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December 24, 2010

Despite Cold Weather, Paris Christmas Flea Market is Big Attraction

by Lisa Bryant

Very few things are open on Christmas Day in France besides churches and bakeries - and the traditional weekend Vanves flea market, on the edge of Paris.

It is a bitter Christmas morning at the Vanves flea market. The sun is shining but there is a biting wind. But inclement weather hasn't stopped the most die-hard merchants or customers from making an appearance .

Merchant Francois Tissier shivers beside his stand of old paintings and jewelry. Tissier said it has been a bad morning for business and a sad Christmas day. He said the ongoing economic crisis in Europe has taken its toll. People don't want to spend money on old things.  

For those who do, Vanves is a collectors' paradise. Just about everything seems  to be  on sale here -- from paintings worth several thousand dollars to old plastic dolls and second hand clothes fetching just a few dollars.

For Paris resident Francois Martin, Vanves is a tradition.  Martin said he goes to Vanves every weekend. He doesn't look for anything in particular, but he was pleased with his latest find -  a second-hand designer jacket costing  only  10 euros, or about $13.

Flea markets are an old tradition in France. The origins of the term are uncertain - possibly, some say, because ancient merchants and their goods were infested with fleas.

The Vanves market began 60 years ago. Today, it draws French celebrities and tourists from every part of the globe. The most diehard buyers arrive before dawn with flashlights to hunt down bargains.

San Francisco tourists Mathew and Saline arrived around mid-morning. "All the museums are closed," said Matthew. "And we knew there was a market here that was famous..here is a water color. We're debating on whether we're going to buy [it]. "

Mathew paid about $70 for the painting to merchant Chistian Fourget, who was in a cheery mood. He sells art at Vanves  and is a musician on the side. He set up his stand here 20 years ago.

Fourget said the Vanves  flea market  is an adventure - you never know what you'll find. It could be a small painting or a book. But, he said, one thing is certain: you'll rarely go home empty-handed.