Sunday, September 09, 2007

Polly chine, elle

I'm sorry. I humbly repent and will never, ever, ever pun again.

(Anyone who knows me even slightly realizes that that's the biggest, fattest fib I've told this month.)

Honestly -- it's not my fault. This pun just jumped out at me at the Marché aux puces at Vanves yesterday. There I was, innocently looking for bargains amid the antiques and suddenly, there was this Polichinelle paper bag. What could I do but fork over one measly euro and snicker at the terrible pun I was about to commit? It was beyond my control.

(If your French isn't up to the pun level, thank your lucky stars. You've mercifully been spared the groaner. Chiner = to hunt for antiques and bargains; it apparently also means to tease slightly. Ergo, "Polly chine, elle" simply means "Polly looks for bargains, she does." Polichinelle = pulcinella; also a silly or mischievous person.)

There, now, I've assassinated that miserable joke, if it was ever alive in the first place. March on to the marché.

The Marché at Vanves is an eclectic place, in terms of wares, prices, and attitudes. I'd been there three or four times before, and always found a good bargain and friendly merchants.

This time, I saw even more merchandise than before, perhaps because it was earlier in the morning. Everything from huge 18th-century gilt frames to cheap housewares. First I spotted a pair of rusted triangular metal garden sidetables that would fit perfectly in an odd space in my apartment. The marchand, who wanted to sell all four (I guess it was a set) was not exactly chummy. His terse "600 euro for the four, or rien du tout," didn't quite encourage me to hang out much longer, perusing the goods. Whoa, not my price range for used tinsel, no matter what the provenance. I thanked him perfunctorily and moved on.

Next I saw a woman displaying a tangled mound of gorgeous silk threads with the most delicious jewel-toned hues. I asked her politely if she would allow me to take a photo of the pretty pile. "Ah, ça, non!" she barked. I retreated, and replied, "Oh, d'accord, okay, I understand. It is just that.. it was for an article I'm writing on the Marché aux Puces."

"Alors ça, surtout pas!" she grouched. Wow. No photo just of a bunch of thread?

I slinked away, totally intimidated, and stashed my camera for the next 15 booths. Then I came upon this collection of hat pins.

Hesitatingly, I ventured to ask the owner if I might have permission to take a photo. "Mais bien sur!" she smiled. "Most people don't even ask; they just snap away. How kind of you to ask me."

Then at the next booth, the owner was positively jolly. He was chatty and helpful; and when it took him a while to get change for my minuscule purchase, he joked to his colleague, "It's just my way of trying to draguer la cliente [pick up the customer]." We all were instantly kidding on the same wavelength, and reveled in the the banter before parting company.

I was clearly on a roll. Maybe my earlier encounters with Monsieur and Madame Grumpy were aberrations; maybe those two just hadn't had enough coffee yet to perk up. Time to forget about them and move down the line.

Meandering throughout the crowds, I soaked it all up. A fraternity of regulars sat under an awning in the back of their combined booths, playing poker, smoking and joking. A well-dressed Frenchman (jeans and gingham shirt, polished loafers) on his cell phone describing the legs of a mahogany table. An American couple bickering over the pros and cons of a marble fireplace mantel.

At my final booth, I once again asked for the green light to photograph, and this woman actually said, "Avec plaisir!" So kind and caring. I felt renewed.

Her friendliness and good humor drew a healthy crowd of customers. I adored the pitcher and cups. "Nous Deux" on the pot. "Toi" and "Moi" on the cups. Kitschy and sweet.

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