If these things could talk

At first, I thought my eyes had deceived me. There was so much stuff, so much history, I didn’t know where to look. Old military flasks and helmets; delicate china trimmed in gold; crystal goblets; porcelain dolls that were just barely holding on to their seams. Vendor after vendor, there were antiques, antiques and more antiques.

Antique exhibition

A display of one vendors antiques in Perpignan, France on July 10.

I found myself in awe after finding my way to this marché des brocanteurs et antiquaires (antiques market), which takes place every Saturday in a large park just in front of the Palais des Congres.  Only a moment’s glance had me realizing I had stumbled into something special.

Prior to this — actually within the first week of my arrival to France — my preconceived notions had already been met. After exploring my temporary home, Perpignan, and through my weekend escape to Paris, I was reminded again and again of this country’s rich history.

You can see it everywhere in the ornate architecture, awe-inspiring monuments, towering chateaux, cobblestone walkways and pastry stands, many plating hand-me-down recipes dating back hundreds of years.

But until Saturday, there was something I had missed. Here were artifacts as simple as a delicate hand mirror detailed with tiny flowers on its back. But each was a magnificent discovery in its own way.

The prices range from one euro to hundreds. I ended up purchasing a 1976 Joan Jett EP (printed with “France” on its back cover) for one euro and an old camera — a small box, with a simple plastic square for a lens and a leather case — for 25 euro (a steal, I’d say).

What struck me was the quantity of old stuff. There was so many of everything. Back home, these items would be rare and typically only discovered on eBay or in a museum.

During my previous visit to Europe in 2007, I had the opportunity to visit the death camp Auschwitz in Poland. Although the entire experience has permanently saturated my mind, something the landmark’s tour guide had said began to resonate during this particular experience at the antique market.

At Auschwitz, I saw piles of shoes, hair and spectacles items that had borne witness to the massacre, the Holocaust. In a thick Polish accent, the guide instructed us not to look at the piles, but to look at one shoe, one pair of spectacles. She focused our emotion on someone’s story, a person rather than a statistic.

Of course, the antiques show wasn’t nearly as emotionally devastating as my visit to Auschwitz; however, the experience had one similar reflection. When I looked at each piece, all I could think about was the mystery of how it had gotten there, who it may have belonged to, what adventures it has been part of. If only these old music boxes and china figurines could talk.