At the entrance, a white rabbit welcomes you, as in Alice in Wonderland’s adventures. To wander through the aisles of this market in Arroios is like an invitation to marvel, with the advantage that, in this small country in Lisbon, there is no neurotic queen eager to cut off heads, but rather friendly hosts and craft beers under the shade of lush orange trees.

Since April, the two-story building at door 23 on Carlos Mardel Street has been hosting the Emaús Pop Up Market: an experience that goes beyond traditional commercialism, turning the cold transaction of buying and selling into a warm relationship among neighbours, to the point that prices on the labels are converted from euros into a currency with the suggestive name of “affection.”

So, with five, ten, twenty affections, it is possible to give furniture, books, records, clothing, accessories, and many other donated and refurbished objects a chance for a second life.

And not only that.

Humberto opens the windows and doors of a once-abandoned building, now converted into a special market in Arroios. Photo: Líbia Florentino.

French roots flourishing in Portugal

Ophelia and Humberto are the faces that welcome us in this museum of affection.

At 32 years old, Frenchwoman Ophelia Horta also had the opportunity for a second life. A chemical engineer in Strasbourg, the descendant of Portuguese immigrants from the Algarve abandoned the laboratory, test tubes, and pipettes to see the world not through the lens of a microscope but through a larger, broader, macroscopic prism.

“I had a home, a salary, a secure job in the chemical industry in France, but I wasn’t satisfied, happy. Suddenly, I began to question my life and decided to take a turn. I quit my job, sold my house, and accepted the invitation from a cousin to come to Lisbon and start working in this market,” says Ophelia.

Ophelia traded chemical engineering for life in Lisbon. Photo: Líbia Florentino.

The cousin in question is Humberto, also French from Strasbourg, a descendant of Algarve natives. Humberto introduced himself without revealing his last name because the cornerstone of social relationships in the Emaús community, due to its hospitality, dispenses details. When confronted that journalism, on the contrary, requires a last name, he sips on his beer and teaches:

“Well, then, journalism needs to adapt to the creature.”

Humberto, responsible for Emaús activities in Portugal, exchanged mandatory military service for community service and never stopped. Photo: Líbia Florentino.

When he was still a student, Humberto travelled from Strasbourg to Lisbon in the 1990s for a two-month internship with Emaús, a French-origin movement, in a field where the Lusófona University campus in Campo Grande now stands.

“At that time, military service in France was still mandatory, and non-compliance could lead to prison”, recalls Humberto, who, twenty minutes into the interview and after a few more sips of his beer, felt comfortable enough to reveal his last name, Pereira, and his age, 49 years, in the name of good journalism.

What is the Emaús movement?
In 1990s France, Humberto tells us, bidding farewell to arms and the risk of imprisonment led through the paths of Emaús—a movement that originated religiously in the mid-20th century by the hands of the former French priest Abbé Pierre, whose name refers to the biblical passage of Jesus’ appearance after the resurrection.

Due to its founder’s political influence, the Emaús Movement in France became an option for those who did not want to pursue a military career.

Even after the movement chose a secular vision, it still held dear the desire, consistent with Catholicism, to combat poverty and social exclusion.

“Abbé Pierre managed to pass the status of Conscientious Objector, that is, the alternative to exchange military service for another activity, usually in the service of the community,” says Humberto. And that was precisely the path he followed.

Like other Frenchmen who appealed to the Conscientious Objector option because they disagreed with violence, as an alternative, Humberto, then 19 years old, went on to provide community service in the Emaús field in Toulouse. A vocation was born there.

An experience that stayed in Lisbon?

With a degree in International Commerce, Humberto ended up taking the opposite path, neither in commerce nor internationally. His experience with Emaús taught him that commercial activity can aim for the well-being of others as profit, even respecting regional characteristics. This learning he brought to the land of his ancestors.

“It’s all very simple: what comes from the sale of products is reinvested, in part, in the costs of repairing the furniture that arrives, in another part, shared in pocket money among those involved in the work, and what remains is donated to those in need,” explains Humberto.

The menu of products sold at the market’s bar, with prices in euros converted into “affections.” Photo: Líbia Florentino.

