Les Puces et La Tour — Paris, Aug. 1, 2015

Saturday morning, my first “real” morning, I woke up eager to get to the famous “flea markets” – or “Les Puces” – at Saint Ouen/Clignancourt. It’s only open weekends and I didn’t want to miss out or wait for the following weekend.

A visit to the flea is one of those unusual things that both locals and tourists love doing. I love vintage clothes and had underpacked in anticipation of finding a few frocks there, so I was rarin’ to go.

That morning I went out alone, partly to let Mom sleep in, and partly to recon the whole setup for a possible future re-visit with her.

I took another public bus, the 56, which goes straight up from Nation, past sights including the Bastille plaza, Republique, both the Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, and through a bunch of immigrant neighborhoods. The flea is, unsurprisingly, in a rather dumpy part of town. And then, right before you reach it, there’s a swap meet (of sorts) with rows of sketchy vendors and NYC Canal St-style pushy salesmen on the sidewalk offering armloads of counterfeit watches and sunglasses and fake Lacostes and Polos.

But then you get to the actual Puces: It’s not a mall or enclosed space, but a huge campus of markets, actually, covering several acres over multiple blocks, with some areas being exactly what Americans might imagine when you say “flea market” – like, garage sale junk – but there are also marketplaces with permanent stalls and storefronts with true antique furnishings, contemporary art galleries, super-high-end vintage garments. Anyone who likes shopping for anything can lose hours in this maze, with so many things to browse. I highly recommend the experience.

More specifically: I had a tip from a Facebook friend to check out a certain shop for vintage clothes, called Falbalas, and it exceeded expectations! Wow! What a shop! It’s an archive, a treasure trove, for a full range of garments, mostly but not entirely for women, from the very early 1900s through the late 1960s.

There was a little emotional rollercoaster before I found it, though.

Upon arrival at the market campus and finding Dauphine, I misremembered the Falbalas shop’s space numbers, and was very disappointed when the space was closed, with no sign. Then I checked my notes, realized my mistake and ran to the correct space — only to find it also was shut, with no sign! This being August 1, I was afraid they were closed for vacances. So disappointing! Twice!

I decided to make the best of it, and checked out a few of the other shops. After a little while, I noticed a slim woman about my age in an impeccable ’40s green suit and era-matching hairstyle, heading up a corridor. I decided wherever she was going, I should go there too. Lo and behold, she went straight to the Falbalas space!

I asked if it was her shop, and she said yes, apologized and said she was just very late. I said that’s perfectly OK, I am just happy you are here and not closed for the month! (I um, might have had a slightly intense energy… sorrrryyy…. desolée!)

While I was waiting for Mme. Falbalas to be ready, I stopped in a few shops and browsed some fashion illustrations from the 1920s-60s, historical maps of Europe, old movie posters, and a couple other clothing/accessories shops. At one, a very nice lady with limited English had a great cotton shirtdress at a very reasonable price, plus some scarves I liked. I ruled one out, but in the end she decided to throw it in as a bonus.

Finally, about an hour later, after she finished the very complicated setup, with dozens of dressed mannequins and garment racks pulled into position across four full storefronts and the corner landing, I was able to frolic among Falbalas’ many, many racks. It’s really a huge inventory across the entire spectrum of the 1900s! I found many things to love, but because she only takes cash, which is really no surprise, I was limited by the funds on-hand. I prioritized an absolutely adorable cotton windowpane-floral print dress.

I had promised Mom I’d be back before 3pm, and I had run out of time (and cash), so I had to split — but I knew I’d be coming back next weekend. I took the 56 bus back to the apartment without incident.

On return, so happy with my bus rides thus far, I suggested she and I take an bus “tour” to continue acclimating.

This was another good research find: Instead of one of those expensive hop-on/off deals, there are a couple of public bus routes that go past many of the very same top sites. It’s a pretty great deal to pay 2.80E for a roundtrip drive-by, if we’re just interested in getting an overview anyway. The two routes I recommend are 42 and 69.

The Route 69 bus terminates at the Champs du Mar / Eiffel Tower, so of course we went to see it. It sure is big and iron-y. Still, pretty cool and it’s basically impossible not to take uber corny tourist pics and selfies. So we did. And then we walked under it for the less-common viewpoint. Didn’t even consider going up. No view could be worth the line for the elevator side, and the stairs side was a completely impossible nonstarter for Mom.

Post-Tower, we (Mom) took waaay too long to chose a (totally unremarkable) restaurant in the neighborhood, and then dinner there took waaaaay too long (waiter had zero sense of urgency) and then the wait for the return bus took really really waaay waaay too long (totally off schedule). It was a series of bad choices and unfortunate conditions probably exacerbated by impatience born of jetlag and inadequate deceleration on my part. But I was supremely grouchy that by the time we got on the bus, it was too dark to appreciate the passing scenery, which had been the whole intended point of the ride in the first place. Such a waste of precious time! I hoped I’d make up for it later.

(Hint: Yes, I did.)

And that was our first Saturday, our first full day.


About amywinns

Semi-snarky, semi-sincere, occasionally ranting, always paying attention. Feminist who can work a skirt and crack a joke. Grammar nerd who is also fun at parties. Mid-career writer/editor with 15 years’ experience in newspapers & magazines who now helps developers at a major media corporation communicate with the suits who write the checks. Pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-workingclass, pro-entrepreneur, pro-farmer. Like every other bourgeois Brooklynite, I choose local/organic/raw food — mostly vegetables — whenever possible/reasonable/affordable but I’m not a smug asshole about it. Hometown: Atlanta. Weird hobby: lindy hop. No pets, no kids, no thanks.
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