On Friday night in Paris I became strangely fixated on a purple earflap hat I spotted in a pop-up store that I ducked into because, well, I was cold and it was open. I had decided to take myself out to a real French dinner, instead of getting takeout or soup because I was traveling alone and fiscally conscious. And I’d chosen to return to Montmartre because, as will be elsewhere noted, I was in love with it.
On this trip, internet research too often led me toward unfindable shops or mysteriously closed cafes on quests that took three times as long as predicted, so I abandoned that method and chose by vibe a cozy, casual-but-authentic-looking place called Le Jardin d’en Face, where a girl was setting out the night’s chalkboard and sweeping the step. She told me to come back at 8, when she could squeeze in one person. This meant I had an hour to pass, during which Montmartre went from comfortably chilly to truly cold. I was not attired for 60 minutes’ frigid wandering.
This was when I saw the hat. Obviously, a winter hat is going to have a certain seduction when one is freezing. But this hat seemed fun, with its purple earflaps, and it was in a bin for €15. Furthermore, the tag proclaimed that the price had originally been €89, which absolutely mystified me. How was that possible? Intrigued, I tried the hat on, but put it back in its bin and left.
A half hour later, I was well convinced that a €15 hat would have been an excellent investment, particularly as I always intend to knit myself a hat but seem to produce only ugly ones. I returned to the shop to find the establishment vanished, orange-shuttered for the night without so much as a sign.
On this trip I conquered the self-conscious hurdle of dining alone. It involves several mental facets. One is reminding myself that one person is just as much a restaurant’s client as two or three; and as many people travel alone, it isn’t even uncommon. The second technique is making the meal last more than fifteen minutes. With no one to talk to, it’s easy to wolf the food and bolt. I brought my Kindle and read, deliberately dining slowly and savoring the food. The third facet, of course, is imagining that other people think you’re mysterious.
I enjoyed all three courses and my Languedoc wine and made good progress on my book.
Saturday dawned as cold as Friday night. The heat was cranking in my 19th arr. flat. I had set aside Saturday for the flea market at Porte de Vanves, and you may recall what I said earlier about this trip and Places I Found Online. Getting to Vanves is no small thing; it is way, way out on the 13, but I was convinced it was going to be worth it. In my sweater and fall jacket and scarf I alighted the metro into strong wind and was shivering by the time I found the market (note: it’s not visible from the top of the metro stairs, as the article made me think it might be).
Without a doubt the cold influenced my mood, but I was disappointed by the market. There were a lot of yard-sale variety “antiques”; the atmosphere felt stiff; and while I’d heard you should bargain, I figure my lack of French gives me away as a tourist, and what good bargain am I going to get? One intriguing category of the market, however, was… well, collections of parts of things. Huge bins of old wooden bobbins, or a box full of rusty keys. If you made art out of that stuff, this would be your place.
Everything seemed priced high, perhaps for the tourists’ benefit. I overheard an Asian girl barter a slightly-vintage-looking Mickey Mouse alarm clock down from €100 to €75, and I was appalled. “It’s the only Mickey clock at the market,” the man beamed as he put it in a thin plastic bag.
I wandered the whole length trying to unearth the special something that would justify the metro ride. The coolest thing I saw was original art a guy had made out of old type. The only thing I bought was a steaming paper cup of espresso. Back on the metro, I couldn’t feel my hands, and I knew: I needed a purple earflap hat.
I disembarked at Abbesses on the 12 line. To my surprise, I came up the (many, many) stairs and into… a market. A really funky, cool, neighborhood market. It was smaller, filling one square and sprawling just a little at the edges, but immediately I preferred it to Vanves.
Locals, students, and tourists mingled, handling odd household objects and antiques. As at Vanves, there were unusual collections, like this table of scientific glass equipment.
It was just around lunchtime, and sellers were conversing around folding tables enjoying sliced meat, bread, and open bottles of red wine, ignoring you entirely until you asked Combien?. I popped around the corner, procured my purple hat, and returned–ears happy–to bask in the market’s friendly atmosphere.
Several things caught my eye out of the colorful array: copper cooking pans; a bright green ladder; an amazing wire kitchen rack. None fit my luggage or budget. I admired two of those huge metal balls for steeping spices in broth—but couldn’t tell if they were still functional or merely ornamental.
After several loops through the square, warm pastry in hand, I concluded that my best souvenir from Montmartre was a slightly-uneven iron candle-stand I had actually trash-picked several days before. It had been poking out of a curbside box along with broken dishes and questionable cutlery. I took it home, washed it, and now I know: I could have asked €35 for this at Vanves.
I haven’t seen an online listing for this Abbesses market, but I found it on a Saturday morning. Look, there’s a Christmas edition!