Nostalgia has been my silent companion, a silent drug to my soul and a gateway through which I sometimes slip into and out of oceanic wonder. It was on a chill wintery morning that I found myself completely swayed in the grips of nostalgic fever. I found myself in a flea market, in the Marolles flea market in Brussels – a grey sky draped the scene with a monotonous solemnity, sparse specks of snow swept through the wind, not descending but aimlessly floating around until they huddled together at the window sill or over an undisturbed object ending their journey and the scent of books long forgotten to be opened saturated the atmosphere.
What struck me about a flea market, unlike a regular market, was the silence. People rummaged through the objects gripped by a solemn silence, a kind of silence that arises with the awareness that one is stifling through objects that were once part of the intimate lives of people that are now long gone. Perhaps it is also the silence of expectation, an expectation for serendipity – a postcard from Paris from the 1920s, a magazine from their year of birth, a first edition book that has carelessly been tossed away. The sellers and shopkeepers too were silent, only talking when asked for a price and even so leading the bargain in silent unexcited tones, perhaps aware that it is stories that they sell and not merely objects for consumption.
The tiny square was scattered with treasures, uncelebrated and unadorned, laid randomly on the crude cobblestones. Framed oil paintings – some cheap and untalented, some that were attempts from momentous excitements to capture fleeting moments and private fantasies and yet a few that have been allowed to be forgotten to the cobblestones because we do not have enough museums in the world to hold and display all the stories that we leave in our wake – lay there slowly accepting the ruin of neglect. Shop after shop that was crudely laid out on grids on the tiny square, displayed artefacts that were once personal private possessions – a gift from a loved one with their lovers long gone; a religious object once venerated; endless books that portray human knowledge and fantasies and the collective wonder and aspirations and ambitions of different time periods and hidden in heaps and heaps of such books sometimes a book that fixed a few unchanging truths – to encounter such a book would be my serendipity. And somewhere lost in chaotic heaps of books there were bundles of letters and portraits and postcards sent and received from people long dead, only their impressions and emotions left behind for their unknown posterity.
Stories everywhere – humble, silent, mysterious and solemn. Not the people in flesh and blood but their stories and through these stories a fragment of their lives left behind to continue its own separate journey, fragments of immortality. Perhaps one-day several years from now, some of my own sketches and journals, immature and cheap as they are, might lie anonymously scattered or amongst heaps of several other anonymous impressions continuing its journey long after I’ve gone. It was a nice thought.
Perhaps in the end, what we are leaving behind is one huge antiquarian shop, every object a humble tale to tell, where it doesn’t matter who the protagonists were but just that these stories existed and that they will exist in altered form in the imagination of those that are now present and that they contribute, even in minuscule ways, to the rich epic of human existence.
Brussels, March 2018