Today I went to Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen – which is a huge, old flea market just north of Montmartre in Paris.
This part of Paris was once outside the city boundaries and was a place where rag and bone men and other itinerant traders created a huge shanty town in the last half of the C19th. Gradually the area became popular with Parisians. Cafes and restaurants sprang up and the area became organised around a series of markets which as time has gone on have developed into what are really high end antique markets most of which specialise in specific areas. It’s supposed to be the biggest flea market in the world.
These markets, which consist of small retail units are posh. The prices are really high (as are the rents). One unit/shop, which was selling C18th furniture, was playing baroque music. It felt like I was in Cheltenham or Winchester. It wasn’t really for me.
There was some good looking stuff though.
Running along one edge of these markets was a long road where all the stalls were selling street sports wear type stuff and fake brand trainers and iPhone case and so. These stalls blared out French hip hop and North African music. Again this wasn’t really for me.
Running along the south edge of these network of markets was the most interesting road. Here there were stalls selling records and old magazines and random tat. This road (Seine Sant Denis Paris) and the market to the left of it (Marché Lecuyer) was were I did my best work and where I felt most at home.
But the whole place was intimidating.
The thing I love about carboots and fleamarkets is that you never quite know what’s going to happen because when you are there you are making it up as you go along. Usually, for me this means little more than me either buying stuff I can sell for a profit or finding stuff that I like or which makes me laugh. However sometimes it’s other stuff that keeps me entertained – odd or funny conversations, strange people or sometimes you just find yourself seeing stuff that seems beyond the margins of my everyday life.
Outside the flea market there were two other fleamarkets. One of these was under a flyover and I think was only semi official. There were a lot of security guards there. The third one a block south of Seine Sant Denis Paris was, I think, entirely unofficial. It was a pretty desperate place. People were selling any old rubbish and it was very difficult to distinguish between who was selling and who was buying. I think a lot of the people here were recent immigrants to France.
I like to take photos at carboots. It has, on a couple of occasions, caused incidents when some thin skinned git has taken issue. That happened today.
I was struck at this unofficial flea market how the sellers were lined up in long rows along two pavements either side of an avenue of trees. I took a few photos trying to get convey how linear this ad-hoc unofficial flea market was . As I was trying to get a photo of the two rows an angry man, who was walking across the avenue of trees, starting screaming at me to delete the photos. He was physical, grabbing my phone. Getting my phone back off him I thought it best to delete the photos. Obviously I didn’t really delete them. The photos were on my iphone so the deleted photos just went into the deleted folder and as soon as he sodded off to be angry somewhere else I recovered them.
Before my run in with this twat I’d already noticed that my camera and iPhone photos were making people nervous and edgy at this ad-hoc flea market.. Lots of staring. Lots of people noticing me. It’s not surprising. A dozy tourist taking photos of people unsure of their status in a place which itself is unofficial is going to get people’s backs up. Moreover – that “anything can happen” thing which puts a spring my step at carboots and fleamarkets does make other people edgy and hyper alert. Carboots and fleamarkets can often be tense places. Pushy people, desperate people, casual racism (and more than casual racism), money, the whole “getting one over on someone” thing and the heady mix of the very poor with the affluent can definitely give things an edge. And then Paris itself seemed to me to be a noticeably tense city. For obvious reasons.
Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen was too much to take in – it felt a bit like a souk but with posh market town type antique fairs mixed in. I struggled to get my bearings a bit. But hopefullyI will return and get on top of things and I will take better photos.
I came away with a couple of daft things which should make a profit.
1. 250 Enamel Badges.
I bought this lot for €10. They are mostly promotional enamel badges. They are a daft but I had a quick look on Ebay and similar badges seem to sell for a couple of quid. Who knows? Maybe I can turn €10 into £500. I need to find a scooterboy who likes food – or loo roll – related badges
2. A Few Singles.
I paid €16 for these. I’m going to keep The Beatles EP – but I may sell the others. The Pistols single is a French pressing and cost me €6 – I think it’ll sell for more than that.