It's a straight-out-of-Hollywood plot line: someone—perhaps Indiana Jones—accidentally stumbles into a time capsule untouched by modernity and filled with treasures left by its past owners. It's too good to be true, right? But not too long ago, this fantasy played out in the storybook setting of twisting alleys and stately buildings in the enigmatic City of Light.
In 2010, a 91-year-old woman died in the south of France, leaving behind an apartment in Paris. Her family tasked auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry and his team with visiting the flat in the city's 9th arrondissement, near the Pigalle red-light district and the Opera Garnier, and inventorying its contents. When the unsuspecting experts unlocked the front door, they found it virtually untouched since before World War II. “There was a smell of old dust," recalled Choppin-Janvry.
This deceased owner, known in the press only as Madame de Florian, had fled the vulnerable city at the outbreak of World War II as the German offensive neared. It was 1942 and she was just 23 years old when she locked up the apartment she had inherited from her grandmother and left town. For the following 70 years, de Florian paid the rent and upkeep on the home without ever returning.