Puces of a dream
Why Porte de Vanves is the best market in the world
While the Paris guidebooks will tell you to follow the crowds streaming into the sprawling Porte de Clignacourt for your secondhand fix, the clued-up antiques hunters instead catch the 58 bus southwards to the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves.
Smaller and more select, Vanves crams 380 official stalls along the intersection of two streets -– Avenue Marc Sangnier and Avenue Georges Lafenestre in the 14eme arrondissement.
Away from the main streets, Vanves peters out into tributaries of flea market tat (for all your broken crockery and circuit board needs). But that's what makes it such a fantastic market to explore. Old Action Men rub shoulders with 18th-century figurines; African fertility masks sit next to early pornography; the classic and kitsch lie side by side on the same table. The genuine chance of finding a rare masterpiece – or of being utterly ripped off – are like catnip to the seasoned bargain hunter.
On a recent trip, a wily stallholder clearly added an extra zero to the price of a painting we enquired about, sensing his chance against our faltering French accent. Fortunately we could speak enough to understand the sarcasm when he added, ‘I'm very attached to it.’ That's the other thing about Vanves. Outsiders may grumble all they like about the supposed rudeness of Parisians, but show the slightest amount of effort in conversing in their language and playing by their rules and you begin to appreciate the devilish humour, always delivered with a twinkle in the eye and usually a glass of red in the hand. And, as hardened market-goers, Vanves remains the only place in the world where our toddler daughter has been given a free gift from doting merchants each time we visit.
Don't be surprised to see some of the biggest names from Paris Fashion Week furtively checking out the wares there, either. Last time we were there, the designer Erdem was raising a self-conscious eyebrow to everyone who recognised him – safe in the knowledge that the real celebrity, as always, was Roland Godard, the eccentric Willie Rushton lookalike bashing out tunes on his portable wooden piano on wheels, roll-up permanently stuck to his lower lip.
The only antiques brocante within the historic city walls of Paris may resemble a graveyard of craft, but it's also where those objects find a new life. On a good day you might pick up a genuine bargain, but even on a bad day, it's the best weekend morning you could spend in Paris.
Photographs: Marissa Bourke
Words: Mark Hooper