By Theadora Brack
Bewitched by kitsch? Join the rave. Throughout the year, the City of Light stays retro active with weekend flea markets, along with open-air and tented pop-up bazaars. With so many venues, where to start? Here’s a Paris treasure hunt guide.
Meet the fleas: The infamous rag and bone pickers (forerunners of today’s dumpster divers) got the puces party jumping in the late 19th century. Two favorites still exist: Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves and Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (a.k.a. Clignancourt).
1. Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves
Métro: Porte de Vanves
If you’ve only got time to visit one Parisian flea market, this is the one. With its bustling vibe, it’s impossible not to feel happy-go-lucky here. There’s even a piano player! Pirouetting straight to the point: the treasures are eclectic and affordable, and the dealers are friendly and fun.
Puces de la Porte de Vanves: I spy
You’ll find everything from plastic key chains, perfume bottles, bolts of fabric, and vinyl records, to ice buckets, ashtrays, and bottle openers, all sporting logos of French bar classics like Suze, Ricard, and Picon. You might also uncover old medical leech jars, shrunken heads, or even genuine Old Masters—stageprop perfect for Antiques Roadshow.
Puces de la Porte de Vanves: What to buy
Keep your peepers peeled for lightweight winners like antique illustrations, magazines, postcards, buttons, lace, powder boxes, and photographic calling cards—the 19th century version of Facebook. Take heed: Collect but one, and you may want the entire lot. A favorite cartes de visite stall is kitty corner to the piano player. Follow the music!
Puces de la Porte de Vanves: Tips
Look for bargain tables with hand-written all-one-price signs. This strategy once scored me some fab ski pants from the Sixties in tangerine, mustard, and turquoise, with original tags still a-dangling, and for just one euro.
A gentle warning: the Porte de Vanves market is sweet but short: 9am to noon both Saturday and Sunday are the peak hours. By 1pm most dealers are packed up and gone.
2. Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
Métro: Porte de Clignancourt
Here’s where Chef Julia Child bought her first antique mortar and pestle “. . . about the size and weight of a baptismal font,” she wrote. “One look at it, and I knew there was no question: I just had to have that set!” That very mortar and pestle is now at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “Everything has a history!” as Julia would say.
Who else found inspiration at Saint-Ouen? Elsa Schiaparelli, André Breton, Pablo Picasso, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Coco Chanel—just to name a few.
Puces de Saint-Ouen: I spy
The market still has a certain Proustian charm, meshing past and present. It’s also photogenic, rain or shine, and the perfect place for more than a few existentialist Instagram moments with your inner-flâneur. After sipping a beer at Le Paul Bert, strike out on a slow roll through the labyrinth of shacks and tents, chockfull with the faded gilded and gloriously gritty.
Puces de Saint-Ouen: What to buy
Finding bargains at Saint-Ouen can be a challenge. But with a little quill power, what about some vintage postcards? Or a vintage fashion magazine? Never more than a few euros, these feather light souvenirs won’t tip any airport luggage scale. Check out Caveyron Devey in the Passage Lecuyer.
Puces de Saint-Ouen: Tips
At Caveyron Devey, the cards are meticulously organized by genre. Looking for something specific? Cats? Circuses? Just ask. Also, if offered a seat at their table to paw through a box, take them up on it. You’ll look like a real aficionado and your feet will thank you. Got a vintage fashion fetish? Visit the nearby clothing stalls.
3. The Pop-ups
Scattered around Paris are temporary brocantes (dealer-run antique sales) and vide-greniers where the neighborhood locals empty their closets. Recent finds include pink Valentino heels, Charles Jourdan boots in noir, and Ted Lapidus hexagonal sunglasses, none for more than 20 euros. You’ll also spy gently used scarves, hats, and Catherine Deneuve-worthy trench coats—but without their usual exorbitant price tags.
Here are a few more tips for the road.
Plan of Action
Have a “quest” in mind. Previsualization helps narrow the hunt while increasing your chances of finding the object of your desire. What’s missing from your closet? Ballet slippers? A striped Breton sailor shirt? Both are timeless French classics. Need a showstopper for the house? Old maps, chalkware cats, mannequins, mounted beetles, or absinthe glasses offer charmed vintage at its best. Grab a pen and make your wish list.
Before setting out, consider your shopping kit: comfortable shoes, water bottle, Métro tickets, maps with the markets circled, maybe a folding umbrella. Don’t forget a sturdy bag for your finds, available at almost any grocery store for just a few cents. They make perfect souvenirs, too. Also, do carry cash, since many dealers don’t accept credit cards. Just keep it on you in a safe place. And keep your wits about you, too—that person nudging next to you at the stall may be more interested in what’s in your bag than what’s on the table. No need to stress about it, but do be aware.
