Part of my nostalgia in this life belongs to the flea market. My mother was a devotee, aunts, sisters, cousins, neighbors. I love the idea of poking through someone else's treasures. Recently, on a journey to Paris, I knew a day trip to the market would be a great Aventure and one of the reasons I wanted to visit Paris. Visions of dusty old apothecary bits and ancient bottles of French Perfume danced like sugar plums in my head.
Flea markets first appeared in Paris during the 18th century, when at night the streets would be scoured by rag and junk trade individuals sometimes known as chiffoniers or more figuratively, pecheurs de lune (moon fishermen) who would dig through the rubbish of the elite, in the hopes that they’d find trinkets to sell. To conduct business within the city walls, would incur too many fees and taxes – instead Parisian flea markets would take place just outside the gates of Paris. Therefore today, the city’s main flea markets take place on the outskirts of the city.
Our first market Porte de Vanves (or Vanves Flea Market) is located in a somewhat quiet corner of the south part of the city. Although we were on our way out of Paris and drove to this market by car it is easily accessible by taking Metro line 13 to Porte de Vanves stop and a short walk from there. I loved this sidewalked, out of doors market. There were nearly 380 vendors so it is best to allow at least a couple of hours for this market. I was looking for curiousites that would fit into my suitcase and this market did not disappoint. Vendors offer everything, including dealers who specialize in specific items such as vintage clothing, books, paintings, prints, glassware and fabrics, to dealers who seem to set up with whatever they picked up off the street the week before. The prices run the gamut and their are several items priced at just a few euros.
Our next market is known as the Queen of French Flea Markets, the Puces de Saint-Ouen located above the Porte de Clignancourt on the North end of the city. We happily navigated the metro Line 4 (Porte d.orleans, Porte de Clignancourt) and the market is located within a short walk from the station. This is a very large market with several permanent structures, some modern, some ramshackle, some with separate permanent stalls. With 2,000 to 3,000 vendors, there is a lot to see. Here you will find larger items, furniture, paintings, chandeliers, lamps, toys, and high-end rustic items. I think this is a bit of an antique dealer and photographer's dream due to the many curiousities made of from fabric, wood, glass, and color.
We passed by a table that had a beautiful old book of religious icons buried under a larger pile of books. I dug it out and asked ''how much?" 15 euros, the vendor replied. Fair price, and since there were no other customers, I sat the book back down and continued looking around. I heard a voice behind me ask "how much?" I looked back to see a woman holding up the book. The vendor glanced at me slyly and replied "15 euros". As she reached in her pocketbook for the money, I smiled, knowing that some things can be hidden, unknown for years, and once brought to the surface can suddenly gain the attention of others. At the shop next door I purchased an antique metal crucifix that thrilled me just as much.
Happy with my treasure, we walked back toward the Metro. The entire city of Paris was celebrating as the next day France would play in the World Cup Finals. As we rode back on the metro I was mysteriously drawn to a heady essential oil fragrance coming from one of the women surrounding us. It was so exotic and sensuous but I could not quite deduce where it was coming from. I made as many notes as I could detect in the oils. Palo Santo? Vanilla? If I can replicate it as a reminder of those days in Paris I will share it with you.
I believe life is a better place knowing that these dusty corners of the world still exist, giving us the opportunity to dust off some old trinkets, then giving them new life in our own homes.