Monday, May 14, 2012

Marche aux Puces

Paris is amazing on so many levels, one can spend weeks blogging about certain areas of interest. This is my sixth visit to Paris and this past spring was thinking about the hundreds of things I've never seen or experienced here.  One of which, was the Marche de Puce, or flea market. One anecdote of the word origin comes from the flea bites young girls who worked in the markets received when they shopped for second hand clothes in Le Porte de Vanves.  Literally: shopping in a market where the goods were filled with fleas.  A second I just read comes from the poor vendors who were evicted from their store during the Haussman development in the 19th century.  These vendors were forced to flee and move to the streets to sell their wares.

Many items are purchased to bring back a symbol of the travel experience in the form of a souvenir.  One of my favorite books of all time is Susan Stewart's On Longing: Narratives on the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Collection and the Souvenir.  The chapter on the souvenir is an absolute must read.

 The notion of the souvenir often conjures up the Eiffel Tower keychain, the bag with C'est la Vie printed on it, etc. On the other hand, the high end souvenir: the antique, represents the opposite side of the spectrum. And the amazing amount of high quality, expensive art objects is really astounding.  Priced for a small percentage of people, these works are jaw-dropping in their monetary worth and cultural significance.  Many of these galleries carry major works that range from antiquity to the Third Empire.

One of things I had hoped to do this trip to Paris was to visit a flea market.  I hadn’t had much luck asking people I knew who had visited Paris, but went searching online and found that there are a number of them. I didn’t really have anything particular in mind.  I had some items that I was looking for for some close friends, but that proved to be difficult.  The exciting part of visiting a marche de puce is the not-knowing-what-you’ll find part.  The problem can be that you may not find what you’re looking for, or if you do, that it is overpriced.  I actually found many nice things, as well as things that were of particular interest (while not valuable in the “Antique Road Show” way), but would be difficult to bring home or would need to be shipped. There were plenty of pocket knives, watches, jewelry, china and dinnerware.  The items range from expensive antiques to junk, but were all very interesting.

I arrived shortly after 9am, and by then the marche was bustling.  It was actually pretty difficult to see the vendor's wares without fighting for a space at a table.  I am new to this, but believe many of the serious antique dealers would have come and gone long before I arrived.  On the other hand, several of the vendor's were just getting set up and local visitors would swarm the new goods (mostly clothes) the instant they hit the table.  One vendor was ready to unload a wonderful settee that was priced for 2000 Euro, which seemed a bit high given the fact that it was in the back of a dirty van uncovered. I would've loved to purchased this for the studio! The remaining attendees like myself were foreigners, and souvenir-seekers.

The sette I would have loved to have in my studio.

Arriving at the Marche aux Puces de Le Porte de Vanves

There were several vendors of African Art.  These seemed to be quite popular with people.  These vendors were extremely vocal about not taking pictures, though I did manage to get these.

I loved these bottles!

 One item that I really wanted was a Sennelier half box that was extremely old.  It was extremely worn and was coated with lots of paint. The corners of the box had been polished with wear and had a patina like I had never seen.  It would’ve needed some repair to make it more stable, but vanished after my first visit. Another item I found was a narrow lacquered box with pencils in it.  The box was black and lettered french writing on it. apparently the brand name, which I had never heard of.  It was 20 euro and it was gone this morning when I returned.

  There were a lot of postcards and old photographs.  Many of which had hand-written correspondence, which looked quite beautiful.  In reading some of the backs, I picked up certain words or phrases I recognized and imagined the rest. The postcards were heavily worn around the edges and encased in plastic or laminated.  The images, and the writing, had faded or become discolored like the memories they contained.  I found an instant connection to the sentiment behind the cards: sharing an exotic place with someone special, letting the recipient know they were not forgotten during the sender’s travels, but rather shared in an intimate way.  In a strange way, it was reassuring to relate to the cards as though these were distant relatives or people representing the same experiences I was witnessing.

These feelings weren’t limited to letters and postcards.  In fact, the objects found here (like all the other places in the world) embody rich histories of their former owner’s lives.  I couldn’t help but think of the people that owned them, where they lived, what their lives must have been like.  Clearly, for me, this created a value beyond any market price.

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