Like all good Americans in Paris, I spend too much time at les puces, the sprawling weekend flea market at the city's outskirts in Saint-Ouen. Somehow, even as the dollar tanks against the Euro, I usually manage to talk myself into buying that perfect Sixties Murano lamp that I later realize is all wrong for my apartment. But in recent weeks my buyer's remorse has been relieved by the knowledge that shopping at the puces has become a political act—a way to help keep the flea markets alive.
In 2005 the Duke of Westminster, one of the richest landlords in the UK, quietly bought Saint-Ouen's two most prestigious markets, Paul Bert and Serpette. Nobody really noticed until this fall, when, dealers say, he began hiking rents and fees by as much as 70 percent. Fearful that the Duke intends to squeeze them out and turn the place into an upscale mall, the dealers are revolting against their Anglo-Saxon oppressor, printing signs and T-shirts with protest slogans and fighting the increases in court. "We have to act," one merchanttold me last weekend. "Or we will be eaten alive."
I proudly did my part for the cause, buying a leatherbound set of 19th-century French literature that I know I'll never read.
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