‘Hippie Fair’ thrives 50 years later, attracting Olympic tourists worldwide

Brammer_HippieMarket_Vendors_010Ivan Jilek calls himself “weird — but original.”

The 68-year-old spends several hours each day working with wood and leather, all in preparation for the weekly Ipanema Hippie Fair on the Square General Osório in Rio de Janeiro. He sits in the same spot each Sunday with a few friends surrounding him, talking to pass time as market-goers walk by.

“I don’t like to miss (the fair),” Jilek said. “I’ve been coming here for almost 50 years – it wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t here with my works. I love it so much.”

One of the bigger street markets in Rio, Feira Hippie de Ipanema, as it’s known to locals, sells everything from artwork and kitchen utensils to souvenirs and snacks. Jilek recalls being in the group of self-proclaimed hippies that started the Sunday market in Ipanema in 1968, and he said it’s been the most important part of life ever since.

“I was here when it started, and it’s been my way of life all these years,” he said. “Some of us who started (the fair) are still alive; some aren’t. But those of us who are all have beautiful, white hair. It makes even better hippies.”

Jilek taught himself to craft leather and wood by hand as a teenager in his home country of Croatia. What started with small bowls eventually turned into elaborate tables, chairs and faucet counters. Jilek said he’s always felt like a free spirit while working with his hands, but his move to Brazil in the 1960’s affirmed his dedication to “the interesting way of life.”

“I moved here when I was young, and I met other interesting people like me. Us (hippies) wanted to come together and share what we had made with everyone else, and being able to make a living off of something I love to do has been my dream come true,” he said. “These people — the other vendors, the shoppers, the people who live here — they are my family. I could not live like I do without them.”

The traditional fair continues as it always has with over 200 stalls today. In the center of the park, painters show off and sell their latest oils, watercolors and other pictures. The surrounding area is filled with more artists offering Brazilian folk art, jewelry, clothing and food. Miguel Ricaco, a Brazilian jewelry maker from Rio, considers himself new to the “hippy scene” but said he loves the atmosphere the fair offers.

“My wife and I have been selling our pieces here for two years now,” Ricaco said. “We were not sure if anyone would buy our jewelry, but this (fair) attracts so many people with all different interests from all over the world.”

With the intent to bring in extra income with jewelry sales, Ricaco said he learned the “special way” to bargain with his customers after watching how Jilek interacted with those perusing the fair.

“(Jilek) finds so many ways to draw people in — he makes his things so interesting, and that’s what I try to do now,” Ricaco said. “You can’t sell many things if you don’t be friendly to the people walking around. People who come here want to talk to you and find out what you do, what you like, what you believe — it’s what makes this fair very quirky.”

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With the frequent relationships built at the fair, visitors can expect to have friendly chats with each vendor, even though most speak only a little English. Missy Bentz, mom to USA Swimming’s Gunnar Bentz, said that while communication at the fair wasn’t easy, it also wasn’t impossible.

“I’m trying to negotiate the price on some art pieces, and it’s going really well,” she said. “I love it. I love getting to talk to vendors and meet the people who make these things.”

With Olympics anticipation in full swing, Bentz said it was a nice, early break from the Olympic Village.

“I love all of the handcrafted art here,” Bentz said. “It doesn’t look like anything you would typically find at an art fair in America, and that’s why I like it. It’s really different.”

On first arrival, another USA-native Carolyn McKeon said she felt an “interesting vibe” when she approached the fair. Although she originally came to Rio to watch the Olympics, McKeon said the fair was a surprising find.

“I’m picking up a hippy vibe, but it’s more of a chance to have fun and meet people while you shop,” McKeon said. “Everywhere I travel I buy a small painting, and these are some of the most unique pieces I’ve seen (since coming to Rio).”

The Olympic games also brought Colleen DeMarco, an avid sports lover, all the way from Wisconsin to Rio.

“(The fair) was highly recommend, and my husband and I wanted to come and see it since it’s only open once a week,” DeMarco said. “I think the prices here are really good, and I’ll definitely be buying some jewelry I really liked for friends.”

DeMarco and her husband are only in Rio for a week, and the couple said they felt their visit might not have been complete without a visit to the fair. But despite Rio’s growing tourism numbers with the Olympics, Jilek said the fair doesn’t seem affected, and it doesn’t need to be.

“Rio has evolved, but the fair is just as lively as its ever been,” Jilek said. “With or without the Olympics in Rio, there will always be a great crowd of people here. There’s no other place and no other people in Rio as unique as this one.”

Casey Smith is a Ball State University student and writes for the Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and faebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.

Casey Smith

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