Today, Humberto is the president of the Emaús in Caneças, the largest community in the country, where furniture and household items donated by the Portuguese are taken, restored, and deposited in a huge warehouse, from which they are sent to activities like pop-up markets, held here and there.

In Lisbon, the market has already taken place in several parishes, such as Campolide, Parque das Nações, and Ajuda. The experience in Arroios, however, has exceeded expectations in promoting integration with the community, and months after opening, there is no date for the market, originally conceived as a brief pop-up format, to end its activities.

On the contrary, the program for the coming months foresees an expansion of activities.

200 square meters of time travel

Ophélia serves two craft beers to customers enjoying the sun in the beer garden, seated on cushions in the building’s courtyard. One of them, a man, shows the woman accompanying him a sound system bought at the market. The woman, in turn, takes out of a bag the colourful dress that cost her a few “affections“.

A woman approaches the Frenchwoman. She is Sister Célia, the superior of the Conceptionist Sisters order, the institution to which the building housing the market belongs. “We bought the building, but since there was no planned use for it yet, we decided to let Emaús host their market here,” says Sister Célia, with a contagious smile.

The space was made available at the beginning of the year. Humberto and his colleagues from the Emaús movement had to get the structure ready for operation. Photos of the “before” and “after” are fixed on one of the walls, giving an exact idea of the two months of uninterrupted hard work.

Where there are now tables, chairs, and cushions in the beer garden, the grass reached two meters high. The iron sheets that covered the windows were refurbished to become real windows. The partially collapsed roof was repaired, wall infiltrations were fixed, and the sad green mould gave way to vivid colours.

In total, the market occupies various spaces in the nearly 200 square meters of the building, divided into two floors. One of them resembles a child’s room, but the overall feeling of exploring the spaces is that of travelling through time, entering a grandmother’s house, among vintage furniture and appliances that are only seen in period films.

“Sometimes, we rent some pieces to television and film producers,” confirms Humberto.

Photo: Líbia Florentino.

A market with food and art provided by neighbours

The inauguration took place near April 25th, with cousin Ophelia already part of the team. Since then, Emaús Market in Arroios has become part of the neighbourhood, even featuring sardine barbecues during the Popular Festivals and DJ sessions every Thursday, when business hours go until 10 pm.

Since September, a Chilean neighbour has supplied empanadas to accompany the craft beers produced by the Polish neighbour. A French artist will fill the walls with graffiti, and a seamstress will be available on Saturdays to offer clothing alterations to those who need them.

“The experience has been incredible,” summarizes Ophelia, still getting used to the familiar language. “I had the feeling inside me that one day I would work with my cousin, and that’s what ended up happening.”

And the Frenchwoman who traded her life as a chemical engineer doesn’t hide her chemistry with the lifestyle in Lisbon.

“Lisbon corresponds much more to my way of life. I love living in the sun, seeing people greet each other in cafes and on the street. That’s much more Portuguese than French,” says Ophelia.

The French cousins of Portuguese origin in the garden once occupied by herbs over two meters high: the market as a space for socializing. Photo: Líbia Florentino

Not everyone was charmed by the new neighbours, though, as the Arroios Parish Council didn’t respond positively. “We tried to get in touch to find out how we could help, but we were not even received,” says Humberto. “We received a batch of school supplies from the French School, and we wanted to donate them to underprivileged students in the parish, but even that didn’t change our relationship with the Parish Council.”

However, Emaús is determined to turn the pop-up experience into something more permanent.

“We were surprised by the community’s reception, which encouraged us to consider continuing. Even if we have to leave here, there will always be another space available to welcome us,” believes Humberto.

Álvaro Filho

Jornalista e escritor brasileiro, 50 anos, há sete em Lisboa. Foi repórter, colunista e editor no Jornal do Commercio, correspondente da Folha de S. Paulo, comentador desportivo no SporTV e na rádio CBN, além de escrever para O Corvo e o Diário de Notícias. Cobriu Mundiais, Olimpíadas, eleições, protestos – num projeto de “mobile journalism” chamado Repórtatil – e, agora, chegou a vez de cobrir e, principalmente, descobrir Lisboa.

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