Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Last Mango in Paris

Today we left the apartment even later than the past few days and boy did we pay for that.  We waited in line at the Catacombs for over 2 hours.  This was a part of the trip that was totally new to me.  Curiously, my mother, daughter and I had stayed in the Hotel du Midi which is right across the street from the site back in Spring '94.  It is also right across the street from the RER station which has trains that take you from Paris out to Orly.  At the time, we didn't know that it was right there.  Not sure if my Mom would have wanted to go down there.  While we stood in line, there was a jet of water coming out of the curb next to us and the local pigeons were treating it like a spa.
So what's in the catacombs?  The remains of over 6 million dead Parisians.  The city of Paris is built on a deposit of limestone and gypsum.  The site has been quarried since Roman times and came under government control in 1777 to prevent cave ins.  In 1780, another section of Paris was experiencing epidemics of sickness which was traced back to the decomposition of bodies in the local cemetery.  The decision was then made to exhume the occupants of this cemetery and others.  They used the quarries as ossuaries.  The catacombs were consecrated and over the next several decades many of Paris' cemeteries were emptied and carted off to the catacombs where their bones were stacked in the ossuary with a priest performing a mass each time.  At first the bones were just jumbled in there, but it wasn't until 1810 until the General Inspector of Quarries had the bright idea to stack them neatly, making patterns, etc.  They opened the catacombs to the public at the beginning of the 19th century.

It was very pleasant to walk out of the hot sun and into the cool underground and it was a long walk from the entrance to the actual beginning of the ossuary.  This provided plenty of time for stupid tourist tricks.  Trying to find holes to jump out of, playing with the flashlight, walking like a monster.  Great fun.
I'm not sure at all what camera setting I used, but that last photo was way lighter than it should be.  So on to the bones.  If you're at all squeamish, you might want to skip ahead a few pictures...
STOP!  This is the empire of Death...
Signage showing the origin of the bones and when they were placed in their current location.
With the help of Bob's flashlight we can see that in this spot, the bones go back over 20 feet.
Another interesting pattern using skulls and bones ends.
This is a barrel shaped formation of skulls and shin bones in the Crypt of the Passion.  It covers up a column that supports the ceiling.  Form follows function?
On the lighter side of all this, there was an American couple with a 3-4 year old boy down there with us.  The kid was a handful and I think the parents were afraid he was going to pull on some of the bones or something.  At various points, they were taking picture of him against a wall of skulls and bones.  Justin turns to us and says "I bet that'll be this year's Christmas card photo."  His sense of humor has been keeping us laughing, that's for sure.

Eventually, we climbed out of the catacombs and were back among the living.  Bob, Justin and Hayley headed off to the Arch of Triumph and the Quai Branley museum.  The latter is dedicated to the art of indigenous people around the world and was loosely divided into continents.  I headed back to do some light grocery shopping and some heavy duty laundry.  The ladies in the laundromat were very helpful and pleasant.  There was this machine on the wall.  If you wanted laundry soap, you pushed the numbered buttons for the soap dispenser (21) and then put in the coins.  Across the room on the other side of the door is this metal box on the wall with no apparent way to access anything.  After you pay, you hear this clunk, clunk and you have to know that you need to reach into a little flap on the left bottom side of this box to pull out the laundry soap.  This little invention lost its novelty rapidly after I put in 1 Euro and got no soap.  It was a lot like those gas stations where you can pay outside after you indicate which pump you wish to use which is easy enough, but the whole soap thing was a bit far-fetched.

Dinner was a repeat of last night and we have begun to pack in preparation for leaving tomorrow.  We have been working on cleaning out the fridge.  Tomorrow we will eat the croissant and demi baguette I bought this afternoon, some yogurt, the last peach and mango and hit the road.  We will pick up the car on the west end of Paris and eventually head out to Normandy. Not sure if we will have working wifi at the next stop.  We'll see.

So, what have we learned in Paris?  It used to be that if a guy was wearing a baseball hat or wearing shorts, he was an American.  Now you see them on Swedes, Chinese, and even the French.  If you see someone wearing a Gilligan hat, it's an Italian.  The Italians have replaced the Ugly American as the bane of the European tourist industry.  They no longer make raisin snails (Pain aux Raisins) - at least the good ones with the custard in them.  Using a Metro map from 1991 is not a good idea.  There aren't as many pickpockets as Rick Steves leads you to believe.  The next generation of French people seem to be a little warmer than the last.  Hot weather brings out a lot of cleavage.  Some of it should remain covered.  Nobody should buy and wear a tshirt or other article of clothing that has writing in a language they don't understand.  We have seen some real doozies.

I'm sure there are more, but they're just not coming to me.  It's time to sign off and get into bed.  Another busy day ahead of us tomorrow.

Todays step count: 16,014.

1 comment:

  1. Ok,the step count has surely increased today. Great to see the images inside the catacomb. I must confess, I've never seen that side of Paris. Can't wait to see what you see in Normandy.