April Essay, In Late June

You Pays Your Nickel…

This morning, Dan and I drive to Medina, a western suburb. There, every Sunday from the first of May to the first of November — while the weather’s tolerable — the Lions Club sponsors a flea market in the parking lot of the Medina Ballroom. Mmmhmmm. A ballroom. You thought they’d gone the way of 8-track tapes.

For years my friend Margaret and I have driven ritually to Medina, as if to church.  In recent years, Dan has joined us. Margaret’s husband Dave isn’t so taken with cast-offs as the rest of us. He stays home and works the Times Sunday crossword puzzle.

On this particular Sunday, Margaret can’t join us, as she is recovering from a knee replacement. Regarding which, do not buy a used car from someone who tells you, “It was a breeze. I was playing tennis the next week.”

Though we, too, are fond of the Times Sunday puzzle, Dan and I are drawn to cast-offs, he on the scavenge for LPs, I in pursuit of old books, amber glass and tapestries. I’ve come close to cornering the market for tapestries here in the Upper Midwest. All sizes, all shapes.

Not the latter-day ones, mind you, their colors too bright, their conditions too unabused. I’m looking for tapestries with character, tapestries that are old, faded, a little ravaged around the edges. Like me.

What do I do with the tapestries? I cover pillows with them; use them as dresser scarves and table runners; protect chair seats with them. A large and unusually heavy one is floor covering in an alcove of our bedroom. The others find a restful home stacked in a cupboard, safe from moths, silverfish and other devastators until I call them forth.

And then! French courtiers in froufrou and escalator hair-do’s step into manicured nature fordanse et liaison; a weary doge wanders the canals of fifteenth-century Venice importuned by those who kneel to curry favor; under a relentless desert sun, Bedouin princes gather at an oasis, watering whiny camels, pitching tents, exchanging goods and tribal gossip; horsemen and hounds bound across swale and lea, through copse and spinney, in silent pursuit of a fox who, like Keats’ “unravished bride of quietness” remains forever beyond possession.

Breathes there an imagination so dilute or jaded that it can no longer weave itself into a timeworn tapestry, into the thin October spotlight of Venice, the milky incandescence of parc orbois?

Come with me down the aisles of cast-offs at the Medina flea market. But, first, a stop at the snack wagon for coffee and a raised, glazed doughnut. Now, then, we’ll begin at the upper end of the lot, where one usually finds larger furniture pieces mixed in with footstools, hoes and rakes, household utensils, vases and linens.

Here’s a basket of laundered and ironed vintage linens and, look, an old tapestry folded in among the rest. A shepherdess, her crook beside her, reclines among browsing sheep. Do you feel the laziness of the afternoon, the drowiness of the shepherdess? The stillness of the trees and clouds? Bees hum among tiny meadow flowers. What is out of sight, over there, beyond that gentle rise?

A shepherd with a pan pipe, you suggest? You’re certain this is your first visit to the Medina flea market?