Skimming the Fleas

photo: brochante

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Paris:- Saturday, 25. September 1999:- Some readers may wonder what gives me the right to be a wordy 'expert' on things Parisian. Some readers, if not many, know far more about Paris than I do.

For example, I know about fleamarkets in theory. Paris has its big one - Les Puces - just over the northern border, in Saint-Ouen. It has its one for 'alert' searchers at the southern Porte de Vanves - the one where my dentist gets her odd ex-military medical stuff.

Every week, in Thursday's editions of Le Parisien I think, there is a page devoted to the week'sphoto: loo seat major brocantes - fleamarkets - which often mentions unusual items up for auction as well. The week's report takes a full page because there are dozens of sales in Paris and in the neighboring region scheduled every week.

In addition, there are annual 'travelling' flea markets, which roll into town like circuses and usually last several days. Next to finally, there are all the occasional neighborhood fleamarkets and these are going on all the time. Lastly, there are legions of antique shops.

It is as if people just can't get enough of old stuff. If you are one of these fleamarket fans, you probably know why you are. I simply don't have the time to spare for them, and I do not feel deprived. But I know I am in some sort of minority. It is not normal not to be a fleamarket fan. I should seek professional help.

One of these days, I say. What's the hurry? But still, I know you are out there and most of you are fleamarket fans - the world's greatest civilian 'sport' after eating.

I feel I have to do something. Luckily, there is a fleamarket today, only two blocks away. As a stopgap measure, I 'cover' it betweenphoto: parrot and horn getting today's paper and taking my usual flutter on the Loto - motto: 'If you don't play, you are pretty dumb.'

This fleamarket starts on the front porch of the Mairie of the 14th arrondissement, and it has the appearance of an annual affair. I saw posters for it which gave its location simply as 'Avenue du Maine' as if everybody already knows where it is on this fairly long street.

In front of the Mairie there is a place for having wedding photos taken, then a local park, a street, and more local park. The fleamarket is all over this area, which borders the Avenue du Maine for two blocks.

I am doing my 'blitz' visit in the morning because the weather forecast for the rest of the weekend, after noon, is lousy. If it is wrong, I can come back for more.

I thought the event was supposed to start yesterday, but many stands and booths are still beingphoto: lamp and bust put together. Small vans full of old furniture are arriving, and people are bundling the stuff under cover.

Where the wares - somebody's treasures! - are laid out, to my unexperienced eye, there is total confusion. Big things, but many thousands of little things - often close together. This is where the experienced 'eye' takes over and separates the dross from the true gold.

Which is, of course, what separates me from the fleamarket fan. I skim the place. No 'must-have' item leaps out. I take some photos, with practically no idea of what will end up here. The problem is that I'm not looking for anything in particular - just photo opportunities.

For this reason, the photos here have no captions. When I 'worked' them, this was when I found out what I had. Some are small portions of larger views; cropped to isolate the most interesting things captured - caught by accident, this is.

By doing the photos I found out what I have missed 'seeing.' I guess fleamarket fans have a sort of tunnel-vision, trained to zoom in on the 'finds' that suit their desires.

Although actually capturing one of these 'finds' must be a bit like looking for flakes of gold in dubious river sands, I guessphoto: sausages and mustard it is the hunt that drives people to search. I can hardly find new t-shirts in a town with 500 shops, so I know the feeling.

Here, hot meat and hot mustard, to improve browsers' keen eyesight.

Fleamarkets are commonly combined with food stands in France, and this one has its regional sausage booths, a grilled-sausage stand and even a sit-down café area. Some of the bigger events are called 'iron-and-ham' fairs.

Okay, this is it. The story is in the photos. When I leave, on the way to buy my lucky Loto ticket, I think if I win I'll get some tunnel vision and hang around fleamarkets, to look for treasures.

The super jackpot won't necessarily be for buying these treasures - but it'll buy the time necessary to do the searching.

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