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A Paris Cultural Experience: Auctions by Candle

by Meredith Mullins on April 4, 2013

Lighting of the candle at the Chambres des Notaires auction by the candle, a Paris cultural experience that mixes old with new.

Paris auction “by the candle”
© Meredith Mullins

A Melange of Centuries

Many of us have a soft spot for nostalgia. We may admire the work of artisans who make quality long-lasting products with loving hands, or we may marvel at how early cultures invented what was needed to survive and sometimes made their tools so beautiful in design that they became, for us, works of art.

We can appreciate the elements of the past that make us slow down and focus on the simpler things in life.

The Oh, I see revelation, for me, is that the most rewarding moments are when nostalgia can be interwoven with modern life so that we have the best of all worlds. A cultural experience that is lost in time.

Starbucks coffee in the shadow of Notre Dame, a cultural experience that blends the old with the new.

A Starbucks birthday toast to Notre Dame (happy 850th!).
© Meredith Mullins

Everyday Life: The Old with the New

In a city like Paris, so richly layered with history, I have memorable time-warped OIC moments everyday, as old and new thread together.

I can walk from my 17th century apartment and look up at the 850-year-old Notre Dame, with a Starbucks latte in hand.

Young man texting in the Arenes de Lutece, a cultural experience that mixes old and new.

Hangin’ out at the Arènes de Lutèce
© Meredith Mullins

I can watch teens texting as they lounge on ancient stone in the Arènes de Lutèce, the amphitheater in the Latin Quarter built in the 1st century AD by the Gallo-Romans for gladiatorial combat.

I can look west from the obelisk at Place de la Concorde toward the Arc de Triomphe and see the skyscrapers of La Défense in the smoggy distance (ugh!).

And, I can go to a real estate auction at the Chambre des Notaires, where the “going once, going twice” rhythm of the auctioneer’s gavel is replaced by . . . who would guess? The lighting of candles.

Chambres des Notaires building, a Paris cultural experience that mixes old and new.

Chambres des Notaires Building, housing the auction “by the candle.”
© Meredith Mullins

Vente à la Bougie

The “vente à la bougie” (sale by the candle) dates from the 15th century, where waiting for the candle to burn out after each bid was meant to give everyone a fair chance at thoughtful buying.

Today, it remains a charming tradition . . . and adds a certain elegant (and humorous!) quality to the auction.

The auction room is modern, with a huge flat screen that projects photos and details of the buildings, houses, and apartments that are up for sale. Then, on the stage platform, amongst the computers, microphones, and wires, is a silver candle holder and candelabra.

For the “sale by the candle,” a candle is lit at the beginning of the auction. When the bidding seems to be coming to an end for a particular item (that is, when all is quiet), another candle is lit and placed in the candelabra to indicate a call for last bids.

Lighting the first candle at the auction by the candle, a cultural experience that mixes old and new.

The beginning of the waiting period before the “last fire” and the bidding is closed.
© Meredith Mullins

If no one bids, a final candle is lit and the auctioneer announces “le dernier feu” or “the last fire.” When this candle goes out, the auctioneer announces “éteint” or “extinguished,” which signals that the bidding is closed for that item.

During this process, the potential landowners and apartment magnates have plenty of time to reflect. Impulse buying is controlled, and buyer’s remorse is almost nonexistent.

Of course, if someone bids again before the last candle goes out, a new candle must be lit. And, if someone bids before that candle goes out, another new candle must be lit. And so on and so on.

The room of anxious bidders learns the true meaning of patience. Drama builds, flames flicker, time passes. And, for those few timeless moments, the room lives in the 15th century.

How long will a cultural experience like this be part of our everyday life? How long can we hold on to these charming vestiges of the past?

Time will tell.

But, sadly, I imagine they will soon be going, going . . . gone.

What remnant from the past will make you sad when it’s gone?

If you’re thinking of going to this auction “by the candle,” visit Chambres des Notaires, and for more information on buying property in France, note the second article in this piece by Adrian Leeds. 

Special thanks to Maureen and Christian Anouge and Rayan for their photo assistance.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


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