Time is precious but it’s possible to visit both of these fleas and even a few brocantes in one day. Just get on the bus, Gus. For the price of a Métro ticket, you can spend a weekend morning at Porte de Vanves, then hop on the 95 bus all the way to Saint-Ouen at its final stop. No need to keep track of the stops—everyone gets off at the end. Just rest your feet and gloat over your early successes as the whole fantastic panorama of Paris rolls by. Forty-five minutes later, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running once more.
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Always keeping my peepers peeled for inspiration, I’d love to pay a visit.
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By Theadora Brack
Thanks to the courageous firefighters and emergency workers, Notre-Dame’s 18th century Grand Organ was rescued—with all of its 8,000 pipes still intact, we think. “None of the pipes have appeared to collapsed,” organ builder Bertrand Cattiaux told The New York Times. “We can just cross our fingers and wait.”
The bell towers were also saved. I’m still waiting for an update on my bells.
Did you know they have names?
Meet the bells
As part of the Notre-Dame’s 850th birthday fête back in 2013, nine new bells were introduced: Jean-Marie, Maurice, Benoit-Joseph, Steven, Marcel, Dennis, Anne-Geneviève, and Gabriel, along with six-ton Marie. Using medieval casting techniques, eight of them were broken free from their molds at the Cornille Havard Bell Foundry in Normandy.
Cast as a diva from the start, grand bell Marie was cast in the Netherlands. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
This week, I’d like to introduce you to one of my heroes: suffragette and writer Louise Weiss.
So grab your bicycle and helmet, and let’s get to pedal pushing up the Montmartre slopes to Abbesses—Louise’s old “fight for the right to vote” stomping ground. It’s time to pay homage.
Traffic is heavy, but don’t fret yet. The autumn sun is still on our side of the rue.
As we round the butte, we spot the spot, close by Vincent Van Gogh’s former digs (at 54 rue Lepic). At the school just around the corner is where publicity maven Louise instigated one of her famously stormy powder puff battles.
Let’s prop our bikes up against the lamppost, and try to imagine the scene.
A story I tell often
Louise had organized a “straw vote on the woman’s suffrage issue outside of schools and city halls where men were voting for men, in solemn masculinity. As ballot boxes, hatboxes were being appropriately used,” according to a 1935 newspaper report.
“But the police would not allow these unofficial ballot boxes. Thirty-six of them had been organized all over Abbesses, and one by one they were put out of action. Weiss refused to surrender. With a table, hatbox, and surrounded by a joyous crowd, she continued to urge electors to vote for votes for women.”
Because haters are going to be haters
Of course, it didn’t take long for the policemen to reappear. After seizing the hatbox, “the face powder went into action.” Armed with beaucoup boxes of rose-scented talcum, the women waited for a cue from Louise.
She was the first to blow, and then the others followed suit. Clouds of talcum settled on the officers’ uniforms. Arrests were made but so were headlines and legends, too.
By the end of the day, 16,000 votes had been cast in favor of women’s right to vote. Times were changing. See, men cast half the “hatbox” ballots.
Thanks to the efforts of Louise and countless other activists like her, French women eventually got the vote in 1945.
One more tale of tenacity
By the 1890s, thanks to the introduction of the Starley Rover Safety Bicycle and its pneumatic tires, “all Paris was a-wheel,” and the women were not only zipping around in public but also unblushingly flaunting menswear or “something alarmingly like it.”
One rebel stirred by the bike boom was Marie Marvingt. In 1908, she attempted to register for the Tour de France bicycle race. “Impossible!” the officials told her. After all, she was a lady. But Marie persisted, defiantly cycling each stage of the race incognito and becoming the première femme to complete the grueling two-week competition.
Ahead of the curve
Marie was a balloonist, mountain climber, sharpshooter, skater, skier, fencer, writer, and aviator. During the Premier Guerre Mondial (World War I), she worked as a Red Cross surgical nurse in field hospitals at the front. She also fought in the trenches disguised as a man, and flew in combat rescue missions.
Never applying the breaks: after learning how to fly a new-fangled-at-the-time Djinn jet helicopter in 1955, our daredevil later told reporters, “I’m eighty. So what?”
Congratulations to the 122 women elected last week to serve in the 116th United States Congress, bumping the percentage of women representatives in Washington D.C. from 20 to 23 percent.
We can do it. As Marie Marvingt liked to say, “It’s so delicious to fly like a bird!”
By Theadora Brack
This week, for just one moment, let’s take a brief break from the news cycle and go for a jog in the park.
Personally, I can’t think of a finer way to re-charge and experience the City of Light’s past and present than kicking down the old cobblestone rues.
As writer George Sand once wrote, “Don’t jibe at the very wise advice that sentences you to one hour’s walk a day. You imagine the work of the mind takes place only in the brain; but you’re much mistaken. It takes place in the legs as well.”
I completely agree.
