Every Sunday at dawn trucks with all sorts of goods and wares begin setting up tables and tents in long rows down via Portuensis. They unload their trucks and set their stands full with shoes, toys, clothes, books, coats, food, crafts, antiques, art, kitchenware, fabrics, and everything that you could imagine. By 9am the stretch of several miles is crowded with thousands of Italians milling up and down the narrow corridor of pop-up shop fronts manned by salesmen monitoring their flocks of goods; they shout on encouragements to deal thirsty crowds browsing as they pass the tables. It's an unconventional orgy of consumerism; an alluring several miles of bartering, scams, greasy food, deals, junk, and one of a kind finds.
There's an abundance of junk; This is the most apparent feature; a lot of knock off purses, watches, and rows of miscellaneous junk greet you on the long walk from the entrance at the head of via Portuenses.. Despite this initial sea of sport coats and Tupperware sets, we discovered a handful of interesting stands, some with antiques, some with crafts, even some with higher quality clothing.
After about a half an hour of meandering at a casual pace, we came to an intersecting path of vendors taking the market in a different direction (in both senses of the phrase). In a matter of feet we found ourselves surrounded by tables and tables of antiques and art, tents over mountains of books, boxes filled with seashells, multi-tiered displays filled with assortments of vintage records and radios, and tons of other eclectic collections.
I found antique scrimshaws for 60 euro, gold gilted frames, antique paintings from 100 euro, crystal chandeliers, marble mantelpieces, and hundred year old dining room sets. The list goes on. I fingered through leather bound books dating back to the 16 and 17 hundreds (priced at 20 euro), wound the stems of silver pocket watches priced at 35 euro, and picked through oil paintings ranging anywhere from 50 to 250 euro.
While much of the market was unnecessary junk, this long intersecting avenue of people milling around proved to be loaded with an array of eye catching and unique finds.
People really do 'mill' around the market, pushing past each other in a ceaseless sea of consumerism. Within the tides of these crowds, you find an assortment of traveling food carts with roasting nuts, beggars shaking plastic cups and pleading with sorry eyes, but also hidden among swarms of people in the middle of these streets are chances to win (but more likely to lose) some money. We found, hidden among the swarms of shoppers an illegal gambling table where passers by put up to fifty euro on one of three blocks with hopes that when flipped over there would be a red square. The man running the operation shuffled the blocks around as he collected the cash which he put into his bag after flipping the blocks to reveal that once again everyone had lost. As I held my phone over the table to snap a photo the man became agitated and pulled the table away shouting 'No Fotografia' before he was lost in the swarming crowds passing by.
The market is certainly a different experience, and I can think of no immediate parallel in the US other than a flea market. The scale of the place is hard to imagine unless you've walked down the endless rows of vendors; the tables and tents swaying around curves with the flow of the street. Standing in the heart of the market you are lost in a two way road, both the entrance and the exit now too far away, all you see are the lines and lines of tents, and the ebbing crowd. It sort of swallows you up; there are no exits. The first time we went, my good friend and I walked in silence too busy absorbing all the activity around us to say anything. It is a physical and mental workout to digest the scenes as you move through this enormous monument to thrift.