marché aux puces.

We did a thoroughly crappy job of buying souvenirs in Europe.  We didn't buy very many for ourselves, and we bought even fewer for people back home.  I even lugged my extra large suitcase around specifically so I could fill it with trinkets.  Most of our souvenirs ended up being ticket stubs.

One trouble is that we didn't really shop much.  We saw a million little souvenir stores, but even the thought of going in seemed like a waste of precious Paris time.   You know what?  They got gift shops at the airport. We went to the various gift shops at the sites we visited, but they too seemed overpriced and a bit generic.  I occasionally thought of buying a practical souvenir; when it was rainy or windy, an umbrella or scarf seemed like a good idea. But then the weather would clear up enough that I forgot about it until the next time.

However, we did go to the flea market. Wherever I go, I look for secondhand souvenirs. A t-shirt or hat that says "PARIS" would remind me that we went to Paris once. A secondhand souvenir takes me back to the exact day that I bought it.  (Fun fact:  the word souvenir is French, for "to remember.")

We went to the market at the Porte de Vanves. It was a pretty nasty day.  While the Paris weather was not ideal most of the time we were there, that day was actually sorta miserable.  Rainy, windy, cold.  Not a good flea market day, even when armed with a hot café crème and a fresh pain au chocolat, but it was our only Saturday, and I came all the way across the Atlantic to go to a real French flea market.  Or as they call it, marché aux puces. This literally means "flea market," and the story goes that it got the name because the upholstery of the old furniture sold there was infested with the jumping parasites.

I've basically come across two kinds of flea markets - some with old junk and some with new junk (I use the word "junk" lovingly). New junk tends to be dollar store type stuff, mass produced and poor quality. Old junk is old junk. I love old junk flea markets, while I generally don't bother stopping at new junk places.

The market at Porte de Vanves was old junk, with vendors set up under canopies on the tree-lined sidewalk. The tents mostly kept the merchandise dry, but customers got pretty wet. I stood at one tent, looking through a stack of art prints for a good while, a steady drip of water running off the tent and down my neck.

Old men playing poker in between customers
And really, it was a lot like flea markets in the States. There was a good variety of stuff, plenty of it very tempting. The prices were consistent with other big city markets. Someone had taken apart a very old atlas and was selling the individual pages for 18€ apiece. There was a guy who had a bunch of old tools, and I considered buying an awl, as I've been interested in bookbinding lately. Another vendor had this elephant game, which I really, really wanted.

I really can't explain the things that I want, I just want them
I did not even bother asking the price, though. Asking the price is the first step toward buying something ridiculous that you don't need. No one needs an elephant game, even one as beautiful and cool as this one. Also, I did not know how to ask "How much?" in French, and though everyone seemed to speak English perfectly well, the language barrier made me shy. (I just looked it up; it's combien.)

I went to the Brooklyn flea market with a friend one time, and she admired my will power. That was also an old junk market, but everything there had been filtered for Brooklyn tastes, so it was all very hip. However, going to yard sales and estate sales means that I know where flea market vendors get their stuff, and I know what they pay for it. So while I enjoy looking at all the neat stuff, I am not usually not interested in paying a middleman for something that I could find for myself eventually.

I did buy a couple of small souvenirs. One booth had a huge box of keychains, the kind businesses give away. I love stuff like this, which is why I have all kinds of t-shirts for places which I have no association. I ended up with this one, 3€.

And I bought two prints from the art dealer for 5€ apiece.  There were a ton that I would have liked, but again, not feeling confident in French prevented me from asking about a better price for buying multiples.  That was dumb.  The guy spoke excellent English.  I'll have to come up with frames for them.

Josh also bought a pocket knife for 10€. He has a collection of them. He's pretty cute when he gets a new one, doing all the research he can about its origins. He'll take it out and admire it, asking me repeatedly, "Have you seen my knife?" This one was marked with a brand name, but it's probably a knock-off. Such is my husband the optimist, that he considers even the knock-off status as something to be proud of.

Thereafter, he opened every bottle of wine while asking, "Have you seen my knife?"
We both paid more than we would have for these same things back home. Paying in euros always feels cheaper than it is.  Whatever, we were on vacation. These are our souvenirs. We didn't buy any Eiffel Tower paperweights or Monet scarves, just some goofy things from the flea market.  And every time I look at my silly television repair keychain, I'll remember the old men playing poker, the elephant game, the atlas, the whole rainy morning in Paris.

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