Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Catacombs

On my penultimate day in Paris, I decided to do what seems like the only tourist attraction I haven't done here: the catacombs. After being to the ossuary in Kutna Hora 7 years ago, I didn't really feel that compelled to visit. HOWEVER, both Nick and Julie Delpy (in 2 Days in Paris) mentioned that it's their FAVOURITE thing to do. That's pretty high praise to call something your favourite thing in Paris.

My first thought upon entering the catacombs was: "Anyone who says this is their FAVOURITE thing to do in PARIS is a sick person." But that's because I wasn't prepared for the first cluster of just kind of comes out of nowhere.

The halls are long and dark, and at first, they feel way too narrow, like the piles of bones on either side are pressing in towards you. It's a bit much really. Throw in the smell (dank, earthy, vaguely death-like) and the descent on the never-ending spiral staircase (which is as good as being blindfolded and spun around 10 times before getting a light spank on your way to pin the tail on the donkey). So yeah, the whole thing starts off with a touch of nausea.

A few minutes into wandering the tunnel, though, it gets a bit better. It's awe-inspiring. The street names are etched into the walls and there are musings on life and death throughout. It's all in French but because it's quite simple stuff (which is also why it's profound) it's easy to understand. And anyway, when there are writings on the wall about your "soul" being "tranquil" and a "tomb" being the school of "truth," and you are actually inside a massive, underground tomb, there isn't really much room for confusion when it comes to reading comprehension.

Lexi and I were wondering about the skulls with gaping holes in them, whether they were damaged while being exhumed from the cemetaries or if their owners had died violent deaths. We were discussing it in hushed tones when she interrupted me to say, "Look at this guy!" There was a skull, or half of one, at our eye level, and its entire top half was missing. We burst out into nervous laughter. You don't feel entirely relaxed down there. There's no getting used to the smell and there are puddles. I didn't like those puddles.

About halfway through I was all the way through with big thoughts on life and death and I just kind of wanted out. Back up the spiral staircase and then suddenly spat out onto a regular Parisian sidewalk into the blazing noon sun. THAT was a surreal moment. There's an entire labyrinth of past lives just under our feet.


Blogger jaime said...

that ossuary is CRAY-ZEEE

12:44 AM  

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