Lisbon doll hospital treats owners' blues too

Wed Dec 23, 2009 6:24am EST
 
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By Andrei Khalip and Miguel Pereira

LISBON (Reuters Life!) - The sign "Doll Hospital, 1830" above a doorway in a traditional Portuguese tiled facade adds to the feeling of nostalgic melancholy in Lisbon's shabby center, with its toy-like houses and creaky yellow trams.

Inside, dozens of limbless dolls and torn teddy bears lie on the shelves awaiting repair, hand-written tags hanging from their remaining limbs.

But the repair shop -- one of the oldest in Europe -- claims that it fixes more than broken toys. Instead, it seeks to cure toy owners' blues in a country that invented "saudade" -- the barely translatable Portuguese term used to describe deep longing for something or someone that is lost.

"We work with feelings more than strictly with the objects," said Manuela Cutileiro, who runs the hospital. "It has always been our job to, ultimately, cure the saudades."

The hospital started back in 1830 with an old lady who used to sit outside her dry herbs store in the same place on the busy Figueira Square, making and fixing simple cloth and clay dolls for local children.

The herb shop was later transformed into a workshop as the doll-repair part grew. It now repairs toys from priceless porcelain heirloom dolls to modest teddies whose value is purely sentimental.

"That's our main difference from such hospitals abroad, which are very specialized -- we accept everyone, common Barbies and really unique dolls, and we improvise," Cutileiro said.

Armed with a scalpel and dressed in a white doctor's coat, restorer Lurdes Cardoso repairs a decades-old doll, removing old cracked paint from its articulated arm.   Continued...

 
<p>Dolls heads and body parts are displayed in a room at the Doll Hospital in Lisbon December 17, 2009. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro</p>