by Lennie Araujo.

1_fleamarket_Photo tini58de Virtualtourist.com

Credit: tini58de Virtualtourist.com

In search of an exhibit at a nearby Museum I happened by accident, to see “Treasures from Feira da Ladra. The Beauty of Anonymous Design”, an exhibit that turned out to be much more interesting than what I was expecting.

Feira da Ladra is Lisbon´s famous flea market. Portraying found objects from it and other similar markets abroad, the show reinforced my belief that collecting is a universal urge. It also reminded me that design “collections” can be very different in purpose. This one, bringing together tools and artifacts used by an endless list of artisans and professionals (carpenters, cooks, surgeons, etc), made me appreciate objects that apart from their functionality are visually striking if not beautiful.

Flea markets have always attracted me. They are wonderful places to find things I didn´t even knew I needed. “Stuff” I have to have. But they are also places to observe, and to take in the pulse of a city. With its origins in the middle Ages, Feira da Ladra -literally “Thieves Market“- is the oldest market in Lisbon, taking place weekly at its current location since 1882.

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This made me think of two things. One is how fascinating I find flea markets, transforming everyday spaces into little wonderlands. The other is the ingenuity of design. The objects we find transcend origins or borders, as they show us the similarities in our needs and how we have solved them throughout the ages.

The museum exhibit encourages us to see the objects as sculpture. But I already knew that. That is why I was drawn to “things” I´ve found in Rome, London or New York and certainly in Lisbon´s Feira. Here, traders are now perfectly legal, and old map prints, antique ceramic tiles, furniture and tools make it worth enjoying a rummage around. It is so enjoyable that I have to remind myself to haggle, which is part of the whole experience!

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Sometimes I find things that I want because of memories, usefulness or design. Other times it is difficult to give these found objects a name or identify their use. Yet, they “speak to me”.  But the one constant thing in these markets is that they often take place in public spaces, squares, car parks, streets. They allow me to see spaces in a different way. Lisbon´s market highlights the diversity of its people and history. Its geographical setting – perched up on a hill off a grand church and square and with stunning views of the river below – is a marketplace and is a gathering place. Here I am bound to run into at least one or two friends to share a chat with and sometimes a coffee or lunch afterwards.

As one “enters” the market through an arch, the space opens before you. It transforms the area twice a week for several hours. And then after the market, it reverts back to its usual calm routine. The market often inspires my curiosity, interest and surprise. I see people who came for vintage postcards or old books. And they come sometimes, searching for meaning and connection on an aimless Saturday.