On a cold overcast Sunday morning, we decided to join locals at a weekend flea market in the northern part of the city. We went to the Udelnaya Fair, the best known in Russia and one of the largest in the world. To get there, our directions were to simply follow the crowd when we got off the Metro at Udelnaya Station.
The market begins with a series of dimly lit buildings sectioned off into stalls. The wares are mainly household linens, clothing and shoes, new and used. Why anyone would buy a bra from a stall puzzles me, but there were bras for sale. Then we came to buildings with stalls that opened to the outside. Here too, most of the wares were clothing – winter coats, sweat shirts and sweat pants, t-shirts, sweaters, trousers, socks and underwear, winter boots, and children’s snowsuits. Further into the market, we found stalls with stuff more interesting to us – old books, coins and currency, vinyl records, embellished glasses and cups, clocks, watches and figurines with Russian and Soviet symbols. We saw Russian army surplus, knives, coats, pants and boots. One stall had all sorts of army medical equipment, medic bags, vials, suture needles and bandages of all sorts. There were military food rations of various vintages. Are any of them still edible?
Another stall offered used flat-screen TVs. With the number of them simply thrown out at home, we had to wonder if any of them worked. We saw used toys, a few bicycles, dumb bells with round ends just like in cartoons, fishing gear.
Where the buildings ended, we found ourselves in an open space with sparse tall trees. Here we found the people who come to the market to sell just a handful of items which they display on blankets spread out on the muddy ground. One older lady had a two serving platters, a sweater and a coat that probably belonged to her daughter and a desk fan. Another had two or three decorative figurines, a rice cooker, some curtains and a few articles of clothes.
The busiest stalls were the outside ones that sell clothing, particularly winter coats. Buyers were mostly young men, shopping in small groups. Maybe they are from the country, the ones who come to Saint Petersburg because there are no jobs at home. I imagine they live in shared apartments and send some of their pay to support their families back home. At one stall displaying hand-written signs with prices above overflowing tables of sweaters and trousers, such men crowded the tables. Once a purchase was made they walked away chatting and laughing with their buddies, hugging their new acquisition to their chest.
The only purchase we made was at a double stall selling military memorabilia. The tall vendor was dressed the part, with a belted greatcoat and a peaked cap. He was younger than most other vendors and seemed all business. We looked at a standard issue soviet army belt with a brass buckle displaying the classic hammer and sickle on a star. The vendor was asking 250 Rubles. I offered 200. He said no, but we could have two for 400. Ken and I started discussing whether we should get two. It was taking a while for us to decide, the stall was full of people and the vendor kept looking over our heads at other browsers. He looked back at me and said in English OK, OK, 200. I handed over my money and left, hugging my purchase to my chest.