You can tell a lot about a people by their flea markets.
There are three types of flea markets in Paris. That already tells you something about Parisians.
- Porte de Clignancourt, officially called Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, but known to everyone as Les Puces (The Fleas). It’s the most famous flea market in Paris and is open year round. It is said to be the biggest in the world, but if you’ve been to the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena, California, you know the Parisians are being overly generous. It’s a permanent labyrinth of shops selling chandeliers and those ornate chairs that look cool but are seriously uncomfortable.
- Rose Bowl-type flea markets, which appear on a certain weekend every month in the same place. I went to one once and was immediately creeped out by the dolls. It’s their eyes. They followed me everywhere.
- The brocante, which is the flea market that shows up every once in blue moon in your hood. Trucks arrive in the wee hours of the morning to set up their wares for the passersby. I prefer the brocante to the usual flea market because it’s more ramshackle and vendors are more apt to offload their bric-a-brac so they don’t have to haul it to the next brocante a few weeks from later.
My friends refuse to go with me. All they see is junk.
I see anthropology. Not Anthropologie, the uber cool chain store. I see a slice of French life. The French love nicknacks to set on the mantel. They love furs, ashtrays and postcards. The stuff they love would never make it at the Rose Bowl in California where you’ll find pristine Pyrex, surfboards and sundresses.
See what I’m saying?
Though I stroked the furs and feathers, I had my eye on fun flat paper things to send in my Paris Letters. In my search I came across yet another postcard to Cecile Martinazo. Last February, I bought a random handful of postcards to send with my Paris Letters. Most of them happened to be addressed to Cecile. And today, I found more.
Cecile must have kept everything.
I wonder if Cecile was a hoarder. (Not unlike many vendors at the brocante.) Or she just liked fun mail. Or she was like Paris Hilton and everyone wanted to get her attention somehow so they sent her postcards.
Oh Cecile, how I wish I knew more about you.
I do know she kept every postcard from a certain someone. I know this because the handwriting is the same. A lover? A brother? Whose to say. I Googled her. Didn’t find a thing. Imagine, someone living in the early 1900s not having a web identity. Well, she’s got one now! Google her these days and you’ll end up right here at this page.
You’re welcome Cecile Martinazo.
Most of what makes flea markets great is taking stealth photos of the weird and pretty objects of yesteryear. I also love hanging around the Asian crafts table. Usually, the vendor has went to the East, fallen in love with Buddha statues and purchased a slew of them, thinking they could make mucho moolah at a Paris flea market.
But what works in one place, doesn’t work in another.
And Buddha statues get passed over for fur stoles. So I stop by the Asian stall to oogle, ooh and ahh to make the vendors feel better about their disastrous decisions.
Here is my latest collection of the flea market’s weird, pretty and typical.