Every day, Parisians find dream objects or utterly-delightful treasure troves in the flea markets, or “les Puces” as we name them. A good eye can spot among rejected objects a fine painting that needs a little TLC, or a ravishing terra cotta statue (see picture). Among treasures I can also mention: Baccarat glasses, 18th century Indian Company porcelain dinnerware, old precious fabrics, Art Deco pieces, rare books, 17th century original drawings, international art, fresh-looking watercolor painted over a century ago for decor or ornament projects, old tools, or magnificent sculpted furniture. And if you are in luck, you may get your find for a song.
The flea market is the best place to find what you are not looking for, or to drive out your deepest, most oppressed desires for things you do not need. You were once unaware of your soft (yet pressing) spot for keys of all shapes and ages, or that you could develop an obsession with door handles or miniature wild hogs. But now, you know it and can fully assume it. Since nobody is around to judge, you can loosen up and stare at a painting with a large corner missing, painted by a blind person. What sheer delight! You eventually realize that as revealing as these besetting sins may be (which become less besetting when you start frantically collecting country-side armoires), you share with the vendors the same forceful passion for these treasures.
I was in Paris last month, and it was amusing to witness vendors forbid passersby from photographing their items, which in one particular case included a broken prosthetic leg, deer trophies, and miniature cars rescued from a fire. What are they fearing? Robberies? Counterfeiting? Is there something I’m missing? I also noticed that these markets are becoming more attractive to buyers from abroad. The Chinese arrive on the heels of the Japanese, who are still trying to corner the market of 1930s stoneware bowls and plates, jumping avidly on broken ivory napkin rings and silver-played dishes damaged down to the metal.
Flea markets are wild communions of long-lasting or repressed desires, and I am convinced that one goes to the flea market to cajole inadmissible inclinations; it is a sort of open-air loony bin with self-administered treatments. Long live the spirit of rag pickers!