Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Les Marche des Puces - Intro

I knew when we came to Paris I wanted to visit the famed Flea Markets of Paris. They are said to be an antiquer's dream, where dealers from all over the world come to pick over the offerings and unearth fantastic French treasures from the past.

That was about all I knew about them. So when I started to look into it, I was a little surprised to learn that the Flea Markets of Paris are - of course - not what the typical stereotype says they arel. It's way more interesting than that,

We took the Metro number 4 line to the northernmost end of the line, Porte de Clignancourt. We walked alongside a busy road that ran under the Peripheral - the ring expressway around the outer part of the city.

As we approached the highway overpass, to our left in a parking lot was a huge expanse of trucks, vans, blue tarps and corrugated roofs.

It was a market, yes - but fortunately we had read our guidebook, and knew that this was not what we had come for.

We took a brief detour through it, though, noting the various stalls. It was like a swap meet, with temporary shelters displaying cheap luggage, jeans and t-shirts, knock-off sneakers and sunglasses. Mixed in with a touch of North Africa - fabrics, tourist carvings, and a bong and hookah dealer.

You could tell this was a zone for unregulated commerce, because as soon as we entered the shadows beneath the highway, there were hawkers hustling the crowd with cartons of Marlboros, stacks of CDs, phone cards and various other wares.

Beyond the highway, a crowded row of stalls and stores sold more merchandise - cheap purses, tee shirts with American university logos, and piles of cheap sneakers. It reminded me of Santee Alley in downtown Los Angeles.

But this, too, was not what we were looking for.

Therw was a small open gate, and a sign with a name I recognized from the guidebook. We passed through a narrow passage, and suddenly things changed.

The Puces des Saint-Ouen market at Porte de Clignancourt is really many markets. In the 1880s, government regulations drove the rag-pickers and junk dealers out of the city proper, into Saint Ouen, where they set up shop in ramshackled, knocked-together stalls and sheds, which today have become permanent shops for dealers of both cheap and expensive merchandise. There are several distinct complexes whose character vary greatly. Some are open air, others are housed in huge modern buildings. If you click HERE there's a map of the market - I wish I'd had that to consult during out trip.

The Marche Vernaison is the oldest and most charming, with narrow winding alleyways flanked by shuttered stalls. The dealers here offer small collectibles; vintage junk that spills out of the tiny shops into the already narrow walkways.

Over the years, the dealers have customized their stalls - some are ramshackle sheds while others have windows and doors and look just like real stores. This ivy-covered stall is a good example of how unexpectedly charming this place can be.

Marche Paul Bert is accessed through another gate off the same road, and it's a little different in feel. The roadways are wider, and the stall are more substantial and store-like. The goods are more high-end, too, with lots of substantial furniture, elegant and pricey.

Marche Dauphine is a huge brick two-story building with an open atrium. It has the feel of a modern antique mall in an American city.

Unlike the enclosed markets, like Dauphine and Marche Serpette, it's a little hard to tell where one open-air complex begins and one ends. The streets around the markets have also become open-air markets, crowded with more day-sellers. We emerged from a charming alley lined with nineteenth century furniture only to enter the scrum of counterfeit sneaker-sellers and tables of beauty products. It took some a quick detour through a residential block to get back to the antiques.

Another time, we got stuck inside an barn-like structure crammed with modern merchandise - shirts and boots, luggage and fancy jeans. We popped out a door onto a graffitti-tagged street where scooters parked among dealers of surplus military gear and Moroccan imports.

As you can imagine, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. So to get off your feet and out of the crowd, you can duck into one of the small cafes and pubs among the merchants.

Whew! We'll just sit here a minute and have a coffee, a glass of wine or a beer. Let's relax a minute. Let's get out our MAP again. Now that we've got a sense of the place, we can plan our exploration.

Stand by for Part Two.


Anonymous said...

Aaawwww what adventures you are having. Even getting a little lost once in a while is quite exciting? :-) I enjoy looking through the photos.

Tristan Robin said...

you experienced one of my favorite happenings in Paris! I love the flea markets. I even love the cheap modern garbage! I have found some real treasures in the stalls, and the only thing that keeps my AmEx from hemorrhaging is the problem of getting stuff back to the states. LOL

Did you browse through any of the used books stalls? Some incredible stuff to be found!

Katie said...

Oh my.......sigh.....Paris you lucky duck you!

I was not able to put up a Pink Saturday post this week but I certainly wish you a belated happy one anyway!

Beverly said...

What did you buy? I want to see. ;-)

cactus petunia said...

That's my idea of fun!

Molly said...

Mrs. G.
I keep up with twc and love your writings on P-Dub's blog as well...sadly i've been to Paris twice and have never gone to des Puces, but the pics you posted are lovely.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of the puces is lunchtime, when the dealers pull out their card tables and hang out with the others.

Thanks for the memories--from someone who's just moved back to Australia after 5 years in Pars and wants to move to Topanga in a few years :-)

Woman in a Window said...

Amazing! What a contrast between the two markets. Sad to see that there were fewer people at the second when it had so much more to offer.