Saturday morning, the crack of dawn
Metro (subway) to flea market at Port de Clignancourt - huge 2,000-stall market with nine different market areas - a gray drizzly day. The first row of stalls feature an endless array of leather jackets with loud, incomprehendable hawkers pointing at me, shouting at me, trying to get me to make eye contact, trying to take my arm so they can get me in to buy. It's early in the morning, bad weather, and not many people around, but regardless, I can't understand how they could possibly earn a living with so many stalls selling exactly the same merchandise. I manage to walk by them by smiling, shaking my head no, and walking with determination.
Then, into the alleys of the antique market - one side of the street old buildings - the other side a shiny new 2-story mall. Incredibly high prices, and for the most part, the same sort of condescending antique dealers I've often seen in the USA, only more haughty, as only Parisians can be. Several notable exceptions, a few very nice folks, like this postcard and paper goods vendor who helped me find a postcard of the Liberté ocean liner, on which I immigrated to the US.
Wonderful, interesting shop windows. Often, objects of questionable authenticity for which it was left to befuddled tourists to pay through the nose. Connoisseurs and collectors who'd done their homework find the real treasures, and frequently buy from trusted vendors they deal with on a regular basis. I buy a few trinkets I can afford.
Back down to the Metro, which by now is very crowded - people reading, ignoring each other. A woman in full skirt, pale blue sweater, and flowered head scarf with young child on her shoulders comes into the car. Planting herself in the middle of the car, she makes a loud announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am a refugee from Romania and my son and I have not eaten. Can you give us some money?" Then she waves her palm under each of our noses, everyone in the subway car, one at a time. As she approaches me, I follow the lead of those around me and don't look up - not a good idea to take out a wallet in a crowded subway car. She absolutely reeks of very old body odor - it's hard to bear, and I hold my breath until she moves away.
Later in the day, a tough-looking man about six feet tall, wearing a cutoff jeans vest over a long-sleeved t-shirt, comes into our car with a small cardboard cigarette package with the top cut off and passes it under our noses in much the same way, demanding a handout in a somewhat angry tone. He accosts me later on the platform when I have to walk past him, and he asks me for money again. When I refuse to look at him, he mumbles, in French, "Go get stuffed, you fat cow!"
Finally, late afternoon, taking a wrong Metro stop forces me into a long detour along the river on my way to visit Toinette, a woman who'd lived in California when our family first arrived there, and who'd been a very good friend to my parents. Tiny, white-haired, bright-eyed, fiercely energetic at 82, and an absolutely nonstop fast talker, she gives me hope that she'll live to be at least 100. And as she stands on the balcony of her high-end apartment overlooking the Seine, I find myself seeing her as the kind old lady in the Babar stories of my childhood.