Ah! The Paris 'Marché aux Puces'! Doesn't it just conjure-up romantic visions of rows and allies of precious and rare, gorgeous French treasures? In fact it's hard to think of the term 'Flea Market'
and not think of the ~ city of lights ~ and the magical, stylish, much sought-after ..... authentic Parisienne and French style that is all over every décor magazine, design portfolio and coffee table book.
But wait. French treasures or French trash? It actually did all start with trash ... albeit Parisienne trash--but trash, nonetheless.
You see as many large cities did, Paris had a 'petit probleme' with trash back in the 1800's. Lots of it, in the streets, in piles... mountains. As it was everywhere, 'chiffoniers' scoured the Paris streets to collect scraps, bits of fabric, paper, discarded household items, everything (including bones....) ... glamorous, non? Not really.
Then in 1884 a new standard was enforced which required the Parisiennes to sort their own trash and put it in a maximum of three trash bins per household (bins called 'poubelles' after Eugene Poubelle who was the local 'prèfet' at the time.... trash bins are still called 'poubelle' in the French language--what an honor -- lucky man!)
Now that the trash was sorted into bins during the day, the rag-pickers had to work by moon-light to scavenge the best bits and pieces and these tenacious individuals earned the name 'Pêcheurs de Lune' or moon-fishermen. (Okay, now we are sounding a bit more romantic!)
But let's not get carried away-- yet. As this practice developed, a few decided to group together and sell their findings along the allies and streets, and on Sunday afternoons, Parisiennes in search of a slightly alternative (slightly adventurous!) Sunday-stroll, would come by to take a look at the odd assortment of 'treasures'...... the trouble was--some of the 'treasures' were laden with .... you guessed it! FLEAS. Et voilà! 'Le Marché aux Puces'!
From trash to treasure? From poubelle to puce ? That's how it began.
Today you can visit any of the markets and 100's of stalls in the 18th arrondissment from the Rue de Rosiers known as Marche: Vernaison, Antica, Biron, Cambo, Malassis, Dauphine, Serpette, Paul Bert, Jules Vallee..... The markets are open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, and some on Monday or by appointment.
My Belle-Mother-in-law gave me this little book of postcards that inspired my to look at the Paris Flea Market in an entirely new way. These cards feature the 'Marché Biron' which opened in 1925 and quickly became known as one of the most expensive markets within the 'Puce'....
Today the Flea Market attracts more visitors annually than the Eiffel Tower. My last visit to the market was in the Fall of 1999, a whirlwind trip and at the time we had our 9 month old son with us-- now that we live here, I plan to go 'sans enfants' as soon as I can! (Read--as soon as I can get a sitter!)
How about you? Been there? Going? Dreaming of going?
Until then -- Hope you have enjoyed this little visit to Paris circa 1920's to the most famous French antique market in the world --- without the fleas.
A bientot mes amis!
~ Cat ~