Monday, February 20, 2012

JP Flea Market: Equal Parts Bread & Circus

Thanks to a window full of flyers at City Feed & Supply, I was led this weekend to the Winter Flea Market at Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain.
I’m a sucker for flea markets, yard sales, or any other platform allowing for the trade of junk and ephemera for cash (wait until May when Brimfield Antique Show comes back and I go into weird junk overdrive!). Apparently there’d been a smattering of JP rummage sales over the years, but this was the first I’d heard of before the fact, so I collected a posse and went to check it out.
Spontaneous Celebrations is a strange and interesting place. It physically resembles an abandoned church in a Latin-American movie if that church was overtaken by squatters who really love to paint. Inside, there are two floors. The lower has a few rooms, including a kitchen, while the upper floor is set up like a venue with a performance space and a bar.
But that description doesn’t properly explain the space. Rather, it is building that almost physically transforms to accommodate what’s happening inside it. It can feel like a nightclub or the extra rooms of a public library depending on its occupants. During the flea market, it felt like a kind of dingy, but somehow not unhealthy, warehouse of weird.

The flea market merchants were the eclectic bunch you might expect at a community space in Jamaica Plain. A mixture of hippies, artists, and packrats sold Elvis Presley cardboard stand-ups, feather hair extensions, clothes, and model rockets from NASA missions long forgotten. Everyone was gracious and positive – no hard sells past “I bet you can use that!” when you pick up something there’s no discernible use for or “five dollars!” when you pick up something marked for ten.
In the kitchen on the first floor, a very skinny man with long graying hair and beard was serving homemade food that may have violates an arbitrary health code or two, but was delicious nonetheless. 

I got a glass plate (paper is wasteful) of veggie rice, salad, chickpea stew, and tofu for $4. Later, people in my party bought half a sandwich for $5, and I quietly congratulated myself on my discount food finding prowess. While waiting in line for it, I was treated to my flower child chef’s grisly voice belting out any best of the ‘70s songs that came on the radio. I immediately wished he had a food truck.
I didn’t have a ton of luck with purchases. I had no specific needs, and while there was a bar tool set priced at $3 that I liked, I decided I’d take some time to consider, and when I returned it was gone. Such are the breaks at these things.

The woman at the door when we arrived (there was a $1 requested donation) seemed to be everywhere. I assumed she was a player in the organization of the event. I overheard her talking to some other people, who asked if this would be monthly. She expressed hope that it would be, and suggested that it would be happening again. I hope it does. While certainly not Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, there’s a lot of potential for this to be a really awesome regular event for locals and visitors. Its friendly atmosphere and colorful characters would certainly help the image of a city not generally known for its brotherly love.
Experience Rankings 1-5
New Experience: 4 – I’d only been to Spontaneous Celebrations once before, and it was for a totally different event. I didn’t even recognize the place. As for the event itself, it really felt like the kind of place Neil Gaiman would have his protagonist find a magic coin.
Others Can Do It: 1-5 –This really depends on the folks at Spontaneous Celebrations. If you want to send encouragement, the contact email for the event is I’m going to write them and tell them I want more. You should, too.
Enjoyable: 4.5 – It was fun as a novelty and as a shopping experience. The quality of vendor wasn’t as good as it could have been, but with regularity, that could change. It was good enough that I want to go again, for the chick pea stew if nothing else.
I hate to praise an AOL-owned media source over the local, little guys, but The Jamaica Plain Gazette got the time of the event completely wrong and Spontaneous Celebrations’ website didn’t have the event listed. Hats off to JP Patch for getting the right information to the public.

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