28 January 2012

A Different Kind of Market

We're really not that into shopping, we swear. As Merlin said, browsing a city's market(s) has become one of our favorite ways to jump head first into a new country. At a flea market, we're there to do exactly what everyone else is doing - rummaging through to find that something, that gem or oddity that we'll chose to take away with us. Vernissage Market peaked our interest because it was described as a "crafts market." Well, we've never been to one of those before!
It all started predictably enough. Handmade knitwear, Armenia-ccentric ceramics. Most of the crafts for sale at the first bunch of tables were clearly aimed at tourists. Magnets, figurines, flags. A good number of the items were shaped like pomegranates. We weren't in the market for souvenirs and felt a little too conspicuous browsing the area with our tourist uniforms on: backpacks, cameras, comfortable shoes, tiny flashlights hanging from the zippers of our jackets - you know, just in case.
As we continued on, the tchotchkes gave way to the crafts we were more interested in. Carpets were draped on trees, drums and flutes, woodcarvings and beadwork were set out by the artisans themselves. Or so we like to think. Some pieces were obviously handmade and others may have been brought from a workshop or a nearby town's factory. We began to see locals perusing the items. One woman delivered plastic cups of coffee to the vendors, made on a curbside stove she crouched down to use.
The glassware couldn't have all been blown, the porcelain had to have come from somewhere else. The "craft" element wasn't always present, but craftiness was still abundant. A group of pepper grinders were set up alongside little bowls of coffee beans. This, I believe, was an attempt to market the items as mini coffee grinders. Crafty, crafty, crafty you craft market vendor.
Then, things took a completely unexpected turn. The market transitioned into a shopping center for craftspeople themselves. Used paint tubes were on sale alongside palettes and easels. There was a staggering array of old cameras and lenses. Men with grease stained hands looked through boxes of car parts. An entire row of tables specialized in chef's tools, bookended by a man showcasing his peelers' (and peeling) ability. Every market needs a beet sculptor.
People bought beads and gems from this man. Another table sold the magnifiers one uses to appraise such items. Another sold the needle and wire sets used to make jewelry out of them. Maybe one of the first tables I saw, with bracelets and necklaces spilling over laid out newspaper, had been the lovechild off all these different pieces. It made me want to go back and get some earrings that may have been Vernissage Market originals, through and through. I didn't.
Every craft was provided for, not just material ones. This is where it started to get a little bizarre. There was a puzzling amount of medical equipment. Flat-ended scissors in the hundreds and syringes and whatever this thing is. Lab tools included bunsen burners and microscopes.
Then, came bags of powders and bottles of who knows what. These were set up between the medical supply section and the cooking section, so they could have gone either way.
Finally, it just divulged into a full blown flea market. If you can buy it, someone was selling it. This included the requisite Soviet metals and weaponry, used clothing, batteries, books and maps. We keep hearing that Yerevan is the sort of city you need to wander around to appreciate it. They say turning down side streets or going into that restaurant that looks unremarkable or bar that doesn't even look open will lead to great surprises. If this is true, than Vernissage Market was a pretty spot on first impression. Next to the bootleg dvds, there were puppies for sale.

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