Moon Fisherman - The Market of Fleas

Posted by Stephaney Oberon on


Flea markets first appeared in Paris during the 18th century, when at night the streets would be scoured by rag and junk trade individuals sometimes known as chiffoniers or more figuratively, pecheurs de lune (moon fishermen) who would dig through the rubbish of the elite, in the hopes that they’d find trinkets to sell. To conduct business within the city walls, would incur too many fees and taxes – instead Parisian flea markets would take place just outside the gates of Paris. Therefore today, the city’s main flea markets take place on the outskirts of the city.


Our first market Porte de Vanves (or Vanves Flea Market) is located in a somewhat quiet corner of the south part of the city. Although we were on our way out of Paris and drove to this market by car it is easily accessible by taking Metro line 13 to Porte de Vanves stop and a short walk from there. I loved this sidewalked, out of doors market. There were nearly 380 vendors so it is best to allow at least a couple of hours for this market. I was looking for curiosities that would fit into my suitcase and this market did not disappoint. Vendors offer everything, including dealers who specialize in specific items such as vintage clothing, books, paintings, prints, glassware and fabrics, to dealers who seem to set up with whatever they picked up off the street the week before. The prices run the gamut and there are several items priced at just a few euros.

Our next market is known as the Queen of French Flea Markets, the Puces de Saint-Ouen located above the Porte de Clignancourt on the North end of the city. We happily navigated the metro Line 4 (Porte d.orleans, Porte de Clignancourt) and the market is located within a short walk from the station. This is a very large market with several permanent structures, some modern, some ramshackle, and some with separate permanent stalls. With 2,000 to 3,000 vendors, there is a lot to see. Here you will find larger items, furniture, paintings, chandeliers, lamps, toys, and high-end rustic items. I think this is a bit of an antique dealer and photographer's dream due to the many curiosities made of fabric, wood, and glass.

We passed a table that had a beautiful old book of religious icons buried deep under a larger pile of books. I dug it out and asked ''how much?" 15 euros, the vendor replied. Fair price, and since there were no other customers, I sat the book back down and continued looking around. I heard a voice behind me ask "how much?" I looked back to see a woman holding up the book. The vendor glanced at me slyly and replied "15 euros". As she reached in her pocketbook for the money, I smiled, knowing that some things can be hidden, unknown for years, and once brought to the surface can suddenly gain the attention of others. At the shop next door, I purchased an antique metal crucifix that thrilled me just as much. Happy with my treasure, we walked back toward the Metro.

The entire city of Paris was celebrating as the next day they would play in the World Cup Finals. As we were riding back I noticed this mysterious, exotic fragrance coming from one of the passengers. It was so sensuous and heady but I could not quite deduce who was wearing it or what it was. Sandalwood? Palo Santo? Vanilla? I had never smelled anything quite like it. I wish I could capture it and replicate it as a reminder of those intoxicating days in the flea markets of Paris.

I love considering myself a Moon Fisherman, even if I am on the opposite side of the table, on the other side of the world, and it's the sun that's shining, instead of the moon.

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