Squeezed into a vast space countless numbers of small shops offering anything and everything from the past welcomed us with a little apprehension and wariness. The owners of the shops seated outside catching the sun or inside blending in the surroundings of their precious items. Their faces were hard to read or presented such a mix of emotions that it was difficult to decide what they were trying to show or hide. My eye was caught by a funny bunch of wooden people, small marionettes-like looking mannequins waiting to be dressed in the most elegant and expansive clothes for posh dolls. I wondered what kind of stories they told and to whom – was it a simple story about Red Riding Hood or perhaps something more sophisticated and not necessary for children.
The shops with mostly antique furniture allured me the most. There is something appealing about old wardrobes and commodes, old chairs and tables. In the old times things had to be done properly, beautifully not only purposely. So if you look at the doors of old wardrobes you will find some enhancing ornaments, interesting patterns, different ways to use the wood. You will find that any item had another task to fulfill – show the wealthiness and a good taste of the owner’s house.
I closed my eyes in the middle of busy antique stall in Clignancourt. The smell of old furniture was somehow overwhelming, although still very delicate. Julia was looking at the collection of old mirrors, sitting carefree on a verge of ancient oak chest of drawers. The magic of old days was lurking from every corner and some sellers looked like brutally ripped from XIX or XVIII century. Is it possible that dealing in antique furniture and other items made them link with the old times more? Or perhaps they did come from the times of French Revolution and Napoleon I?
Clignancourt is like a town, with its tiny streets and small shops, breathing in a rhythm of passing tourists. The roofs of small stalls stick to each other closing sky and pulling you into limited space, letting you sink into the past through the items on display or hidden deeply inside dark rooms. You have to have a trained eye to spot something unique, learn how to lower the price and get the item from the seller with a poker face. Ms Dubois will look at you accessing your capabilities and will adjust the price to her own calculations, leaving a little room for negotiations, just for the sake of it.
The items displayed are proud, they have a history closed in them, they have lived through the times we can only read about, saw things we can only imagine and hope that we are imagining them right. If you lucky you might find something with a known history attached to it – let the dealer enlighten you. It is a rare treat, even rarer if you do not speak French.
At Clignancourt no one will chase you, you are not special, there is more to come, perhaps the next one will look for the table, not being a tourist passing by. But if you leave this part and go to more practical and younger market just opposite, you are for a different treat – there is no magic of antique shops left in here. You can buy cloths, purses, shoes – all the practical and needed for everyday life things. There is a different rhythm, less freedom, more business.
It is somehow funny how practical we have become – defending our shrinking spaces to push more items into them, making things smaller but less adorable. We cordoned ourselves with replaceable things, stopped treasure the art magically trapped by skilled craftsman. There is a different pace now, entirely different world, where the time is even more precious. We want to discover more, experience more, do more. We want to travel and wander, see and feel, listen and understand. We want to quickly grab what is needed and move on.
But when we are tired of this race we want to stop and treasure the moment, the place and the people. Sometimes all it matters are these simple moments, when we are taking the break to level with this piece on Earth we are now in.