Friday, March 11, 2011

At the Market

Outside the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen, 2006

When you go to Paris there are at least three places where you can count on seeing lots of other Americans. One of them is the northeast elevator at the Eiffel Tower. This is where Rick Steves says you should go to avoid the long lines. The second place is the Rue Cler, another of Rick’s recommended destinations.

If you know anything about Rick Steves fans, it’s that they’re faithful about following Rick's advice. And if that’s not enough, they look just like what you imagine public television viewers will look liked. And if that’s still not enough, you can pick them out because they all have the same section of the Rick Steves Paris guide book torn out and stuck in their back pocket (just like Rick suggests).

The third place is the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen, the sprawling flea market on the northern side of Paris just outside the Clignancourt Gate. When you come up out of the Metro station you have to dodge the traffic in a busy rotary to get outside the ancient peripheral wall to the market. A lot of tourists have a hard time figuring this out, for which reason I suspect Parisian drivers looking upon this rotary like a giant game of Whac-a-Mole.

Just outside the wall you encounter block after block of stalls selling cheap clothing. It’s like a cross between a North African souk and the sidewalk bazaar of New York’s Canal Street. We found it to be a pretty grim place and were happy to finally figure out that this isn’t the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen. To get to the actual flea market, you have to walk a little further, out to just past the rue des Rossiers.

The Marché aux Puces St-Ouen is a seventeen acre-spider's web-like array of trailers, sheds and stalls lined up along narrow, meandering alleys. Once you get into this labyrinth, it's easy to become lost. No two alleys are alike, but all are nondescript in the same way.

Marché aux Puces St-Ouen 113, 2006

The day we visited the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen, it was sunny and cool. We wandered for hours looking in one stall after another. If you like to prowl antique markets, this is a great one to visit. There are hundreds of stalls, no two of them quite alike, selling everything from broken crockery to old shoes and photographs to exquisite antiques and crystal chandeliers.

It's also a great place for take pictures. There were hundreds of still life scenes I would have loved to photograph. But the first time I lifted my camera to my eye I was firmly told by a vendor and then a security guard, “Pas des photographes.” Not even a s’il vous plait, thank you. I could take pictures in the alleys, but every time I tried to sneak a picture of one of the stalls I got run out.

My wife and I found all sorts of things we would like to have brought home. We've since learned that it's very easy to have things shipped to the U.S. from the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen. But we didn't know this that day, which in retrospect probably saved me from leaving a heaping pile of economic impact and customs tariff behind in Paris. If I recall correctly, we came home without so much as a paperweight.

Marché aux Puces St-Ouen 74, 2006


  1. My neice's first real shopping experience happened in Paris when she was four. She still thinks, even in the states, that she can dicker about the price of anything she sees in any retail store.

    You'd be surprised the number of times it works!

  2. I've always wanted to browse the brocante in Paris--one of these these photos. I don't know if I've ever traveled without bringing at least something home. Usually nothing expensive, just something I can look at and be whistful about...

    Red Dirt Girl is so right--you really can get people to happily haggle with you here in the state. This I know!

  3. I was scolded for taking pictures in our local shopping mall recently. You've whet my appetite, although I'm not likely to get back to France in my lifetime.

  4. If anyone has a PhD in Traveling, it's Rick Steves ...