by Sarah Mann
I love to wander and I can say, without a doubt, that one of the places I most like to engage in this activity is in Jaffa, at the flea market – known in Hebrew as the ‘Shuk ha Pish Pishim.’
Whilst Jaffa has undergone extraordinary renovation in the last ten years or so, with new cafes, bars and eateries popping up constantly, I’m still drawn back to the flea market – partly because I love the idea of grabbing a bargain, and partly out of nostalgia. When I was 22, I came on my first ever trip to Israel and actually slept on the roof of the Old Jaffa Youth Hostel for a few dollars each night. In the mornings, I’d awake with the sun and get up and stroll around the area, sipping coffee whilst I watched the area come to life, the vendors opening their stores and spreading their wares out on the ground, in the central ‘market place’ area.
Above is a shot of the building’s wonderful balconies and blue shutters. I was young and carefree then – happily backpacking on a budget – and whilst I live a more structured life now, every time I walk in the flea market I remember those times…and how Jaffa made me fall in love with the Middle East.
With its hidden alleyways, antiques stores, and huge open-air market, it’s an enormous draw for tourists and locals alike. The best bargains are to be had early in the day – a friend of mine is often down here at 6.30 am, rummaging through boxes. It’s astonishing what she’s found over the years…for sure, she’s got a keen eye but she also has the patience that bargain hunters need. In her home are the spoils – including a designer deckchair, full-length mannequin and an iron chandelier carved with flowers…
It’s also an amazing place to watch the locals (many of whom have lived and/or traded in the area for an eternity and are old pals). You’ll often see them sitting on stoops, smoking cigarettes, drinking Turkish coffee and kibitzing (that’s Yiddish for gossiping…) or, as captured below, stopping for a leisurely chat.
This area is nothing short of a treasure trove – antiques, bric-a-brac, secondhand clothes, and household goods. You can find knock-offs of Eames Chairs and retro coffee tables for your home…jeans for a few bucks, vintage handbags, old-fashioned jewellery and all kinds of trinkets (including endless souvenirs).
The flea market officially opens 10am-6pm from Sunday to Thursday and 10am-2pm on Friday but, as I mentioned before, if you go early you’re more likely to find bargains.
The centre of the market has a certain allure for me -wares are laid out on the ground and often I’ll see very personal items – photographs. They’re a result of house clearances no doubt – when a person dies in Israel and relatives pay a vendor to remove everything for a fixed price. I’m filled with pangs of sadness at certain moments (probably the fear that one day, when I’m gone, photos of my life will be lying on the ground in Jaffa for strangers to pick up and stare at) but along with the sadness is a gratefulness for my life – and also the reminder that – deep down – we’re all the same – we born, we live, we die.
On a lighter note, it’s fun to watch locals playing ‘shesh besh’ (batgammon) as can be seen below…
When I decided to make my home in Israel, I remember coming here and buying pots and pans in the open-air market, haggling over the price in my poor Hebrew and walking away, pleased at my results. Now, my home’s got more than enough kitchen utensils, but still I return here again and again – to wander, rummage and enjoy. (Oh, and secretly nursing the hope that I’ll find a great treasure for a few shekels…)