant hills the Atlantic
And watch the waves and offshore isles.
Climbing then rose marble steps,
The Minas hills do now transform
By magic into Indian plains,
Enriched by brilliant Mogul lace,
Shaded by latticed screens of wood.
We glide onwards and burst upon a scene,
See golden carvings of Bali dreams
Displaying scenes of island days,
While a cool pond relieves the haze,
Inviting us to remain
At last we
climb to spreading sky,
To Babylonian gardens,
Where coloured blooms highlight
Granite hills that rise from earth,
Surrounding this refuge and glorious dream.
© A.L.P. Gouthier, 2011
Carving from Indonesia. Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
I had so much fun planning and creating this haven, this paean to the East, and also describing it. It made me feel far removed from the city that surrounded it, back in the lands which
inspired it, and protectively cocooned in a magical hideaway living a life of make-believe in my alternative reality. It is obvious from the description of this old home that I had fallen in love with South East Asia, and ever afterwards I decorated part of
each of my homes, especially my bedrooms, with artefacts from that part of the world.
later when I came across Rudyard Kipling’s poem Mandalay I marvelled at its beauty and naturally associated it with that sentiment. In it, Kipling expresses the longing of a young soldier who left a sweetheart in Burma, whereas I saw in it a longing
for that part of the world which had so much impressed me because of the exotic beauty of its art. I put together a few lines of the poem that contained the emotions that I most connected with and that I would learn by heart - something I find difficult to
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea,
The silence hung that heavy, you was half afraid to speak!
But if you heard the East a’calling, you won’t
never heed naught else
No, you won’t heed nothing else, but them spicy garlic smells,
And the sunshine and the palm-trees, and the tinkly temple bells.
all shove behind me, long ago and far away;
Where the flyin'-fishes play, and the old Flotilla lay,
On the road to Mandalay.
As I think it is a sacrilege to dissect this noble poem, I here present the complete original in its full glory.
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin',
and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat
- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd
she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay...
When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek
agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay...
But that's all shove be'ind me - long ago an' fur
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay...
I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer
Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and -
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay...
Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best
is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
Oh the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born in India in 1865, was sent to England for his education
and returned to India in 1882, where he remained for another ten years, and India inspired much of his work. I travelled to Southeast Asia for the first time in 1970 and have always remained deeply impressed by its beauty and its charm. Ever since then I have
always created eastern havens for myself everywhere I lived, but never again with an ocean to gaze at through the window, that vast and unlimited panorama. When there I used to wonder if I too was floating on this ocean, as some islands in the distance appeared
to. Circumstances, however, soon caused me to fly further away. I was not safe even there.