02 November 2006

A Trip to the Marché aux Puces

marché : market
puces : fleas

I've been to a number of "exotic" places in the world, but there was something about being at the marché aux puces that made me feel more like Indiana Jones than ever before. This, the Parisian flea market which is open only Friday, Saturday and Sunday, gives you the feeling that you could find absolutely anything that you wanted. 18th century coffee table? No problem! Fake Dolce & Gabana belt? Right this way, sir!

The whole place is about a dozen square blocks altogether (3 in one direction, 4 in the other). The perimeter is full of cheap, fashionable clothes, Caribbean guys selling incense and bongs, and roving packs of high school students trying to look tough and buying just about everything that they see. Among all of this I was able to find a used corduroy jacket for only 17 euros. I can now look like a proper French 20-something.

All of this popular culture on the exterior is just a distraction to what you can find in the dusty and convoluted folds of the interior. Think of it as the mold-rind of a round of Camembert; it is the most pungent and apparent to the casual observer, but it obscures the subtlety of the soft interior. Turning off of the crowded exterior streets an entirely different world opens up before you. It is alley after alley of little stalls, each about 15 feet by 15 feet, most only one story tall. Each stall is operated by a different seller who specializes in one sort of antiquity or knick-knack. It's here that you can find a globe from the 17th century, an Art Deco lamp, or an 18th century arm chair. Each stall is constructed to look like a properly arranged (though very crowded) room. There are generally tables, chairs, lamps, etc... all of the same period. If you want an entire Art Deco ensemble for your living room, this is the place to find it.

Furniture sellers make up the majority of the stalls, but there are specialists in other fields as well. One of the more interesting shops was called The Curious Colonialist. The walls were adorned with Native American head dresses and tomahawks, Amazonian alligators, and various statues of presumably African origin. When Yona, my shopping partner, and I walked in, the gentlemen became rather nervous as it was clear they were finalizing the sale of a circa-1850's Winchester rifle. Given the strict laws regarding firearms in France and their reaction to our presence, there was a certain air of extra-legality. This feeling was one that permeated much of the market. It seemed that no matter what you wanted to by, you could find it there, so long as you don't ask too many questions about how the seller came into possession of it. The question and response seems to be, "Is it legal to buy Egyptian antiquities like this? At this price, who cares!"

Of course, there are plenty of other collectibles for sale, from comic books, to miniature cars, to antique cameras. Whatever you prefer to collect, you can undoubtedly add to it with a trip to the marché aux puces. For me it meant a corduroy jacket, for others it might be the monkey skull displayed on wall next to the stuffed and mounted flamingo.

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