Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

February 1, 2004 Vila Algarve

In the neighborhood of the Avenida is a lovely old house, the Vila Algarve. In the arched gate at the entry to the gardens surrounding it, its name is hand-painted on white tiles in blue and yellow, decorated with vines and flowers. Tiles encircle the windows and doorframes. A delft blue painting of a peasant landscape on white tiles graces the wall on one side. It is a charming house, a fantasy of nooks and crannies, combined with wide open rooms and airy terraces.

It has been destroyed. Next to the delft blue painting the wall has been shot out. All the windows are broken. In one wing the roof is gone and the sun shines into the former room. Plants grow out of other parts of the roof. The gardens are a jumble of weeds and broken stone and rubble and trash. The doors have been taken, the remains have been looted in anger. Around this ruins someone has erected a corrugated tin fence, blocking our view and protecting the ruins from further violence.

Vila Algarve is a nightmare, a memory of evil for Mozambique. In a house built with such artistry and detail, the Portuguese tortured Mozambicans who fought against colonial rule. Just as it is, it is an open wound, a perpetual reminder of what was, of how easily the most beautiful things we can create are mixed with the ugliest. The artist who painted those tiles for the Vila Algarve surely never meant them to mock the Mozambican people as they did through years of horror. This house can never be restored to its original beauty, because beauty has to be within, as well. It has permanently contaminated by evil. But it should survive as it is now, to remind future generations of what happened here, in the hope tht they will be warned, and not slip in to the same evil themselves.

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