From the street, one sees an open garage door and a small table and a chair facing outward. The chair at times occupied, at times not. The occupant: A handsome seventy-something-year-old with curious eyes. On the wall to the right there is an endless row of keys aligned millimetrically. To the left, a similar layout with old horseshoes. This is Mr. Júlio’s magnificent collection in the Historic Village of Almeida.
We became more intrigued with each passage through Rua Dr. Chegão: A locksmith? An information post? A store? And, more importantly, can we come in?
We can. And should. The seventy-something-year-old man is named Júlio Vaz Monteiro and likes to exhibit his collection. It is a kind of unofficial museum right in the heart of the Historic Village of Almeida.
The collection of over five hundred keys allows one to suppose he was once a locksmith, a profession he exercised between the ages of 12 and 20, when he began working as water utility cashier for the municipality of Almeida. This profession took him all over the municipality, and this was how the abandoned objects that he found along the way began to accumulate at home.
In the beginning, his wife, Odete, did not think it was a funny joke. However, she stopped fretting over her husband’s whims over time.
And this was how Mr. Júlio gathered relic after relic, from one storyteller to another. Pieces abandoned by people who did not recognize the enchantment that these blue, attentive eyes caught in them.
When it was renovated, he converted the garage into a museum and left the door open, inviting passersby to come in. In his absence, Odete receives the tourists, who are mostly Spanish, and shows them the pearls hidden in this cavern.
Today, we are lucky to have both as guides as they tell us of the eternal rivalry with Vilar Formoso and of Almeida’s more golden ages.
Mr. Júlio draws our attention to some of the more special and older objects: A tool for gelding horses; a fetter for punishing misbehaving soldiers; an iron pan from the time of the French invasions; parts of old norias and carriages; a wooden recipient marked with the date, 1850.
And even hoes, plows, scissors, pans, bowls, bell clappers, locks, necklaces, watches, various tools, coffee pots, typewriters, sewing machines, pots, dishes, scales, weights, oil lamps, etc., etc…in a collection of over three thousand objects. Each with the wear of time. It goes without saying that some are very valuable.
But selling does not even cross his mind…When Mr. Júlio is no longer able to, he relies on his grandson to take care of the collection. Even though the adolescent lives far away, he does not spend too much time without visiting his grandparents: “Classes end on one day, and he’s already here the next!” Dona Odete says tenderly.
Although at a slower pace, the collection continues to grow. Mr. Júlio stopped gathering objects, but if someone brings him a piece that he sees fit, he does not say no.
We take leave of the couple as today there is a procession, and surely this garage-turned-museum is a required stopping point today, which certainly brings more soul to the historic center of Almeida.