Portuguese Ambassador Jose Moreira da Cunha and his wife, Lurdes, live in what they describe as a modest embassy residence on Island Park Drive, far from some of the baronial manor houses of Rockcliffe where many of their diplomatic friends live.
But they say they couldn’t be happier. Not only do they love the location, close to Carling Avenue and the Experimental Farm, where the ambassador can take a run whenever he wishes, but he also has the advantage of being able to walk a mere 200 metres down the road to his office. The Portuguese embassy has 20 parking spaces, which is much appreciated by everyone who does business there, he says, as compared to going downtown. The couple doesn’t lack for diplomatic action in the neighbourhood as Mexico and Peru, to name just a couple, have imposing residences on the street. As well, after three years, they feel very much a part of their Ottawa neighbourhood.
The government of Portugal bought the house in the 1960s and the ambassador at the time purposely chose a place in this neighbourhood, says da Cunha. “He didn’t want to live in Rockcliffe.” Here they say they are close to their neighbours, far from traffic and they love the life they lead.
But after 40 years in the diplomatic service, they say they are happy wherever they go, and that includes their most recent posting in Algeria and Iran before that. Their first posting was Argentina and they’ve also lived in Kinshasa, Congo.
“We are very happy here,” they say. “Ottawa has many advantages.”
The two-storey stone house is distinguished by the rounded exterior glass entranceway leading to the front door, a helpful addition for guests on a snowy evening. The entrance leads to a small foyer that opens out into a series of intimate and charming rooms with a central staircase, all painted in pale yellow with brighter golden floor-to-ceiling curtains, large valances and swag ties. To the left is the main reception room, furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs covered in pale green and red. “Everything comes from Portugal,” the ambassador says.
That includes the art. Notable is a painting by well-known Portuguese artist Noronha da Costa of dark, blurred figures that makes you think you should put on your glasses. In fact, it is a work of art in a style the artist made popular by applying oil paint with a spray gun to many of his works.
Also eye-catching are the Portuguese rugs that cover the pine floors. Many have a neutral background dotted with colourful embroidered flowers and were made in Arraiolos, which has been a centre of needlework rugs since the Middle Ages. These embroidered wool rugs are inspired by Oriental-style Persian carpets.
Behind the main reception room is a more casual room where a large flatscreen TV holds court. “For soccer,” says the ambassador with a wide smile.
It also provides an access, as does the reception room, to a very large side garden where the couple holds a National Day reception in June.
“We always pray for good weather and it’s always hot and sticky,” he says.
The second floor has a comfortable guest suite for the children when they come to visit from Portugal.
To the right of the staircase is the kitchen, and a family sitting room with a family-size dining table. Next to it is a large addition that serves as a dining room that can seat 32 for a formal dinner. With its bright yellow walls and windows all around, the room suggests nothing less than a sunny day at the beach. The carpet is bright blue as are the seat coverings and on display are a Portuguese silver tea set and candelabra and china with the Portuguese crest, all lit by a beautiful crystal chandelier.
Although the couple has a Canadian-Portuguese chef, the food they serve is more international in flavour, with only certain national favourites making it to their table, depending on the guest list, the ambassador’s wife says.
Portuguese specialties are dominated by dishes made with pork and cod, so the couple sometimes includes its national dishes as appetizers. Dessert is a snap. Who doesn’t like a Portuguese favourite — crème brûlée?
This is the last posting for the smiling couple, who admit they will be happy to retire to Portugal, where they will be close to their three children, none of whom has entered the family business, and their three grandchildren. But until then, they will be on the job, welcoming friends, neighbours, officials and children, in a house they love, in a city they enjoy.
Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.