Right in front of the coffee shop I’m working these days there’s a flea market. It runs only twice a week, so I had no idea how it looks, until today – because today is one of those two days a week when it’s allowed, and, on top of that, those Covid restrictions which canceled previous events are now lifted. So it is now unfolding in full, covering a lot more space on the street than I though it would.
People are setting up their small selling places all over the area. Some are small, just a blanket with some stuff on it. Some are big, like tables arranged in patterns, covered with stuff and with umbrellas on top.
On my way here I saw paintings, electronics, clothes, books, CDs (yes, CDs!), vinyls, plastic figurines (I guess collectibles), typewriters and, should I didn’t enter to have my morning espresso, I’m sure I would have seen much more.
Silent Life Witnesses
As I was prepping to get on with my day, my thoughts were still hovering around the flea market. Seeing its tables from the coffee shop window also helped.
I’m not a big fan of flea markets, in the sense that I’m not an aficionado, I don’t wait for them, I don’t set aside money to buy stuff. But I do enjoy walking around. That I enjoy a lot.
What makes a flea market so special? Why am I still fascinated with them, even though I don’t buy anything? What this strange mix of old and fresh is trying to tell me?
In a sense, a flea market is a back window to someone’s past.
That typewriter was used by a real person before, and that vinyl has been listened, maybe hundreds of times (as the small, almost invisible scratches on the cover try to warn you). Those plastic figurines have been collected by a kid who was eagerly waiting every week for a new bag, or envelope, containing his favorite hero.
Every piece exposed on every table is part of a real story.
As I got to the half of my espresso, I tried to imagine how those stories could connect.
Maybe the guy who used the type writer was living at the first floor of a building, just across a bookstore. On a sunny Sunday, as the guy started to write his daily chunk of words, a little kid came in the bookstore and started to stare at the shelves, looking for a special plastic figurine, which happened to be the last one that he needed to complete his collection.
After a few minutes of staring, he finds it and asks the lady behind the counter (which was too young to work there, but what business does he have with this?) how much it costs. The lady, unfortunately, seems not to hear him, but that’s only because she wears strange, big white earphones, plugged into the turntable on which she listens to that vinyl, eyes closed, spirited away. The little guy can’t hear a thing, obviously, but somehow realizes the lady can’t hear him (and maybe not see him either, if he moves really fast). As he calculates his odds, a young fellow storms the door, jumps the counter and knees in front of the lady. He babbles stuff about forgiveness and about how she is the love of his life and how she should be his wife, for ever and ever, which the little guy approves silently, as he sneaks behind them and innocently grabs his hero, sliding then away, behind that close embrace in which the two seem now to be glued for ever and ever.
Strangely, though, years later, the kid would not remember any of that scene. The only thing he’d remember would be the face of the guy with the pipe, smiling silently on the window at the first floor across the street, fixating him with that unbearable look, like “I know what you did, kid, but I’m not gonna tell, I’m not gonna tell”. And then he’d probably remember his running, the noise of his footsteps chased by the crescendo sound of a typewriter, which eventually faded away.
Yeah, probably a story like that could connect the typewriter on the black table with the vinyls of that blonde lady which also sells books and with the plastic figurines carried in transparent bags by the old guys which are now sitting at a terrace table, probably exchanging them, just like they did more than half a century ago.
But I would never know it for sure. All I would see are the artifacts behind, the objects which witnessed all of this.
I think I know why I like flea markets so much.
Because they tell, in a very non-intrusive, calm way (sometimes mixing the feeling of old and fresh), that life just goes on.