Elizabeth and I arrived for the auction at 14h, held outside a large shed on Rue de l’Ancien Presbytere, a narrow stone walled lane down the side of the cemetery. A crowd was gathered and soon the spectacle began. The auctioneer, Le Commisseur Priseur, addressed as “Maitre”, took the stand. “Hands up those who didn’t come this morning for the viewing!” A good half of us put up our hands. “Bon, you have four minutes to see everything inside, starting now!” We surged into the shed and I felt like a virtual whale sifting for virtual plankton, scanning in a frenzy for any objects to catch my eye. A whistle blew (Maitre was obviously well experienced in crowd control) and we embarked on a five hour marathon, in the hot afternoon sun.
“Quinze euros s’il vous plait: vous avez ici deux vases, un Bambi en plastique, une Vierge, un cache pot, un pitcher, une araignee et des fleurs en plastique. Qui met 17? Adjuge 17! Plus, on vous mets une vase qui est collee avec un sparadrap!” (Fifteen euros please – here you have two vases, a plastic Bambi, a statue of the Virgin Mary, a flower pot, a spider and a bunch of plastic flowers. Who’ll give me 17? Sold for 17. And we’ll also add in another vase that’s held together with a sticking plaster!)
With great stamina Maitre kept us entertained – chivvying the bidders, arguing with them, chiding and even stopping the proceedings dramatically with a “ssssht!” to us all as someone’s mobile rang. We all grinned.
I gathered a collection of plastic bags around me and wasn’t entirely sure what exactly I’d bought. I successfully bid for a large high backed baronial sort of chair – and it provided a comfortable seat for the rest of the auction. However, I’d missed the fact that I was actually bidding for two not one! I could see this trip was going to be spatially challenging. In fact, once I ‘d put everything back in Moe, there was just no way the two chairs would fit. Madame said she would keep them in her Boiler House for my next visit. (The lesson is clearly to get the big things in first. But come the next visit I still wasn’t able to fit them in. So the two chairs continued to gather dust in the Boiler House for quite a few months more!)