A banquet for the eyes: antiquated furniture, crate-loads of jewellery, sacred artifacts from across the world, ritzy vintage and couture clothing; marvels that once belonged to another person, another era. These are the sights at the heart of the St Ouen marché aux puces, a popular flea market located in the poorer area of north central Paris. The objects here beg the question, “What is their story?”
But, bedazzled by beauty from times long gone, a voyager like myself risks overlooking another mystery surrounding something that is less visible; What social life exists in this particular place? For me, an amateur anthropologist, the people, punters and sellers at the market, were of equal interest as their wares. The story of the humans in this part of Paris, in a certain snapshot of time, is worth considering if you yourself are to make a pilgrimage to the area.
Under a grey Parisian sky, I entered the market from the direction of the Porte de Clignancourt Metro stop. The first stalls I encountered were selling items such as brightly colored sweatbands for goths and gimmicky T-shirts. If you look at TripAdvisor or Yelp, the wares here prompt disgusted reviews, encouraging people to veer right in order to reach what they evidently see to be “the true market.”
Instead of heading straight to the market’s more celebrated center, I continued along this avenue of shops and stalls, which dwindled into smaller stalls, and eventually ended at a space where items were being sold from squares of fabric on the concrete. Nearby, overlooking the scene, stood four policemen. I had also read online reviews, written by people who must have arrived via this end of the market. According to them, the characters you meet here are “very edgy, druggy, and easily provoked.” And “It seriously looked like a bunch of homeless people gathering underneath a bridge with a variety of tacky items spread out on a tarp.”