Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The obscure charm of flea markets

A shopping bag ruggedly pushes me aside, while I’m trying hard to focus on the table in front of me, looking for treasures to be taken to a new home. Voices next to me rise in volume, as the haggling goes on, ending either with a sunny goodbye, or a snidely wave of the hand.
Every time I decide to get out of bed painfully early on a weekend (as if that alone isn’t terrifying enough) and go to a flea market, the situation is clear: I will not make it through this organized turmoil without raising my eyebrows, or even using the F- word once. Silently. Of course.
Then again, I could say the same thing about going to a grocery store on a Saturday morning.
In the thick of the fry, a flea market visit can become a little overwhelming. At least when the weather is nice, the amount of people itself can lead to one or two stressing conditions. There is an invisible course I seem to run down while scanning the booths with one, and possible obstacles with the other eye. Someone’s burning cigarette too close to my dress, a buggy, or stepping on a small child‘s foot, could rapidly lead to unpleasant discussions. So can a pile-up at a stand that promises polished, fancy goods.
I’ve heard of people claiming, that a visit to the flea market is a fun and nostalgic experience. My theory on that is, that it’s either an urban myth; or those sales are in Brooklyn New York, Paris, or Copenhagen. Stylish people selling cool stuff while drinking lattes and debating the retro-chic.
A beautiful vision.

Flea market find: Leather magazine rack

MY realty though, has been often much darker and primitive.
Like cavemen, some people would argue about items as if an alien invasion was just around the corner. And only a cracked vase could ensure one‘s survival. Several booths appeared as if the regular shop was simply placed outdoors instead of selling at it’s usual address. (When the tags are all on the blouses, they likely don’t sell grandma’s wardrobe) And at a low point, I even bought a shockingly hideous sweater from a tough dealer, because I was simply too afraid to say no!
The school girl had intense eyes, you know.
When my car started smelling on the way home, I quickly realized that the shirt would end up in the trash can.  I wonder if her mom knows that the girl is a pothead.
On a different occasion, I bought a pair of leather shoes that were likely designed by a feet-hating shoe maker. I wore them one time for one whole hour. And a framed drawing of fruit has never found it’s way onto a wall in my home. The dealer was so kind and sweet that I must have overlooked the disturbing compilation of muddy colors. My guess is, that this picture will move around with us for years, like a bad penny, buried in attics and basements.
Please don’t get me wrong. It is not my intention, to scare anyone off from exploring the world of treasure hunting. In fact, I love it! I just need to remind myself of that once in a while. Just recently, I made some wonderful experiences, including human friendliness and truly nice bargains. All I’m saying is: Anything can happen when fashion, Tiffany lamps and low prices are involved.
I’ve seen things happening from either side of the booth. One summer, I would sell some of my stuff with the brightest smile. Although it wasn’t enthusiasm that made me grin, but the sheer fact that the summer morning felt like early winter as the temperatures refused to climb. Sometimes I went a little nervous, when a prospective customer wanted to ‘go show the ring to his girlfriend’, who was nowhere near. Or a lady with interest in a dress thought it was a great idea to try it on- Over her coat of course.
The experience was not bad though. And I felt that folks actually liked buying my things, pleased that I made fair offers. I was proud of myself and this win-win situation, and it could have been perfect. If only I had been just as successful as a buyer.

Sometimes, I come across some nice vinyl-treasures

Once I was just settling on a way too high price for a pair of earrings that I could not resist, when the lady behind the booth suddenly frowned as she watched my face lighting up in happiness. She said that she might have gone too low and reluctantly took the money. A few weeks later, one of the earrings fell apart. This is very important: Don’t get too overexcited over the treasure you’ve just found! It could cost you more money. On the other hand, I also thought to have learned my lesson, when I once bought a beautiful pearl necklace from an elderly lady. As I paid for it, I still didn’t move a muscle in my face. Keeping it straight. Like a pro. The lady then said with watery eyes, that it was a heirloom, smiling gently. My poker face melted like a Popsicle in Arizona.

I felt so bad that I babbled something about cherishing and honoring it, like a rather unstable person, jumping from unfeelingness to exuberance. I even thought about giving her some extra money, but I just bought another item; not bothering to negotiate.
At the end of the day, it’s an adventure, every time you enter the games. And it can be fun to spend the afternoon looking around, watching the colorful swarming. Then relish the moment of triumph when a beautiful item changes owners. Just like they've traded for centuries.
A sale in New York City may be cool, but the small town’s flea markets on our continents are not less interesting. Most of the time. Many of my favorite vintage bargains crossed my way on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when I wandered through the small pedestrian areas in little villages. Thinking: “I’m just going to take a look around. No pressure. No smelly shirts.”


  1. I love flea markets, tag sales, yard sales, thrift never know what you will find! Beautiful old pearls, lovely vintage earrings, bits of lace, pretty China. My house and wardrobe ate full of all these things!

  2. That is so lovely! Yes, it's so wonderful to find these lovely treasures! ♥