The next trip however was made in mid-winter, to the well known Paris markets at St Ouen. Whilst I’d had no concerns about leaving a van parked up full of furniture in the countryside, I was less sure about Paris. So I’d booked a hotel with underground car parking. Arriving from Le Havre brought us in from the west with a panoramic view of the city directly ahead of us. Having negotiated the one way system (pre Sat-Nav days) to the hotel, I asked the concierge to confirm the height of the garage – he didn’t know, he shrugged, gestured helplessness, and said, well just try it. 50 metres down the road was the garage entrance – a large metal shutter that was supposed to open marvellously easily…. After several attempts eventually Moe entered the steep downward ramp. Graham drove slowly in while I watched the clearance. It was tight, the aerial scraped the roof, but it was ok, just! Not my favourite things underground car parks though.
The markets at St Ouen form a cluster of little “villages” each with their own identity – Paul Bert, Vernaison and so on. Although St Ouen grew from a Marche au Puces, it now offers everything from brocante to fine antiques.
Time for a coffee at the Café Paul Bert before the dealers opened up. As the morning got started the lanes surreally transformed. One minute a bare lane of galvanised metal shutters firmly padlocked – the next minute shutters are being pushed up and furniture, fabrics, chandelier pieces, porcelaine, paintings all brought out and deftly arranged with great Parisian panache – a colourful cascade of delights.
Later in the morning I headed to L’Usine, a grim old factory building, with “Professionals Only” painted in tall letters on one wall. I ventured in. The grey concrete space was stacked up with piles of everything, but was pretty low on activity except for a few perished dealers standing around, looking indifferent. It wasn’t a place that made me want to linger.