rummaging around brussels

rumour has it, those in the toronto thrift-vintage biz go “picking” in europe a fair bit and, as i was going off to frankfurt for the book fair this fall, i hoped i’d be able to pick up a few neat things for the house while across the pond.

i flew to brussels the thursday before thanksgiving, with grand plans to practice my french, hit the flea markets, and generally blow my diet for a few days before catching the train to germany on monday and getting down to work for the week.

i scoped out three different markets in advance of my trip, and on friday morning i took the subway to porte de hal, which is in the marolles neighbourhood, to check out the flea market i was most excited to see: le vieux marché (daily, 6-2). this (world’s only) daily market has been going on in brussels since 1640 and has been located in le place du jeu de balle since 1854.

un petit café in hand, i arrived around the much more reasonable hour of 11, and the place was already packed, with plenty of people and lots of stuff. i approached the square where the market is held from the north west corner, tweeing with excitement.

to put my glee into context for you, a few years ago i was on the hunt for a tiffany-style lamp and had no luck at the st. lawrence market (though the hunt for peameal bacon on a bun was a success that day). i heard about a “flea market” north of dufferin that i thought i might try, and pierre and i spent a morning sitting in traffic, inching our way into the west end.

i had pictured stalls filled with old postcards, neat knick knacks, and, hopefully, glass lamps. as soon as we pulled into the parking lot i realized i had been oh so wrong. this flea market consisted of pirated dvds, plantains, and faux persian rugs. about twenty minutes later we were back in our car heading east, and i’ve been a little hesitant about flea markets ever since.

but le vieux marché was exactly what i had been hoping to find those years ago, old postcards and everything. it was a crisp, sunny day, too, perfect for rummaging. i spent several hours in the square, digging through boxes and admiring things i had no intention of buying (arriving in europe for two weeks with only a backpack doesn’t lend itself to buying dressers.)

frankly, this was such a lovely experience, i’m surprised there was no collect call placed from a phone in brussels giving pierre the address of our new apartment.

i did buy one thing that i thought i could carry; this signed and framed print, which i really liked, despite not having a clue who it’s by or what it’s of, exactly. there is a sticker on the back of the frame for a belgian framer, staf mertens on hoogstraten. if anyone has a clue about this print, do tell. i bargained the vendor down (en francais) from €15 to €7, leaving me enough cash left over to buy some delicious endive soup from the bustling café chaff on the square.

the next day poured rain, but i braved the weekend antiques market (saturdays 9-6, sundays 9-2) at le place du grand sablon. all the wares were covered, but this market wasn’t my style at all — lots of really serious antiques, the kind that are old and expensive, rather than cheap and quirky. it wasn’t too long before i was making a break for the nearby rené magritte museum. where i bought some cheap and quirky postcards. which are going to look cool in frames.

the last market on my list was in bruges, which is about an hour’s train ride from brussels. the dijver flea market (sundays, 12-5, and saturdays too in summer) is next to the canal, near the fish market and the beautiful hotel de tuillerieën. but i never made it. it rained again on sunday, and i decided it would be better to be damp and chilly in brussels (ie: close to a hot bath) than in bruges. i spent the morning in the museum of comic art instead, buying more cheap and quirky postcards.

i’m back in toronto now, and all that’s left to do is figure out where i’m going to hang my signed print (and perhaps figure out who it’s by and what it’s of) and get my postcards framed and hung. does anyone else ever feel like they just need more walls?

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