The Paris Guide: Les Puces (Flea Market) de Saint-Ouen

June 20, 2019

Filed in: Field Guide

If you know me, you know I melt for antiques. And if you tack on the word “camera” to “antiques,” well, I’ll be there. Paris is known for having several renowned flea markets, and Les Puces de Saint-Ouen is reputed to be the largest in the world. Not sure if it’s true, but what is true is that you could easily spend all day pursuing the bric-a-brac, ranging from weird, creepy ostrich portraits (pearl-wearing, glasses-sporting ostriches); to the most ornate chandeliers; and 18th-century style furniture. Plus clothes — vintage! — old photographs; and old cameras! I’ve really been missing Cecil, my Rolleicord, lately. So I decided to go visit his friends at Au Vieux Format.

Hope and I arrived at Porte de Clignancourt (the end of Métro line 4) as clouds obscured the sun, bits of blue sky poking through. The weather has thrown temperamental tantrums the past week, raining and hailing one moment (quite literally) before the sun bursts forth. Rain or not, it was chilly, and we had to weave in and out of the crowds; ducking our head to avoid the persistent gazes of hawkers, whose arms were full of cheap jewellery, handbags, and (maybe illicit) phones.

The actual puces is a mixture of covered passageways and stores on tiny streets; the market could be a village itself. Treasures to be found in the ornate painting that covered an entire wall, surrounded by a gilded gold frame. Cigarette smoke wafted in the air, the wispy trails providing that je ne sais quoi (when we weren’t coughing our lungs out). Tiny keys; many flowers; treasures in what others have forgotten. We saw delicate china; a wild 1970s-esque sitting room in the form of a space ship; antique dinnerware…we planned for the decoration of our future homes.

While part of seeing the ornate furniture and kitchenware made us acutely aware of our current lack of “home” — it made me a little bit hopeful for home. That one day, I’ll have a space to fill with things. Not things for the sake of filling it with things, but intentionally selected; to tell a story; to welcome people. Perhaps. Someday.

Towards the end of our wanderings, we discovered generously-sized, piping hot doughnuts covered in sugar — the cuisine I am not sure of (African or Middle Eastern?), but it reminded me of the fried dough my parents would buy us after church in Chinatown, and how we dunked it in soy milk before scarfing it down. A piece of home, in food. Merci, Hope!

We wound our way back to the Métro, but not before stopping at La Recyclerie. If you watch Alice in Paris (I binge-watched all the episodes last year), you’ll know this is the place she buys fresh eggs. It’s been on my list of adventures to have…but until today, had not had. (Whew, grammar! Thinking about writing that in French makes me sleepy.) I’m thankful to Hope for sharing this delightful space with me!

When we google “Paris,” we’re met with an onslaught of media filling our minds with the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Tuileries gardens, and other “classic” Parisian sights. But today, I got to see another (and equally valid, enchanting, and valuable) side of Paris, here at La Recyclerie. It is a café, community gathering space (there was some event going on as we walked through the door, grateful for the warmth), urban farm, and podcast host…among other things, situated on old train tracks and in what used to be a train station.

As much as I love the romance of what I’d say is a “typical” Paris, I’m so happy to have had this adventure to this side of Paris…another side of paradise.

Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays 9h-18h)

Métro line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt; follow the crowds. La Recyclerie is just outside the metro station.

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Paris & California strolls; plenty of flowers; stories; and looking for the beauty in the everyday. I hope you'll come along as I take the year to document the entirety of my home state!

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