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Unless you have a guide, like I do. His name is Simo. Simo has a flourishing sex-shop business, but he often comes here, too. He buys old stuff and sells it on internet auctions, at a mark-up of around 1500%. He is very good. He talks level with the Gypsies, as if he grew up in a ghetto and spent his life riding a horse-cart. Except that he has two university degrees – economics and business administration – and, as far as I can tell, lots of money. Everything I learn, I learn following him like a shadow. I listen as he talks to the Gypsies, browsing the goods, spewing jokes, blending in perfectly thanks to a horrid Big Brother baseball cap, faded jeans and t-shirt and that rapid, down-tobusiness tone that Gypsies use to talk trade. His story will run parallel to mine, so that you get two different pictures: that of the tradesman and that of the random passerby. Simo: You have to go early on Saturday. Shaving and cologne are a no-no, as well as jewelry. You need to dress in old clothes and look dirty. Carry small bills in your pocket – nobody there has change for a five, and if you whip out a ten you’ll look suspicious. Going up Lavandula St., up this Oriental hill reeking of unwashed skin, garbage and sweat, I experience sensory shock. The flea market is inhabited by the world’s misery – a majestic, self-assured misery that you have to see to believe, used as you are to your cushy life, padded by modernity. There is no new merchandise at the Gypsy flea market – all you can buy here are things. Things found in garbage bins, stolen from handbags and pockets, burgled from attics and basements, from country houses and

junkyards. One merchant, for example, is selling toys, alarm clocks, cables, a grill, hotel-size shampoo samples, a computer mouse, a book and a pair of wellingtons. Another offers a coffee pot, a Bulgarian folk instrument with missing strings, a pocket game console, one roller skate, computer wires, moisturizer and some cameras. There are even toilet seats on sale – two of them. The only thing all these things have in common is the fact that they have a history – they were somebody’s things. Someone used them, broke them and threw them away. At first, the misery is shocking – but then, if you have one sentimental string left in your body, it starts quivering and reminding you: damn, this Tetris game is just like the one that I wanted in ‘92 – the one I cried so much for. And look at that porn magazine from ‘98, damn – that’s when puberty struck. Apart from the barrage of memories, the flea market has something else to offer: sometimes really precious things are lurking in the garbage, things with collectors’ value. Gypsy sellers often frankly admit that they have no idea what they are peddling. If you have the right nose, you can buy something for pennies and sell it for a hundred times more on the internet or in some more civilized place. Simo: Specialize in a few categories – otherwise you’ll get lost in this ocean of stuff. You could look for socialist paraphernalia, celebrity memorabilia, ethnic goodies. For every piece of junk on the internet, there is a small Chinese


One Magazine ­ Summer 2010  

One Magazine is an independent Bulgarian quarterly publication