So grab the baton and get stepping in my favorite Paris park: le Jardin du Luxembourg. Created with a Florentine twist by Queen Marie de Médici and gardening theorist Jacques Boyceau during the 17th century, it opened to the public in 1778.
Here, I’m not only able to run, but also mingle with the statues of French queens, saints, big cats, and writers. I’m hardly a martyr, or a monarch or a literary giant (yet!), but up my black Lycra sleeve I do have a few tips for a picture-perfect storybook run.
By Theadora Brack
Let’s once again doff our “bachi” to my favorite Franco-American collaboration, the gigantesque statue of Lady Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in the New York harbor. Still looking fierce in her spiky nimbus (that’s right, mythically speaking, it’s not a crown) and matching floor length chiton in all its copper green tonalities.
This week, I’d also like to share four copies of my new favorite book about our iconic idol: Her Right Foot. Created by writer Dave Eggers and artist Shawn Harris in 2017, this illustrated Junior Library Guild selection revels in the history of the 151-foot-tall international shining star, from her four-foot nose down to her fast-grooving toes.
By Theadora Brack
Everybody’s got a favorite bench in the world. I’ve got mine, too. So this week, let’s hoof it on up to my pet perch, located at Place Émile-Goudeau in Montmartre. Here the unstoppable showstopper Dame Nature dresses to the nines—winter, spring, summer, and fall, and definitely at l’heure bleue. Slaying picture perfect moments as she works her 24-karat magic on the ancient buildings. Mine eye has seen the glory.
By Theadora “Golightly “ Brack
Celebrating Galentine’s Day, I’ve got a wonderful idea! Let’s do things we’ve never done before, starting with Champagne before breakfast. It’s in the icebox, darling! Pop open the bottle while I make a list of sights to see along Fifth Avenue. Never a thumping bore, we’ll shop hop ’til we drop. Grab your sunnies!
Don’t you just love it?
Love what? Macy’s at Herald Square, that’s what. Commandeer a few chairs, while I trap the pretzels and French fries. I’ll tell you one thing: I’m mad about this place.
After we’ve admired the vitrines, we’ll gaze up at the nearby Empire State Building, the closest thing to heaven in this city. It’s still true. However, before crossing, do look both ways or else you, too, will have a star-crossed Affair to Remember! Besides, Cary Grant left the building years ago.
By Princess Theadora
Bonjour! Bonne Année!
Rocking a New Me for the New Year—this week, I’m taking you to the 70th anniversary Christian Dior exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. That’s right, we’re going slink along the icy Mink Mile (faux, please) in the breath-taking Queen City. So grab my pearl-studded mitten. Grab your girdle, too!
Curated by Dr. Alexandra Palmer, the show shines a bright spotlight on 38 wasp-waisted wonders, advertisements, sketches, and photographs, along with endless catwalk clips from Paris and Toronto fashion shows. After a few spins around the rebelliously boned and flared showstoppers, I could hardly breathe from excitement.
“Give me your A, H, and Y-shaped silhouettes, Monsieur Dior! Tulip, too! Bring it!” I squeaked, suddenly feeling the polyester seams in my own nipped-waist blazer by Zara working overtime.
The mind reels! Whilst imagining the logistics of the tight maneuvering, rib-popping squeeze into one of the vintage Christian Dior numbers, then and there I pledged to self never, ever to feast on another half-dozen cookies, or at least not in one sitting. But luckily for all the bakers in world, my one-hour resolution was just a passing fancy. #Gottobeme (more…)
By Theadora “La Salle” Brack
Ernest Hemingway once said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus, you remember them as they actually are.”
But that goes double for traveling by foot, especially at my favorite sacred stomping ground, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont—the hilliest, and perhaps most weirdly “scenic” park in Paris.
This week, I’d like to take you along for the excursion, so grab my hand. Let’s take a restorative, explorative stroll, shall we? Donning head-to-toe faux fur, get ready to channel your inner-surrealist.
It’s time to rumble!
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Designed in 1867 by Emperor Napoleon III, engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, and horticulturist Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, this floral showstopper with its mountain-village vibe opened with razzle-dazzle during the launch of the Paris Universal Exposition.
This park has everything: As we make our way along its narrow winding paths, prepare to be bug-eyed at sights ranging from caverns complete with waterfalls and faux stalactites, to a lake fashioned from a former gypsum quarry surrounding a craggy island topped with a neo-Roman temple, reached by a suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. (more…)
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By Theadora “Dancing Queen” Brack
Whenever my mood is in need of a reboot or an overhaul, I hoof it on over to Dalida. Because energy flows where obsession goes, my tête-à-tête with the high-spirited pop idol extraordinaire does the trick each and every time—especially during the fall season. With the trees boasting 24-karat autumnal hues, the blues completely vanish.
This week, I’ll take you along with me on this restorative glide. ’Tis the season!