The clothes were piled high. They overflowed from the cardboard boxes out into the narrow walkways that consumers and onlookers slid through. The tables were small, the tchotchkes were many, and the air was pungent with stagnant cologne and aged dust. It was quite a spectacle to behold. Especially as not ten feet above this spectacle were grandiose crystal chandeliers. It was old and new, death and re-birth… all in one ballroom.
I had been to the flea market the year before, so I knew what to expect. Massive amounts of people swarming the stalls, ripping apart the displays to find what they hoped would be a steal. And because this was most likely the only flea market in Abu Dhabi all year, now was the time to pounce. It was difficult not to fear for one’s life in such turmoil. But we entered nonetheless.
The Flea Market had five aisles that ran the length of the extended ballroom, about the size of half a football field. Tables hugged either side of the aisles, which were about three feet wide. Which is why I will refer to my wife and my trek through those aisles as “The Dance of the Marketers”. Like the venerable ‘Danse Macabre Op. 40’ by Saint-Saënz, we began slowly…
(Ahem – Now is a good time to listen to the performance as you read).
We crept into the first aisle smoothly, yet cautiously, not knowing what we’d find. Seeing bags of housewares and children’s toys we lingered just a moment. But our curiosity faded as we realized we needed none of these items. Clothes on left. Suits on the right. The suit salesman’s eye lit up as I tried on a grey wool coat – Ugh! Hot! I took it off. The jacket salesman darkened. I departed. My wife ran her hands through a rack of dresses. I ran my ran across the back of a fellow shopper as they were careening dangerously close. They realized their error and shifted directions.
Each table scene reflected the manner of the artist behind the table. Whether messy clothes were splattered chaotically among the boxes or books placed meticulously across the table, the settings reflected the mannerisms of their (soon-to-be) past owners. Each new aisle, and each new table, brought new smells, new textures to our dance. We stepped over bamboo sandals, slid past crouching ladies, and hopped over hidden stuffed animal tigers. Our feet waltzed back-and-forth between tables. Our hips ‘rumba’ed away from jagged strollers. And our feet ‘salsa’ed through gaggles of heavy heeled shoppers.
We transitioned into the second-to-last aisle and quickened the pace ever so much knowing that our finale was rapidly approaching. This aisle’s dance finished as it had began, with a purchase. I had bought two athletic shirts and a few books at the start while my wife bought a “new” skirt at the end. Our purchasing portion was now over and it was time to finish strong, but gently. So as we swept into the final aisle the room slowed. We moved casually from table to table softly smiling at the sellers, while knowing full well we would not be adding anything else to this performance.
We slowed at the ballroom entrance and there paused, momentarily reflecting on our steps. But in this dance there would be no final pose, no crescendo, just a quiet departure. As we sashayed peacefully out of the ballroom towards our parked car, the foreboding feel of doomed drifted away. And triumphantly having bought what we needed and nothing more, we heard feint but peaceful notes of Leonard Bernstein & the New York Philharmonic playing Adagio for Strings. And at that, the dance began again, only… slightly different.