Living in so many places in the fourteen years that I’ve been married to Ben, we have gotten to know a lot about where we want to eventually settle down. You learn so much about what you will and won’t accept in the future, when you actually get to choose where you’ll be, rather than letting the Navy choose where you’ll be. You learn things like… you want sidewalks in your neighborhood, so you don’t have to stroll in the street. You want a front porch. You want a downtown with cafés and stores you actually want to shop in, not just ones that sell t-shirts to tourists. You want four seasons. And, if the best thing you can say about a place is how close it is to somewhere else (I’m looking at you, Meridian, Mississippi), you should really just live in that other place.
But the Navy still chooses for us. And it chose Mons, Belgium.
And the thing about Mons is, it’s really close to a lot of other awesome places.
Our neighbors don’t like us much. That’s their own fault because they don’t know how awesome we are. Because, even though we live, like, six feet from their front door, they don’t speak to us because that is the Belgian way. Other than not knowing about our awesomeness, they also don’t like the fact that we don’t usually have a perfectly manicured lawn. And that is because we travel as much as we can on weekends, prime lawn care time.
This past weekend we chose to visit Paris, because, who wouldn’t? But also because Sunday was the fourth of May. Star Wars day. May the Fourth Be With You! And currently showing in Paris is “Star Wars Identities”, a traveling exhibition of original props and artwork from all the Star Wars movies.
Who wouldn’t drive two and a half hours to see R2-D2? Or Han Solo in carbonite? Or Princess Leia’s slave costume? Did you know that Yoda’s eyes were modeled after Albert Einstein’s? Or that Jabba the Hut was originally supposed to have legs? Or that the Rebellion pilot’s helmet masks were tinted yellow to hide the fact that the actors were so hot that their makeup would melt off their faces? The things you learn when you travel…
Our tickets for the Star Wars exhibition weren’t until late afternoon so to kill time until then we visited some museums. Just kidding! We headed straight for Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen! The famous Paris flea market.
A quick rundown of the market… The flea market has been in it’s current location for about a century, after having been run out of the city proper by law enforcement due to its tendency to attract pick-pockets and thieves. The moon fishermen (pêcheurs de lune, sounds more romantic in French, no?), named for their nighttime jaunts through the Paris alleys and trashcans, set up camp in the Porte de Clignancourt, just outside the city walls, to continue selling their wares. There it stayed and is now one of the largest flea market in the world. You can find anything from postcards to staircases depending on which market area you choose to visit.
A few warnings. Don’t get stuck outside the true market, where the street vendors selling stolen electronics, counterfeit brands, and jeans, oh so many jeans, set up. Definitely be aware of pick-pockets here, and in the true markets as well. Be aware of the many No Camera signs, they really don’t want you photographing their stuff. Also, if you are looking for honest antiques or have money to burn, this is a great place to find what you’re looking for. On the other hand, many of the smaller items, the true vide grenier (empty attic) stuff that you will see can be had for ten times less at smaller village markets. Literally ten times less. The wooden trays that I pay no more than three Euros for at local brocantes were being sold for 25 Euro.
Crazy prices or not, the Paris flea market is a spectacular place to spend a beautiful day. Checking out the stalls filled with anything vintage you can imagine, watching the sellers have lively discussions over their lunches of bread, cheese and bottles of wine, or plastic-surgery spotting on the rich, middle aged American women who have come to the market to fill their new McMansion… so much to do at the marché aux puces.
Paris may have everything else, but Belgium has the cheap flea markets. Thanks, Navy, for sending us to Mons! Though you could have found us some nicer neighbors…