A new lease of life for cherished toys

A new lease of life for cherished toys

In the heart of old  Lisbon, there's a "hospital" that treats patients who are small and fragile, often mangled and battered, and sometimes more than 100 years old.

This rare facility mends the cracked head, broken limb or missing eye of many a child's favourite toy -- their  doll. The loving care given at  Lisbon's  doll  hospital  has been going on for five generations.

"We have clients from all over the world and all ages. There are museums which ask us to restore pieces, also private collectors, but the vast majority of our clients are individuals -- people who are sentimentally attached" to their  dolls, says, 72-year-old Manuela Cutileiro the  hospital's owner.

The  dolls  all have a patient file and are painstakingly restored by the skilled hands of three women "surgeons", who give them a new body part or hair, chosen from drawers full of pieces of  dolls, a macabre collection of heads, limbs and eyes.

The establishment, known as  Hospital  de Bonecas, was founded in 1830 and is described in the tourist guides to Portugal's capital as one of the oldest  doll  hospitals still in operation.  "They say we are among the last in the world to do this work," says Cutileiro, a former school teacher.  Some 4,000  dolls  can be found inside. There are 100-year-old  dolls  with porcelain heads, along with  dolls  dressed in costumes from different regions of Portugal, as well as some modern Barbies.

"For us a contemporary  doll  is 20 or 30 years old. The old ones are those which are already centenarians," says Cutileiro, carrying on the family enterprise.  Its origins go back to the 19th century when "a little old lady", Carlota da Silva Luz, would make rag  dolls, sitting in front of her herb shop in Praca da Figueira, where there was a large outdoor market.

Over time, the aromatic and medicinal herbs gave way to shelves of  dolls, which today fill a window display at the entrance to the  hospital, with a museum dedicated to them on the first floor.  And it seems as if the pace of times past continues at the  doll  surgery. No rush procedures here.  

"We make sure that time passes less quickly here than it does outside," says Cutileiro. "People have to wait."

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