In some ways it's like an outdoor party, and all the hosts want to sell or tell about their wares. Joie de vivre runs down the lanes. The regular poker-playing guys, halfway down on the right, were having so much fun that I wanted to join them at their table. But, ahem, I don't think ladies were invited to the game. Up at the corner there was a man playing an old miniature or toy piano, non-stop. He was quite talented; his playing added the perfect festive air.
But the Marché is also like a free outdoor museum, exhibiting antique objets ranging from a huge tableaux from the 1930s, fetching thousands of euros, to thousands of simple button cards for a euro apiece. But in this museum, you're allowed to touch the displays. The vendors are the curators, and provide even more answers than you've asked for.
Each display is a story in itself.
The fellow selling this silver gave me a short lesson in the history of silver in France. "Tout ça, c'est de l'argent massif," he said. It's all quoined silver, not sterling. There's very little pure antique silver left for sale in France, he explained: it was all melted and sold to pay for various wars.
I flashed back to a familiar Balzac scene, when le Père Goriot melts his heirloom argenterie so he can slip extra money to his married spendthrift daughters. Love and war: there goes the family silver.
But I like the way you can see the bright blue sky in the reflection of this silver dish. It was a surprisingly crisp, cold day; though most browsers gravitated toward the stalls in the sunnier areas, even there the cold was still bone-chilling.
I asked a nearby vendor about a stack of a dozen Luneville plates that match some I already own. He was willing to sell them on a piece-by-piece basis, 10€ each. "Je vais réfléchir, merci," I said to him. I'll think about it. "Thinking is always a good thing," he replied with a smile, and went back to his reading.
Further down, two marchands were joking around with each other. "You're asking how much for that table, mon vieux? One thousand? You must be talking in francs!"
A lot of French people my age and older still re-calculate all sums into French francs.
Maybe what draws me so much to Vanves is how it pulls the past into the present. Here, history here isn't in a book, or a distant object on a dusty shelf or behind a glass display case; it's everday history brought out into the bright, cold sunlight, for observation and inspection.